Keep warm, stay healthy
Even when built to code, New Zealand homes perform poorly when compared to homes in other countries and, as Abode’s architectural expert, Greg Young explains, the hidden cost is our health.
As we’re creeping out of winter, still waking up to the odd sub-zero temperatures and the evil ministrations of Jack Frost, let’s talk about keeping warm, and keeping healthy.
Firstly, I need to make it patently clear, in terms of technical performance, New Zealand homes perform terribly compared to the rest of the developed world. Our building code requirements are woeful. They are a minimum standard, and well below the minimum standard of most countries. So, relative to this, the majority of our homes that are ‘built to code’ are still terrible.
If we compare our minimum insulation requirements to the United Kingdom, they require double what we do in the walls, triple what we do in their roof and six times the amount in the floors. The UK clients I have are astounded at how poor our housing is.
Our health depends on how well our homes perform. We need to move beyond the “put another layer of clothing on” mentality.
Part of the problem is that when you buy a home, you have no idea how much insulation is in the walls, what the glazing is, whether the foundations are insulated. Let alone how efficient the house is when it comes to keeping us warm in winter and cool in summer.
The NZ Green Building Council has a rating tool that measures the health, warmth and efficiency of New Zealand homes. The ANZ Bank has recently adopted this tool as a way for customers to get a cheaper mortgage rate. I applaud this, but find it astounding that the banking industry is actively encouraging higher quality homes and our government is not. Surely KiwiBuild and Housing NZ homes should be required to have a Homestar rating, protecting the health and wellbeing of their occupants?
As an architect, everything I design is well above the building code minimum – it costs nothing for me to consider placement of glazing and ventilation, and costs very little to increase insulation. By getting these things right, it will cost you less on a day to day basis to have a comfortable home, soon outweighing the extra cost to build. Increasing thicknesses of structure not only allow for more insulation, but it also makes your home stronger. This will add value to your home once people realise how important what’s behind the shiny finishes is.
We also need to consider what insulation we use. I specify Terra Lana woollen insulation as a standard (though sometimes change this depending on budget and the building materials it is used with). Terra Lana is a New Zealand product, manufactured in Christchurch, and is made from predominantly sheep’s wool (not fibreglass “wool” like some of the others).
For me (apart from the fact I grew up on a sheep farm), wool ticks a lot of boxes.
It breathes, allowing the moisture generated in your home to be absorbed and released, helping to regulate humidity. Moisture has a detrimental effect on fibreglass insulation, but not on wool.
Wool absorbs some of the toxins commonly used in construction materials, such as formaldehyde.
Woollen insulation is a non-irritant – the last time I touched fibreglass batts, I broke out into hives.
Woollen insulation doesn’t slump like some other insulation, meaning it will last the life of the home without breaking down.
People need to look beyond the shiny tiles and plaster and understand how a higher quality home will help their health and wellbeing. The minimum standard should not be an option worth considering.
Arguably, our sheep are better insulated than most of our homes.
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