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Heat as a medicine in the rehabilitation of buildings and improving the indoor environment in New Zealand?
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July 24, 2012

Heat as a medicine in the rehabilitation of buildings and improving the indoor environment in New Zealand?

July 9, 2012, Brisbane, Australia

More than 525 researchers, engineers, policy makers and others from 39 countries on 5 continents took part in the Healthy Buildings conference in Brisbane, Australia. Professor Phillipa Howden-Chapman had an interesting presentation on co-benefits of making housing healthier in one of the plenary session on the Balance of Power: Energy Conservation Versus Environment Quality.

Phillipa said: “In order to rehabilitate the buildings, we need to think about co-benefits. There are significant health gains to be made in improving the indoor environment in existing housing, as well as making significant achievements in energy efficiency, which highlight the additional benefits in reducing energy demand and thereby lowering carbon emissions. These measures can lower the costs of running the house and when combined with building new housing along public transport routes, can lower transportation costs. Housing, energy and transportation costs represent the major household expenditures and have been identified as the main areas where carbon savings can be made.”

In New Zealand, the buildings make up for 30-40% of residential energy and the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) showed that the lowest energy use is due to the fact that only one room in a building is usually heated. There is a large impact of retrofitting houses with insulation: a cost-benefits analysis of a randomized community trial (valuing health gains, energy and CO2 emission savings). If the house is insulated with 30 years of payback, it saves one person to go to the hospital and the cost for the hospital covers the insulation costs. In New Zealand, there is a recommendation for an indoor temperature around 18-21°C but in fact houses are heated up to 16°C, and this results in 1,600 deaths/year in those not well-insulated homes.

Low-income people have problems with paying heating bills and stands before the choice “heat or eat”. The LPG heaters (liquefied petroleum gas) are called “poor person´s heater” and 1/3 of New Zealand´s households have UFGHs heaters (unflued gas) with 4 kW which often leads to exposure to nitrogen dioxide NO2 and which is illegal elsewhere not in New Zealand. Only 5% of households have central heating and 2/3 of the houses were built after the war without proper insulation.

Over 100,000 houses were selected for the program with intervention heaters, where the government program deals with insulating buildings and installing special heaters in homes. All these buildings have a unique house number associated with hospital bills in the family. And all this leads to an interesting program name: “heat as a medicine”.

Photo by Petra Vladykova