Healthy homes

Healthy homes standards for rental housing

This year private landlords will need to comply with the Government’s new standards for rental properties.  We welcome the standards as a good step on the pathway to ensure tenants, often the most vulnerable of our people, can live in healthy homes.

Our work with the Healthy Homes Initiatives has shown us just how poor the housing conditions of tenants can be – and how powerless they frequently are in trying to improve those conditions.  These requirements will mandate change on behalf of these families.

And the benefits?  Tenants benefit from healthier families, fewer children with rheumatic fever or asthma or bronchitis, fewer doctors’ visits or hospitalisations, more money in family budgets as houses become easier to heat and health costs reduce. Landlords benefit from homes that stay in better condition with less maintenance required. 

And on a national scale, we all benefit.  Research released this week as well shows that injuries and hospitalisations caused purely by cold, damp, mouldy, or dangerous housing could be costing New Zealand more than $145 million each year in ACC claims and hospitalisation costs.

So we’re thrilled to see some standards in place – they are a step in the right direction – and we’d like to see them extended further in the future.

Tweaks for the future

We support the requirement to have a heater in living areas which can heat to 18°C.  We’d love to see that extended to bedrooms – these are often some of the coldest rooms in the house, especially during night time temperatures.  Beacon’s large scale HomeSmart Renovation project took temperature readings in over 180 homes: very few participants (and these were financially relatively well off people) heated their bedrooms overnight and temperatures dipped as low as 8°C, averaging between 13°C and 14°C. The result? Bedrooms with walls, bedding and mattresses covered in mould.

The ventilation standards are very important and we endorse the need for them.  Without good ventilation, moisture stays in the home as condensation, creating the conditions for mould and damaging the home’s building materials. The standards specify minimum ventilation rates (kitchens 50 litres per second and bathroom 25 litres per second) and that extraction fans must be vented to the outside of the house (sending damp air into the insulated roof space damages ceiling insulation).  We recommend more powerful extractor fans (e.g. 40 litres per second) in bathrooms / wet areas, using motion sensors with a delay timer, and ensuring that the duct diameter and extract fan is 150mm.

The ground moisture barrier requirement is great news.  Such an easy, relatively cheap thing to do, it can make a huge difference to the amount of moisture that gets into a house.  We’re also pleased to see requirements to draught stop homes – as the standards note, this is another simple low cost measure to keep warm air in, and cooler air and moisture out.  It’s surprising how many homes we’ve seen where draughts were not just coming in around doors and windows, but through damaged frames, broken windows, and poor maintenance.

And we’re delighted that rental homes must be insulated to 2008 Building Code levels if they are found to have inadequate insulation.  This will make a big difference to how easy it is to heat a rental home – tenants will be able to heat rooms to a warmer temperature for the same cost.

What’s missing?

There is one thing we think the standards miss out: curtains.  We think it’s short-sighted not to include closely fitted, lined, floor length curtains as part of the insulation requirements.  On a per area basis, windows are the most energy inefficient element of the building envelope.  BRANZ research (2007) showed that in a house insulated to pre-2007 requirements, the windows account for the largest single proportion of heat loss (42-45%).  Curtains are another relatively inexpensive and easy-to-do measure which will reduce how much heat is lost through the windows and mean that the heaters will be much more effective in keeping the rooms warm.

Congratulations to the Government on producing these standards!  We look forward to their implementation (and enforcement), and a day when all tenants enjoy warmer, drier, healthier living.

Glenda Lock