Four steps for keeping your home warm and healthy
Now that the cold weather is well and truly here, we hope you’re all keeping warm inside! Many of us Kiwis suffer from living in cold, damp houses. Not only can our poorly-designed homes be uncomfortable to live in, they can also be bad for our health.
The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. If the rooms you spend most of your time in (like your lounge and bedrooms) fall below this, you and your family may be more likely to suffer from Winter ailments. In particular, the elderly, people with respiratory or heart problems and young children could be putting their health at risk.
Our Sustainability Advisors have put together four easy steps to help you keep your home warm.
Step One: Insulate
30-35% of heat loss occurs through the roof and 12-14% through the floors, so you could be reducing up to 50% of the heat loss by installing insulation in these areas. When installing underfloor insulation, it’s usually also a good idea to put down a moisture barrier, such as black polythene. This will reduce the amount of moisture that comes up from the ground.
You can also lose 20-30% of heat through windows. Most New Zealand houses have single-paned rather than double-glazed windows, which can be costly to retrofit. We sell a relatively cheaper solution at the EcoMatters Retail Shop. It’s basically a kit containing plastic sheets and tape for attaching to your window frames, simulating a double-glazed window for $25.
Even without double glazing, good curtains can help! We recommend full-length double-lined curtains that sit against the inside of your window frame, closing any gaps around your window where cold air could come through. Lined curtains trap an insulating layer of air between the two layers of fabric. Contrary to common belief, thermal curtains that have a plastic-like backing are not particularly insulating. That said, if they’re fitted properly as described above, they’ll still be relatively effective.
Step Two: Reduce moisture
Step two is probably the least known way to a warmer home. Moist air is more difficult to heat than dry air, so reducing moisture will play a key part in keeping warm. It also reduces the likelihood of mould forming, which is detrimental to our health. Aside from installing the underfloor moisture barrier we mentioned earlier, you can also reduce “moisture-makers” and air your house regularly.
Turn your extractor fan on in the kitchen when you’re cooking, or make sure a window is open if you don’t have one. Keep lids on pots when cooking, and as well as saving on energy, you’ll release less steam into the room.
While you’re showering or immediately after, use the extractor fan in your bathroom if you have one, or again, open the window. And when you’re finished, leave the bathroom door closed so the moist air is released through the window rather than into other parts of the house.
Ditch your portable gas heater. They release potentially hazardous gases, and put up to 1L of moisture into the air each hour. And they’re not actually cheaper to run than an electric heater.
Don’t dry your clothes inside. Wait for sunny weather to dry clothes or take them to a laundromat. If you have a dryer, make sure it’s vented to the outside or open the window and close any doors to other parts of the house. An unvented dryer can produce 5L of moisture per load.
Oh and remember to open your curtains during the day. Natural sunlight will help to dry out and warm your home and it’s free!
Step three: Ventilate
Ventilation helps to keep your home dryer and therefore warmer. You can’t completely eliminate moisture in your home. We even produce it when breathing (0.2L per hour per person) – but you can significantly reduce it by making sure you air your home regularly.
Open windows at opposite ends of the house to air it out, even if it’s for ten to fifteen minutes each morning before you turn the heater on. It’s especially effective on sunny days.
Step four: Heat
Heating is the last and final step – because you can try heating as much as you like, but if you haven’t followed the the previous steps, your attempts won’t be as effective.
The best heating option for you might depend on your budget, situation and the size of your rooms.*
If you can afford it, a heat pump is the most efficient form of electrical heating. But if you’re renting or are unable to fork out that initial cost, look for a convection or micathermic heater with a fan. These heaters have both radiant heat (the type you feel sitting next to a heater) and convection heat (circulated heat). They’ll move warm air around the room, rather than let it just rise to the ceiling.
Ideally, try to use a heater that has a timer and a thermostat, which will enable the room temperature to be kept constant. You can set the timer to turn on in a bedroom early in the morning, making sure the temperature doesn’t drop too low.
*For more detailed advice on heaters, check out Consumer Magazine’s Winter Heating Guide.
How EcoMatters can help
If you own or are living in a rental property, we have great news for you. Our Sustainability Advisors are currently partnering with the Puketāpapa and Whau Local Boards to deliver Healthy Rentals – an initiative to provide free rental property assessments to check if they’re warm, dry and healthy. See what local board area your rental property is in.
While we’re checking out your rental for you, we can also advise if you’re eligible for subsidies on insulation. All rental properties are required to be insulated by July 2019, and if eligible landlords act quickly, they could access subsidies on improvements such as insulation, ground sheets, heat pumps and extractor fans.
For more help
Visit our Healthy Homes page to find out about our current services and for more advice.