When we talk about the challenges facing the New Zealand housing sector, we often overlook a very important issue; New Zealand homes are too cold, too damp, and too inefficient, and these problems are impacting our health. At Craft Homes, we’re passionate about sustainable building and understand the impact that your home environment can have on your wellbeing. Continue reading to learn more about the relationship between your home and your health, why New Zealand is falling behind, and what we can do to catch up.
The problem with New Zealand homes
Over 75% of New Zealand’s homes were built before the New Zealand Building Code was updated in 1978 to require minimal insulation, but the problem didn’t end when these regulations went into effect. Even many homes built after the introduction of these insulation requirements are losing heat and retaining moisture. Why? Because builders aren’t aiming high enough when it comes to energy-efficient design and build quality. New Zealand’s building codes are effectively a baseline for the worst home you can legally build. Unfortunately, New Zealand builders don’t see enough incentive to exceed these low expectations.
The result? The quality of New Zealand homes is decades behind other OECD countries. We’re treating the bare minimum as our goal when it comes to housing quality, and that poses significant problems for our health.
Why are New Zealand homes so far behind?
You can trace New Zealand’s substandard housing quality back to its proud, rugged settlers’ history, when Europeans considered uncomfortable living conditions a rite of passage for their pioneering culture, but the problem today may have more to do with the country’s housing shortage. With high demand and low supply, New Zealand is in a rush to build new homes, and high property costs have created an environment where cheaper materials and building methods are often preferred.
This results in homes that are inefficient and thus expensive to heat, so, to save money, many New Zealanders opt not to sufficiently heat their homes in the colder winter months. A 2015 survey by BRANZ suggested that nearly half of New Zealand homes did not consistently heat their bedrooms in winter.
While the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum temperature of 18°C for rooms occupied by young children, the elderly, or those with chronic illness, the average bedroom temperature between 12 AM and 9 AM in New Zealand homes is a mere 13 degrees.
What are the health risks of low-quality homes?
Cool, damp homes contribute to a range of health problems. A study by BMC Public Health in 2007 called for a new renewed focus on New Zealand’s unusually high excess winter mortality rate of about 1,600 deaths per year. Another study, this one affiliated with the He Kainga Oranga and Health Research Programme, drew a direct connection between the poor insulation of New Zealand homes and a range of health-related concerns, such as wheezing, missed school and workdays, and GP and hospital visits.
Moisture in homes can also lead to mould, which releases tiny spores into the air that aggravate (and sometimes even cause) respiratory issues. Asthma, particularly among children, is commonly attributed to these unhealthy living conditions. Respiratory disease is New Zealand’s third highest cause of death. New Zealand also has the worst childhood asthma rate in the world, affecting one in seven children and 30% of our seven-year-olds, disproportionately Pacific peoples.
Other health problems that can arise from mould include:
Asthma New Zealand is closely monitoring the impact of New Zealand’s housing quality on respiratory health. You can read their Healthy Homes blog to learn more.
What is being done to improve the standards of New Zealand homes?
In 2020, the NZ government launched the MBIE Building System Regulatory Strategy, which laid out a plan for the next 10 to 15 years of building regulation, with the goal of “achieving positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes for New Zealand and New Zealanders, now and in the future”.
We’ve written previously about who is responsible for driving changes in New Zealand’s building codes. We explained that action is needed at the government level to bring about the required level of change. Higher standards must be set, but because these standards will take time to go into effect and yield substantive results, the time to act is now.
With its majority in parliament, the Labour Party can pursue other policies they’ve proposed to drive more sustainable and energy-efficient building construction, such as the Building for Climate Change programme and the continued implementation of the 3-year Construction Sector Transformation Plan from the Construction Accord.
Are these efforts working?
New Zealand is striving to meet the Paris Agreement goal of ensuring all buildings operate at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but we’re nowhere near meeting those goals. Ultimately, the code isn’t likely to change fast enough, so we New Zealanders have to be ahead of that by choosing to build higher quality homes.
The Craft Homes team unloads materials for their new build at Red Beach, Whangaparaoa
How Craft Homes is Making a Difference
New Zealand can no longer wait for the government to make these changes at the speed and scale they must be made, so we’re joining forces with other industry specialists to bring about the change we need to see. We’re proud supporting members of the Superhome Movement, an industry led group dedicated to driving transformative change in the building industry and making New Zealand homes healthier and more energy efficient.
At Craft Homes, we’re doing our part to educate New Zealand on the benefits of High Performance Homes and how to build them. Often, when our clients want to build an eco-home in NZ, we find that a big part of our job is educating them on what they need to do to achieve that. Subtle but important design decisions, such as setting windows within the wall frame rather than flush with the exterior line, can make a real difference.
Our efforts don’t stop with our clients, either. The concepts and innovations driving High Performance Homes are new to architects and designers as well, so we work directly with them to ensure that the correct design decisions are made at the outset when they are the easiest and most cost-efficient to implement. Many of these design decisions are outlined in our free eBook, 12 Tips for Building a Sustainable Home and How Craft Homes Can Help.
Working with clients and architects alike helps us raise awareness of High Performance Homes and the role they can play in a healthier, greener future for New Zealand. We want more people to appreciate that our building code isn’t the standard to aim for, and that a more efficient, comfortable, and healthy home is within reach.
Learn more about the benefits of High Performance Homes
The initial investment in High Performance Homes may be higher, but it pays off in terms of health, comfort, and power bills. At Craft Homes, we’re aiming for a higher quality home. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of High Performance Homes, contact the team at Craft Homes today.
Toby and Cat Tilsley