Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
No, it’s not the Tasman Sea but something even closer to home.
Many Whanganui residents wake up each morning between May and September surrounded by water as condensation covers every window of their homes. More than just a nuisance, weeping windows can indicate conditions within a dwelling that are, to put it bluntly, unhealthy.
In some homes, high humidity can be as much as a concern as low temperatures in terms of comfort and health. We all know that cool, damp homes are common across New Zealand.
Research by Beacon Pathway found the following:
• New Zealand homes are on average 6 degrees Celsius below World Health Organization recommended minimum temperatures in winter.
• 45 percent of all New Zealand homes are mouldy.
• New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world, and an excess winter mortality of 1600, a much higher rate than other OECD countries.
• 300,000 New Zealand homes have an unflued gas heater.
• The air inside New Zealand homes can be more polluted than outdoor air.
• Cold, damp homes pose serious health risks, particularly for the most vulnerable groups in the community who spend the most time at home.
Like many problems in our lives, it is more important and effective to treat the cause than the symptoms. In other words, addressing the causes of moisture inside a home is better and cheaper than investing in expensive ventilation systems, which in most cases make homes colder and drier.
The main sources of moisture within a home are as follows: cooking, showering, rising damp, unflued gas heaters, house plants, and airing laundry indoors.
Addressing each source can be done differently. For example, polythene can be fitted under a home – directly on the ground – to effectively reduce rising damp in the same way wearing gumboots keep your feet dry in a muddy paddock.
However, polythene will do nothing for the damp clothes airing in your lounge. The strategy to address this problem is simple: Don’t do it.
Water vapour released by cooking and showering can be addressed in two ways: cap it or vent it. In other words, cooking with pot lids or installing a shower dome hold steam in, while extractor fans vent steam outside.
That said, we also use certain cooking techniques that reduce steam (and energy use) by over 90%. This win-win combination, however, does require some thinking outside of the box – specifically by cooking inside of a ‘straw box’.
In a strange twist of fate, our straw box contains no straw, but instead is stuffed with Op Shop blankets and tea towels. Either way, the function is the same: insulation. Here is how it works.
One of our favourite recipes is 10-Watt Pasta. We take 500 grams of pasta and put it into the ceramic vessel of a slow cooker. Then we boil about 1.75 litres of water in the electric kettle and pour it over the pasta. Last we place the pot, pasta and water into the straw box for 22 minutes, which happens to be the exact amount of time it takes to make an excellent sauce with fresh veges from the garden.
Compare this method of cooking pasta to the traditional way, and you’ll see where that 90% reduction of power and moisture comes from. I suspect it will be highly unlikely for anyone else in Whanganui to adopt this cooking method, but for those with damp, cold homes, it’s worth considering.