Editor’s Note: This is my weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.
I narrowly missed my chance to be “World Famous in New Zealand” last week because I was busy planting garlic.
On Wednesday morning a producer for Duncan Garner’s Radio Live Drive programme invited me to speak with Duncan on the topic of warm, dry, healthy homes. I did not see the email until after Wednesday afternoon’s programme was done and dusted, and by Thursday the topic du jour had changed. So much for my 15 minutes of fame…
Anyone who has been following the news over the last fortnight would be well aware that a number of deaths linked to cold, damp houses has sparked a national discussion about the other housing crisis in New Zealand. I call it “the other housing crisis” because we hear much more about The Housing Crisis in Auckland and to a lesser extent in Christchurch.
As is the case with many important issues, a quantity story often outweighs a quality story. Quantity stories are easy to understand: just do the maths. But quality stories are nuanced and require more research, more careful consideration, and are best presented from a holistic perspective.
On Monday, Chronicle Editor Mark Dawson asked the question: “How many bad houses in our city?” Leave it to a seasoned journo to get both quantity and quality into one headline!
At the end of Dawson’s editorial he ruminates “about the condition of Wanganui’s states houses,” and “how many of them are substandard.”
The second of these is the easiest to answer: in all probability 100% of all state houses in our city are “substandard.” If the current New Zealand Building Code minimum is “the standard,” then by definition anything not built to that level is “substandard.”
The bad news is that the NZBC minimum would be considered by many nations as substandard in and of itself when it comes to warmth and energy performance. In other words the code sets a low bar for insulation, windows and design.
The other bad news is that Housing NZ homes are probably better than the majority of rental properties in Whanganui, and better than hundreds if not thousands of privately owned dwellings. Put another way, Housing NZ is one of the better landlords in our city. Depending on your perspective, this may be good news or bad news.
In the guts of his editorial, Dawson addresses the concept of a rental housing warrant of fitness. Last May, the Wellington based He Kainga Oranga released a report on a pilot WOF scheme that assessed 144 rental properties in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland. Eight passed.
The takeaway: we have a large quantity of low quality homes in New Zealand.
As would be suspected, there is significant pushback from property investors and landlords against the WOF scheme. There is also the question of who would administer the scheme and who would pay. Central government would benefit from the scheme, which would lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to the health system, but local governments would be the most likely bodies to shoulder the burden.
The takeaway: not likely to happen anytime soon.
In the meantime, the best thing for tenants to do is their homework. Seek out information from the EECA EnergyWise website and ecodesignadvisor.org.nz.
Don’t take landlords’ or agents’ word when they say a property is “fully insulated.” Look for yourself.
Ask the agent to bring a hygrometer to measure indoor humidity when you go to look at a potential rental.
Don’t rent a property without one of the following heaters: flued mains gas; heat pump; wood burner; pellet burner.
Don’t use unflued LPG heaters.
Make and install window blankets and/or secondary curtaining.
Draught-proof doors and windows.
The list goes on.
I’ve been thinking carefully about what renters can do to improve their living conditions for over four years – ever since veteran journo, Paul Brooks, challenged me on the issue. I gave him a handful of suggestions at the time, and now have a bucketful. That’s one reason Garner’s people contacted me.
I may have missed my chance to be World Famous last week, but at least I’ve got an early crop of the World’s Best Garlic in the ground.