Kiwis Stuck In Unhealthy Homes During Lockdown

Credit: Original article can be found here

Living and working from home, particularly during
lockdowns, may not be good for your health.

CEO of
building performance technology company Tether, Brandon Van
Blerk, said an outdated New Zealand Building Code means most
of us are living in houses that do not hold in heat and are
poorly ventilated.

“Creating healthy home standards
was a good first step, but New Zealand’s Building Code
desperately needs an update if the country’s poor
respiratory health statistics are to be reversed,” Van Blerk

While the Government accepts public submissions
about the Building Code annually, the Building Act 2004
legislation hasn’t been updated for nearly two

Given the rising rate of asthma and other
respiratory illnesses in New Zealand, Van Blerk said both
the Code and the Act are long past due for a

Tether is a homegrown New Zealand tech
company that creates a range of software and hardware
products designed, developed, and manufactured from the
ground up in New Zealand. The company’s proof-of-performance
solutions enable data-driven insights into building
performance through modelling, monitoring and data

“The Building Code is slowly going through
an upgrade to improve critical factors like thermal
efficiency of homes. But until those rules are changed,
developers will continue to build as cheaply as

A drastic overhaul of housing standards
does not mean aligning with Canada, the US, or Europe, where
temperatures can drop below freezing. New Zealand deserves a
unique approach, but it can still learn from these other

“New Zealand’s poor-quality housing is
the victim of our temperate climate. The Building Code here
is generally 30 years behind standards in the US, Canada and

“I am optimistic the Government will make a
good decision and write into law some of the requirements
the sector needs, such as better insulation, ventilation and

“Things will start to shift once the updates
are through. But even then, it will be important to measure
the success of those changes even if the models predict they
will improve health and efficiency,” he said.

to the Building Code can’t come soon

According to the Asthma Foundation, more than
600,000 Kiwis take medication for respiratory illnesses,
while 2922 people die from various illnesses each year.
Asthma alone costs New Zealand $1 billion in public and
private medical costs.

Van Blerk said the onset of
respiratory illnesses is often due to people living in
poorly built homes, resulting from the current relaxed
building standards.

“Most people are exposed to
terrible air entering their homes and terrible air inside
their homes. That’s why asthma and respiratory diseases are
so high. People just can’t get away from the

“Simply put, Kiwi houses aren’t constructed to
deal with poor environmental quality correctly. Tether’s
sensors prove that many homes are infested with particulates
like break dust, pollen or car exhaust fumes. On top of
this, homes are Petri dishes for mould due to fluctuations
of temperature and large amounts of relative humidity,” Van
Blerk said.

But until the Building Code changes, Van
Blerk said there are a handful of things homeowners and
landlords can do to improve the health of their

1. Tighten the thermal envelope

This is
a fancy way of saying, “make sure you can control what comes
in and what goes out of your home all year round,” said Van

The exact upgrades for a house will, of course,
depend on the individual home, including its local climate,
number of bedrooms, ventilation, windows, heating,
extraction, appliances, and other factors. The house is a
complicated system.

“But as a starting point, a key
change is to improve insulation in the floors, walls and
ceiling. Single-glazing windows also have a massive impact
on how buildings perform thermally, so consider upgrading to
double-glazing instead,” Van Blerk said.

2. Better

The current impact on a house from poor
ventilation and moisture control can be calculated, said Van
Blerk, and the correct fix could be to set up a balanced
ventilation system provided by a number of reputable
ventilation companies.

The solution may not need to be
so drastic, however.

For instance, if a bathroom
consistently fogs up during shower use, that means the
extractor fan isn’t working correctly. Instead of buying a
new fan, Van Blerk suggested placing a dome over the shower
to capture the steam and dry the bathroom.

“There are
hundreds of cheap, small interventions people can do. After
all, to do a good job renovating for optimal health can be
expensive,” he said.

3. Mind the gap

The poor
quality of New Zealand’s housing often means thousands of
small gaps can be found between the framing, windows, floors
and ceiling, which means the house leaks air like a

Closing as many of these gaps as possible can
drastically improve a home’s thermal comfort and lower the
chances of developing respiratory illnesses while also
reducing the cost of heating.

“It makes no sense to
heat a box full of holes, which is what most houses are. The
heat will just escape and drive up the power bill. There is
a lot of people can do to fix the smaller issues like gaps,”
Van Blerk said.

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