New Zealanders love making the most of the great outdoors, but the truth is we spend more than 90% of our time indoors. That’s no bad thing in itself, but for the fact that New Zealand homes are not necessarily healthy homes.
Perhaps the single biggest issue we face is heat (or lack of it). The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees, or 21 degrees if your home contains babies or elderly people. With many dwellings lacking even basic house insulation, this is a standard a lot of Kiwis can only dream of.
Our stoical ancestors may have shivered and put up with it. Modern medical opinion is less inclined to take the risk. The research shows that living without effective house insulation is a shortcut to poor health.
House insulation is the key
The two biggest risk factors are fungal growth that creates an unhealthy environment and cold temperatures that are associated with increased mortality rates.
Indoor temperatures under 16 degrees have been shown to significantly increase the risk of respiratory infections such as bronchitis. Even just feeling cold can be a risk factor. One Auckland study found cold stress was the single most important climactic factor in cardiovascular deaths at home.
Equally nasty are the effects of mould. Chilly, damp houses encourage rampant growth of mould, mildew and fungi, which are strongly associated with respiratory problems and asthma attacks. If that’s not bad enough, there’s the risk of allergic reactions, sinus congestion and skin infections.
How bad is the problem? One third of New Zealand households reported visible mould in a survey in 2002. It’s unlikely the problem has disappeared a decade later.
The first step to a healthier home is insulation. Roof and underfloor insulation can reduce heat loss by more than 50% at a stroke. Once you have insulated your home, an efficient modern heater such as a heat pump is the smart option.
You’ll enjoy a warm, dry house throughout the day and night, without paying excessive power bills for heat that quickly leaks away. You can also look at adding a ventilation system to keep the air dry and healthy at all times.