Tag Archives: healthy homes

No Depression in New Zealand…and no cold, damp homes either.

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

John Maslin recently wrote an editorial for the Chronicle titled: ‘Get real’ on heritage protection. Given the number of heritage buildings in our city and the cost of strengthening them, a realistic approach is certainly in order for progress to be made.

After reading Maslin’s piece I was driving to work and heard that the song, “No Depression in New Zealand” was up for the missing Silver Scroll award from 1981. It seemed an appropriate ‘get real’ anthem:

There is no depression in New Zealand

There are no sheep on our farms

There is no depression in New Zealand

We can all keep perfectly calm

Blam Blam Blam did not win the Silver Scroll, but I am happy to honour the song for the rest of this column as it reminds us to be suspicious of spin doctors and their reluctance to recognize facts.

Not long after Maslin’s editorial we were treated to David Scoullar’s insightful piece on managing decline: Accepting decline best way for cities to plan for future. Scoullar points out examples of “cutting-edge” urban policy overseas and that they are “not on the radar of Wanganui District Council.”

WDC policy appeared on the front page of the Chronicle last month: “No Decline here, Duncan.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Another ‘interesting’ narrative that has come under scrutiny lately has to do with the cost of building homes in New Zealand. A recent 3D investigation on TV3 asked the question, “Are we paying too much to build our homes?”

While the popular narrative points the finger at land prices and council fees, the ‘get real’ answer points to exorbitant prices paid for building materials. From the 3D investigation:

Tony Sewall , head of Ngai Tahu, the biggest developer in the South Island, has sent teams around the world to investigate building materials prices.

“We’d be paying around 30 percent more than in Australia, probably 60 percent more than the United States,” he says. “And the United States’ product is better.”

Quotable Value statistics indicate that identical medium-sized homes built in New Zealand and Australia cost Kiwis $20,000 to $32,000 more than Aussies. This is not because Australia has higher regulatory costs. Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.16.56 am

Cheaper Option: On and off the shelves just like that. 

The programme revealed exclusive arrangements between building materials manufacturers and certain retailers and builders. One example used was wallboard, and how one dominant brand controls 94% of the domestic market. A rival product briefly made an appearance in shops at a much lower price, but then suddenly disappeared. Meanwhile, all parties deny a “special arrangement.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

One final issue on the ‘get real’ front for this week. The Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) recently flooded all three local papers with the same article asking for money from philanthropic organisations to support an insulation programme that has been under-funded by the current government. At the same time, we have a local MP who never hesitates to point out how many homes in the District have been insulated under his watch.

To be clear, here is a government agency asking for private donations because The Government has not provided enough funding for a government programme. Meanwhile, a representative of The Government is taking credit for the grand success of the programme.

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Additionally, it appears that the WRHN has misidentified insulating floors and ceilings as “Healthy Homes.” A famous case recently linked the death of a toddler to the home where she was living that was insulated. As Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford stated, “When you insulate a cold, damp home it is still a cold, damp home.”

But on the other hand, this could all just be hype. After all, there are no cold, damp homes in New Zealand.

Side bar: Want to ‘get real’ about healthy homes in our community? A group has formed to look into the possibility of forming a trust that will address the issue of housing performance while creating jobs for local youth. Please contact me if you are interested.

No Really, I Am a House Doctor

Editor’s Note: This is my regular weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.   For three years I have strived to provide topical and accurate advice and commentary on eco-renovation, healthy homes, edible landscaping, solar energy, composting, organic gardening and creative reuse, as well as on local issues of sustainability or lack thereof. That’s 156 consecutive weeks, and as far as I recall there was only one instance in which I have been corrected: a case of writing about a change to the New Zealand Building Code that had been reported inaccurately to me. (I should have done my homework.) The point is I would never intentionally mislead readers and I go to lengths to cite my sources where appropriate. The legitimacy of columnists relies on the accuracy of the information they share. And so it was with great surprise that I opened last Saturday’s paper to see hash marks around my educational prefix: “Dr.” Although the extra punctuation was probably an error during sub-editing, I want to ensure Chronicle readers that I am indeed a Dr without the inverted double-commas. My father says I’m “not a real doctor” because I do not practice medicine, but I am at least as much a doctor as Dr Russell Norman, co-leader of the Green Party. It is widely recognized that Dr Norman has brought a new level of legitimacy and acceptance to the Greens since he assumed a leadership position. If it means bringing legitimacy and acceptance to the concepts of healthy homes and energy efficiency then call me “Doc.” Hardly a week goes by that we do not hear something in the news about the major challenges related to housing. In last week’s Chronicle it was Chief human rights commissioner David Rutherford who urged all parties to come together over this “very serious” issue. He called for the provision of adequate housing which “would reduce the incidence of childhood illnesses due to cold, damp, overcrowded accommodation, and the call for more of our elderly to be cared for in homes which are in many cases likely to be unsuitable for elderly habitation to name just a few of the issues.” Just before that article appeared, Melissa Wishart reported on Professor Paul McDonald’s visit to “Wanganui” during which he discussed a holistic approach to the health sector that addresses social issues first: “Most people think that health is a series of medical challenges that sometimes have social consequences…health is a series of social challenges and opportunities that sometimes have medical consequences.” Both Rutherford and McDonald undoubtedly draw on the work of Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman, professor of public health at Otago University, Wellington. She is widely recognized as the premier ‘House Doctor’ in New Zealand, heading up Healthy Housing/He Kainga Oranga, a housing and health research programme, as well as the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities. If Dr. Howden-Chapman is the brain surgeon of healthy homes in New Zealand I would qualify as something like a general practicioner. In my day job I visit up to four homes a day (yes, I do house calls) to discuss with residents the things that constitute a healthy home and what are the first and best steps for them to take given their budget and lifestyle. Every home I visit is different and every family is different. Being able to provide the most up-to-date independent advice specifically tailored to a young family or retired couple is a rewarding way to make a living. The strength of my advice relies completely on trust, as clients rely on my diagnosis of problems with their home, and my prescriptions for how to address them. In this way, I do very much feel like a medical doctor. It is an honour to serve society in this way, but also a great responsibility to maintain the highest levels of accuracy and integrity. As we roll into winter 2015, I will be happy to answer your questions on insulation, ventilation, heating, moisture and condensation, mould, heat transfer, household appliances, and even light bulbs. Submit questions to Anna Wallace, Deputy Editor, Wanganui Chronicle.

Screen shot 2015-04-24 at 10.49.47 AM

Peace, Dr. Estwing