Insulating for a better New Zealand

I think New Zealand is the most-wonderful country in the world to be a kid. Yet every year around 20 children die and thousands get sick because they live in cold, damp houses.

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Pic: New homeowners Craig and Kylee Knox

It’s astonishing in a country which enjoys such an amazing quality of life, we still have thousands of houses which simply aren’t up to the job of keeping those who live in them warm and healthy.

"As a parent, I find it confronting to know thousands of New Zealand children suffer… from something as simple as poorly built housing.”

Several things have helped create this problem.

In New Zealand, we have a climate which swings from hot and dry to cold and damp. Many houses were built for the hot days and not the cold ones.

The cost of building houses is expensive with lots of red tape involved so many houses are old and are like sieves when it comes to retaining heat.

Unlike other cooler countries, in New Zealand we don’t seem to prioritise heat and warmth. Many Kiwis - particularly our older generations – would rather throw on an extra jersey than turn on the heater.

As a parent I find it confronting to know thousands of New Zealand children suffer from severe illnesses each year from something as simple as poorly built housing.

The number of Kiwi kids being diagnosed with bronchiectasis, a potentially fatal disease associated with repeated chest infections in early childhood, doubled between 2000 and 2015. 

The damage of these illnesses can stay with a child for life.

It’s shocking. But there are easy solutions that can significantly improve the comfort and health of a home.

The main one is insulation.

We’ve known for decades how good thermal protection in ceilings, walls and under floors can transform a home overnight and vastly improve quality of life – particularly for children.

However, while there have been a few big pushes for insulation over the years, there are still an estimated 600,000 homes in New Zealand with little or no insulation.

In considering insulation options, we need to be realistic. Insulation doesn’t automatically lead to lower power bills. 

However, although you might be spending a similar amount for heating, you will be warmer and healthier.  The payback comes on the health front.

It’s not just the right thing to do; it also makes good sense economically.

Studies indicate that every dollar spent on insulation delivers $NZ4 of health benefits from fewer hospital visits and medicine costs.

I’m a banker and a dad so to me, this makes sense on every level.

Warm up

The New Zealand government is doing its bit for low-income earners like the Warm Up New Zealand program and some local councils have their own initiatives.

At ANZ we are doing what we can too by setting aside $NZ100 million in interest-free loan top-ups for our customers so they can insulate their homes.

I hope our offer not only encourages more home-owners to invest in insulating their homes, but more landlords to do the same for their rental properties.

Investors often rent to families who aren’t in a position to buy a house, particularly in Auckland.  Why should these families not have an acceptable level of health and comfort simply because they don’t own their own home?

Furthermore, new regulations require where possible all rental homes to have ceiling and underfloor insulation in place by 2019. That’s a good thing but someone has to pay for it.

That’s why our offer is designed to help both owner-occupiers and investors anyone who owns a home.

As someone who moved to New Zealand in recent years, I truly love this country. But the standard of some housing and the conditions some families live in belongs in another time.

ANZ’s offer is just one piece of the picture. With hundreds of thousands of cold and damp homes, there is a lot of work to be done. But it will be done.

Wouldn’t it be great if this was the last winter any Kiwi kid died or got seriously sick because their home wasn’t warm and healthy?

Briar McCormack is New Zealand Editor, bluenotes 

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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