Insulate for the Health Benefits
New Zealand has the second highest asthma rate in the world (after the UK) according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). One in six adults and one in four children in New Zealand suffer from asthma symptoms, which can be further aggravated by allergies. And when it comes to allergies; up to one in three New Zealanders will develop allergies at some time in their life. Meantime, it’s estimated that 70% of all Kiwi homes are inadequately insulated. Coincidence? We think not.
No-one is certain as to why we have such high rates but what is clear is that damp and cold housing is a contributing factor. So much so, that Doctors in New Zealand can actually prescribe insulation for at-risk patients living in cold houses under special circumstances! The Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programme which runs through to June 2014 offers subsidies for insulation and although not everyone is covered, it goes to show our Government understands the significance of a warmer home on health and wellbeing.
Tony Naidu of HeatSavers says, “The funding provided is naturally prioritising those most at risk, the young and the elderly; it’s a great initiative that is making a real difference”. He continues, “Colds and flus aggravate asthma, as do allergies. One common allergen is mould and of course, mould is going to be much more prevalent in a cold, damp, inadequately insulated home. Not just that, but we see evidence from Canada where 90% of people’s time is spent indoors, that retrofitted foam wall insulation can also reduce the impact of airborne allergens such as pollens by creating a tighter seal against the environment”.
So why are so many New Zealand homes inadequately insulated? Naidu says, “It’s a historical issue. The traditional cost of retrofitting insulation has been too expensive for many home owners. It’s a dirty, messy business of removing the gib, fitting insulation and re-gibbing. It effectively turns your home into a building site for the duration and that’s not easy to live with”.
The government subsidies provide insulation for under floors and ceilings. We asked Naidu for his views, “Starting with insulating your ceiling makes sense, however, independent research suggests that adding underfloor and ceiling insulation alone gives you an average increased Winter temperature of a degree at best. By completing the thermal envelope with wall insulation, that average increase becomes 4-5 degrees. Water vapour condenses on cold surfaces, so insulation helps create not just warmer, but drier homes. And mould thrives on damp.”
WHO recommends minimum indoor temperatures of 18 degrees celsius or 20 degrees celsius for more vulnerable groups including children, the elderly and people who are ill; and a minimum overnight bedroom temperature of at least 16 degrees celsius. The average Winter overnight temperature in most older New Zealand homes is 13.5 degrees celsius. Says Naidu, “Right there is the 4-5 degrees that will make the difference and of course it’s also cooler in Summer”.
One of the reasons that mould allergies can get worse in the Winter months is that heat inside the house can pull air from the walls, ceiling spaces and under floor space. “Insulation’s ability to help manage temperature and moisture is one of the most powerful tools against indoor mould growth”, according to the US National Insulation Association. But it depends on proper installation.
For most people, home owners and landlords alike, it’s a question of cost. Says Naidu, “Cost is always going to be a factor; what’s important is to seriously take a look at the return. Our HeatSavers insulation costs a third to a quarter of traditional insulation methods for retrofitting into existing walls, which is a great starting point. On top of that you’re saving on landfill because you’re not removing and replacing perfectly good gib board. Our process takes one or two days not weeks, and you can still live in your house while we work. You see a real difference in temperature right away which means instant power savings to heat and cool your home”.
Even if you’re not particularly at risk of health issues, EECA Energywise calculates that heating accounts for approximately 29% of the power costs for most homes in New Zealand. That’s a lot of money literally being burned. Naidu continues, “The real benefit is of course to health. One of the reasons the Government is providing subsidies to at-risk people is the cost of insulation is far less than the health care costs associated with not insulating”.
Naidu says, “Insulation is an upfront cost but we offer great finance terms and we know that home owners will see the return financially and in the associated health benefits”. Let’s face it - if Doctors are prescribing insulation, it’s got to be good for you.