Why improving home performance is important

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There are lots of reasons to improve our homes.

Improving our health

Most of our homes are uncomfortable during the winter. On average they are 6°C below World Health Organisation recommended minimum temperatures.  We know that one million homes were built before insulation was mandatory – heating these homes is difficult and wastes unnecessary energy heating air that disappears outside.  At the opposite end of the year warmer summers are causing our homes to overheat.

Cold homes create condensation - 45% of our homes have mould and are ideal environments for fungi and dust-mites, helping trigger increasingly high rates of allergy and asthma.  Cold, damp and mould indoors, where we spend most of our time, affects the health of 25% of our households and is a key contributor to New Zealand’s high winter mortality rate (1600 more people die in winter than in summer) - one of the highest in the developed world.

As well as affecting the quality of many New Zealander’s lives, this costs us, as individuals and as a nation.  Sick days off work and school are just the tip of the iceberg – there are doctors’ visits,  prescription charges, hospital costs – the list goes on.

Making our homes affordable

Truly affordable houses are cheap to run, not just cheap to buy.

The mistake made by many people when considering the issue of affordable housing is to focus solely on the price charged for a house.  Yet with houses, as with cars, indeed with any piece of equipment, the initial capital outlay is only part of the cost of ownership: running costs throughout the asset’s lifespan are also a major contributor.

Reducing energy and water requirements – and therefore costs -  generates a significant increase in household disposable income, which could easily go towards repaying the mortgage.

Using the Earth’s resources wisely

We know our homes are not efficient.  Research shows that more resources, materials, energy and water are being used, per person, than ever before.

21% of New Zealand homes use 36% of energy (and they’re not the warmest homes.)   In New Zealand nearly a third of all electricity is used domestically – in heating, lighting and running appliances.  The generation of energy, particularly by the burning of fossil fuels,  depletes natural resources and pollutes the atmosphere.
The national average for water consumption is 241L per person, per day.  However, only about 5 litres per person per day (l/pp/pd) needs to be suitable for drinking and cooking – the rest of the expensively treated and reticulated water is flushed down toilets and waters our gardens. 

Our research shows it is relatively easy and doable to change our homes to use less energy and water.

The mounting cost of energy and water to New Zealand

New Zealand’s population is estimated to increase to five million by 2050 with our major cities expected to expand, putting considerable pressure on available land and existing infrastructure – stormwater provision, drinkable water supply, roading, transport, electricity supply and landfills.  

New Zealand electricity supply is largely centralised, with most power generated far away from major urban areas and centres of use.    Calls are being made for further power supplies to meet demand. 

Equally New Zealand is facing increasing challenges in supplying the water needed to meet domestic consumption demand, and to power our hydro-electric generators.  There is increased competition for water with demand from homes, farming, hydroelectricity, industry, recreation and tourism increasing and in many cases exceeding water availability beyond a sustainable level, while the quality of our water supply is declining.

The more water we use, the greater the demand on associated infrastructure such as stormwater and wastewater treatment facilities.

If we could reduce our demand for energy and water:

  • Our current supply would go further and supply more people
  • We could defer expensive new infrastructure
  • Our rates and taxes would not need to meet as many future infrastructure demands

Beacon’s National Value Case for Sustainable Innovations calculated the value to New Zealand of five simple home improvements:

  • The equivalent saving to New Zealand households of 1% of GDP by 2017 or about $2 billion. 
  • Direct savings in household energy consumption of almost 22 PJ per year, or enough to power over 500,000 New Zealand homes for a year. 
  • A reduction in CO2 emissions of 3600kt per year from energy savings,  the equivalent of $54 million in tradable emissions (at $15/tonne). 
  • Direct water savings amount to 81 litres per person per day, or about 130 million m3 per year.

We need to change our priorities

While most New Zealand homes don’t meet basic health and environmental standards, research shows the top five things we invest in when we move into a new home are interior repainting/wallpapering,  kitchen appliances/cabinetry, carpeting, bathroom white-ware, and re-plumbing or rewiring.

We have to face the reality that New Zealand’s homes simply have to be upgraded. They’re making us sick, they’re resource inefficient and they’re expensive to run. When it comes down to it, would you rather do up the kitchen or invest in the well-being of you or your family? It’s that simple.

Related Documents

  • 11-Jan-2007 (Publication PR240/4)

    National Value Case for Sustainable Housing Innovations (PDF 2MB)

    Melony Clark

    This policy paper for Government presents the value case for intervening to bring New Zealand's housing up to the HSS High Standard of Sustainability®.  Based on the National Value Case report (PR240/3), it shows that simple housing interventions will bring benefits on a nationwide scale.

Huntly power station


Healthy home


Photo: David Killick