House insulation scheme stops kids getting sick, new study reveals

Jaymie Tihore, right, with son Ioane Ephraim Au, partner William with Connor Rei and Ngakau Lei at home in their damp ...

Jaymie Tihore, right, with son Ioane Ephraim Au, partner William with Connor Rei and Ngakau Lei at home in their damp cold Porirua house in November last year. By then, Ioane had been hospitalised seven times, which his parents blamed on their poorly insulated house.

A Government-funded house insulation scheme has proved very effective in preventing children needing hospital care, according to a new Wellington-based study.

Researchers from Otago University, Wellington's Department of Public Health found hospitalisations dropped by 19 per cent for children in rental homes that had their insulation brought up to current building standards under the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme.

"We already know that, overall, private rental housing is in worse condition than owner-occupied housing," study co-author Lucy Telfar Barnard, of the He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, said.

The $500 million scheme started in July 2009 and included the Government subsidising retrofits of a range of energy efficiency options, including ceiling and underfloor insulation, plus heating, in about 290,000 privately owned pre-2000s homes, plus 40,000 state-owned homes.

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* Baby's health woes blamed on cold damp Porirua state house

The study, published in the online journal People, Place and Policy, found hospitalisations of children living in all homes insulated under the programme had dropped by 6 per cent, which included privately owned, rented and state-owned properties. 

Co-author Philippa Howden-Chapman said the findings highlighted the need to continue the scheme, which was scheduled to end in June.

"Insulation providers, landlords and the public urgently need absolute assurance that this proven social investment will continue until this important job to make our houses warmer, drier and easier to heat, is completed," she said.

A cost-benefit analysis of the programme in 2011 found the benefits outweighed the cost by five times, with 99 per cent of benefits were for residents' health.

Late last year, the Minister of Building and Housing Nick Smith introduced the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill, which would require insulating rental properties to meet the current 2008 Building Code if they had no insulation or insulation in poor condition, which he predicted would affect 180,000 homes nationwide. It also would make smoke alarms mandatory in residential rental homes.

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However, Howden-Chapman said those proposed changes left the majority of the rental stock with insulation remaining at the much lower "inadequate" 1978 standard.

The researchers also called for a mandatory rental housing Warrant of Fitness, stating about 25 per cent of New Zealanders were unable to afford adequate energy and electricity for their homes, including 4.6 per cent of single parents with children that reported using no heating in the 2013 Census. 

He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme was undertaking a housing rental Warrant of Fitness study in Dunedin and Wellington this year, using Invercargill as a comparative location.

 - Stuff

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