Where to now for housing WOF?

BRUCE GORDON
Last updated 15:10 27/05/2014

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OPINION: It's about time the World Health Organisation's most pressing health concerns were addressed in New Zealand.

Following the release of estimates about the impact of air pollution in March, WHO declared indoor 
and outdoor air quality as the world's biggest health priority. WHO stresses the importance of creating a healthy home through the combination of insulation, ventilation and heating solutions.

In New Zealand, unless you're going for a wander down Queen St where air quality levels risk failing WHO standards, according to NIWA, our outdoor air is among the best you'll breathe anywhere in the world.

Inside our homes, it's a different story.

Poor indoor living conditions, brought on by a combination of airborne nasties and cold temperatures in many New Zealand homes, impacts on everything from health and well-being to a child's learning capability at schools and a person's work output.

In light of this, it is worth highlighting that the recently released findings of the council-led housing warrant of fitness trials for rental homes show the checklist criteria maintained an equal emphasis on aesthetic elements rather than core healthy home issues.

So where to now for WOF? Consolidation of the council-led initiative and the Government's state housing WOF trial would make sense, with a definite emphasis on the government checklist which is more focused on insulation, ventilation and heating - the fundamentals of a healthy home.

A warrant of fitness for rental housing is a good thing. In saying that, a warrant of fitness standard for all homes around the country to create a healthy home bench-mark would be even better and something the councils and central government need to come together on.

The good news is, with insulation schemes such as Warm Up: Healthy Homes, the need to improve the quality of New Zealand homes is on the radar of the National Government and opposition parties such as the Greens.

However, with the Government reducing contributions to these insulation programmes, a WOF checklist would continue to raise awareness about what householders can and should do to improve their homes.

The council rental WOF steering group, comprised of a research team from Otago University, ACC, the New Zealand Green Building Council and five local councils, is coming up with a revised checklist to roll out nationwide in the future.

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Let's hope it's not the too distant future.

A report by Otago University outlined how landlords surveyed following the WOF trial said they were against some criteria being included, with balustrades and security window stays at the top of the list for removal.

These incidentals detract from the core drivers to a sustainable and healthy home, and potentially add cost and deter landlords and homeowners from taking up the WOF compliance challenge.

The steering group has already agreed to drop window security stays from the assessment criteria 
according to Christchurch City Council, and it can go further to simplify the WOF.

For some properties, these elements may be important parts of what will make that specific home safe. But the new checklist should focus more on the core healthy home elements that WHO recommends, with these non-essential elements considered as and when appropriate, not as mandatory.

Ultimately, the first priority should be creating a healthy home and addressing the key needs of a specific property, especially if investment dollars are limited.

If you make a cold, damp and mouldy house into a warm, inviting and most importantly, healthy one, then it not only adds to your home's life but the life span of those who live in it, be it yourself, your family, or your tenants.

- Bruce Gordon is chief executive of heating and ventilation company HRV.

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