Magazine article New Zealand Management

Sustainability : Curing Our Million Sick Homes

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Sustainability : Curing Our Million Sick Homes

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Neilson

Our houses are sick. But business and the community stand to make billions from improving them.

Some 1.04 million of the country's 1.6 million homes are not properly insulated.

Drafts are still blowing through the floors of 64 percent of them and heat is leaking through the uninsulated ceilings of seven out of 10 homes. The other three out of 10 still have no ceiling insulation at all. And 45 percent are mouldy.

Five people a day are being admitted to hospital by illnesses caused by this (at more than $3700 per night stay), and it's resulting in 188,000 days a year off work.

For a nation renowned for its down-to-earth common sense, we're doing some silly things. By not adopting a sustainable renovation model, we're paying an extra $470 million a year in power bills trying to warm homes lacking insulation and double glazing, and we're wasting 23 million cubic metres of water a year. (In most areas there's no charge for actual water used, so no direct incentive to stop spreading the bill for inefficiency across all your fellow ratepayers.)

While big health and community gains can be made from improving home performance in lower income areas, the well paid are not immune: 19 percent of business decision makers surveyed nationwide say their homes have caused health problems for those living there.

Why haven't they done something about it? Sixty-six percent say they can't afford to, and 15 out of every 100 say they don't know what's necessary.

The other paradox is that we know how to build warm, comfortable and more energy and water-efficient homes. But it's not happening to scale? Why?

There's a literally lethal combination of causes, including:

o A lack of consumer knowledge: only three percent of 3343 New Zealanders surveyed in November knew energy- and water-efficient homes cost just five percent more than an ordinary home to build, while 35 percent thought they cost 30 percent to 50 percent more.

o Companies are busy selling individual products, not total solutions for better performing homes.

o Individual builders and installers don't know what consumers understand or want.

o Leaky building-spooked councils are being over cautious and costly when it comes to approving new innovative designs for high-performance homes. …

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