Why are we still building cold and damp homes?
16 August 2019
A recently released Otago University study has provided further evidence that low-quality housing is a significant problem in Aotearoa. This has prompted the Chief Executive of the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACENZ) Paul Evans to question “why we are still building cold and damp homes when we know that this has huge economic and socials costs.”
The study looked at Wellington children who had been seen by a doctor when suffering from a respiratory infection. A building inspector checked the homes of 642 children under two-years-old and found children were up to five times more likely to be hospitalised if they lived in households where dampness, mould and water leaks were detected.
Paul Evans says “According to the United Nations, adequate housing is a basic human right, yet we continue to accept poor outcomes. Poor quality housing has a direct cost to our health system, along with a myriad of other indirect costs. For example, sick children take time out of school, which can, in turn, lead to poor educational outcomes.”
Respiratory disease accounts for one in eight of all hospital stays in New Zealand and costs more than $5.5 billion every year. One in six (over 700,000) New Zealanders live with a respiratory condition, and these rates are worsening.
“I am mystified as to why we continue to build houses as if we live in a warm and dry country. The incidence of mould in New Zealand homes is much higher than many of our OECD peers.”
Paul Evans says “Our building code is arguably out of date and inadequate for our weather conditions. The code is designed to be an absolute minimum standard, yet it has become the target. For example, most public housing, where some of our most vulnerable citizens live, is built to comply with the code and nothing more.
“We need to raise the standard of home construction significantly, albeit in a well-planned way, with a reasonable time-frame attached. This will allow the industry to respond in smart, innovative and cost-effective ways. We must stop using our climate as an excuse. There are many other countries with similar or far more challenging weather conditions, yet they manage to navigate this issue.”
“We must raise the performance of our homes through a planned and integrated approach to insulation, ventilation and heating, which delivers better overall performance,” Paul Evans says.
“This is not just a health issue; it’s also a climate change issue. Heating our current housing stock is incredibly expensive and carbon-intensive. Wasting vast amounts of energy heating poor quality homes doesn’t make sense if Aotearoa is to achieve the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”
“We need to step up to the mark, realise our building code must change and start making this a reality.”