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Waikato DHB’s Whare Ora Programme Making Homes In The Waikato Warmer And Healthier

Many homes in New Zealand are damp, cold and unhealthy, and in winter, are on average 6°C below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum indoor temperature of 18°C.

A cold and damp home can increase the risk of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and serious chest infections. Damp, draughty and poorly insulated homes are also more expensive to heat.

Waikato DHB’s Whare Ora team has been working since 2018 to make homes warmer and healthier for whānau in an area stretching from Coromandel Peninsula to Taumarunui, with its latest report showing it has helped 43 whānau in the Maniapoto area, 75 in Hauraki, 142 in South Waikato, 223 in North Waikato, and 2623 in Hamilton.

"We're working with very high-needs whānau, especially those who come through to us from being hospitalised," says Ezra Dixon, Case Manager at Whare Ora. “Our objective is to reduce Waikato’s avoidable child hospital admissions by focusing on those children who are most at risk.”

“Many of these children’s homes are cold and mouldy, lack ventilation and insulation, and have inadequate heating, a healthy home needs to be warm, dry, smoke-free and free from allergens.”

He says it also needs to have good heating throughout, be free from pests like fleas, cockroaches and mites, and, where possible, be insulated underfloor and in the ceiling.

As well as giving tips on how to keep homes warmer and dryer, the Whare Ora team gives families who qualify products to help - everything from heaters to curtains and mould kits.

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To qualify whānau and individuals must meet certain criteria, such as having a pregnant mum or new baby in the house, or a child under four who was hospitalised with illnesses such as pneumonia or rheumatic fever.

The programme began with a 2014 pilot of 30 Māori whānau in Hamilton, and has since grown to the Whare Ora team providing over 4,000 interventions including beds, bedding, heaters, and draught proofing throughout the Waikato in the last year alone.

The programme gets Ministry of Health funding, but relationships with other companies, providers, and philanthropic organisations are vital. Habitat for Humanity is a big provider, and funding also comes from WEL Energy Trust and Waikato Health Trust.

Safe Kids gave funding for items like safety gates, TV straps, outlet covers, and a national deal with the Warehouse has garnered discounts on items for whānau.

Other organisations involved include the Waikato DHB, NZ Fire Service, and the Ministry of Social Development, along with the Raukawa Charitable Trust, Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki and Taumarunui Community Kokiri Trust.

The inexpensive interventions the Whare Ora team makes include using bubble wrap on windows as a cheaper alternative to double glazing, showing people how to use heaters efficiently, such as setting a timer, and tips such as dealing with mould, ventilation and not drying clothes inside.

Sheryl Matenga and her whānau who live in Huntly have been amongst those the team have helped to make their home healthier.

In 2019 she and her partner, baby, and three children, were living in a whānau-owned home they moved into when their rent went up. At the time they were living in two cabins outside the main house where other whānau lived.

“They gave us everything we needed for both our cabins and the main house,” says Sheryl. “Bedding, beds, heaters, curtains and draught-stoppers. They also got us a referral to an insulation company who fully insulated the house. It absolutely helped our health.”

“A year ago we moved into our own home that relatives who are tradies have helped us renovate over the summer. It needs ceiling insulation and Whare Ora referred us again to an insulation company. But the quote, including a heat pump, even with the government subsidy, was still more than we can afford right now.”

She says what has helped though was Whare Ora’s referral to a cheaper electricity company. “We got the power on in less than two weeks from applying and our power bills are so much lower.”

“I’ve talked about Whare Ora to everyone I know, sharing the online criteria link, and posting on my Facebook page, and they’ve now helped lots of whānau here in Huntly.”

Since July 2019 landlords have been required to install ceiling and underfloor insulation where practicable and to provide a statement outlining the level of insulation in the property in its tenancy agreement. The level of insulation required depends on the type of property, where it’s located and what’s already there.

In an uninsulated home 30-35% of the heat escapes through the roof, 18-25% escapes through the walls, 12-14% is lost through the floor, and 20-30% heads out through the glass in windows with 6-9% lost through draughts or when doors are opened and closed.

Go to Whare Ora for how to quality for assistance, and tips on keeping your home warmer and drier. 
Go to HealthNavigator for more tips on keeping your home warm and dry.
Go to Homefit to find out what your landlord is obligated to do ensure your rental home is dry and warm.
Go to Consumer for more information on insulating your home.
Go to Warmer Kiwi Homes to find out if you qualify for a grant from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) that covers 80% of the cost of insulating the ceiling and underfloor of your home.

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