Fuel poverty in New Zealand

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Fuel poverty in New Zealand


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Old 3rd August 2012, 09:37 AM
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Default Fuel poverty in New Zealand

I thought this may be useful as we're discussing the cost of living at the moment.



Fuel poverty in the land of plenty – Commentary – New Zealand Listener

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Soaring electricity prices are causing more New Zealanders to struggle to heat cold, damp, unhealthy houses.

In July 2010, five-and-a-half-month-old Roretana Holland was found dead in the bed he was sharing with his four-year-old sister, at his parents’ home in Warspite Ave, Porirua. The coroner for the case, Ian Smith, warned once more about the dangers of cot death when sleeping arrangements are shared. Social deprivation, smoking in the household and excessive alcohol consumption were all there. But one part of the deprivation picture the coroner didn’t mention was why the children were sleeping together in the first place.

The four children shared a bedroom because the family had only a single oil heater to keep warm. The Holland household was one of the estimated 400,000 in New Zealand whose members are living in fuel poverty, where heating the home to a comfortable temperature eats up more than 10% of income. Pressure mounts to either skimp on heating or miss out on other essentials, instead.

The Federation of Family Budgeting Services reports that at this time of year, many financially stressed families are in arrears on their electricity and gas bills, as the high cost of the cold months hits home. Says chief executive Raewyn Fox, “We do seem to have had a lot of people through our doors this winter facing disconnection.” In Dunedin, the Budget Advisory Service reports its clients often come in with monthly bills of $350-400, with some as high as $600.

New research from the University of Otago’s Housing and Health Research Programme has found fuel poverty soared during the decade to May 2011, in which electricity prices rose 87% to 26c a kilowatt-hour. In 2003, 10-14% of New Zealand households were estimated to be living in fuel poverty. By 2008 that had jumped to 25%.

“We found that fuel poverty is a major issue in New Zealand, particularly for people on low incomes, and it’s a problem that’s growing,” says lead author Philippa Howden-Chapman, a professor at the university’s Department of Public Health. Once upon a time, keeping a cold home was a badge of stoicism for the hardy Kiwi. Now it’s becoming clearer a cold home is a health hazard, as low living temperatures put the body under stress in a variety of ways, including increased rates of asthma and respiratory infections. In New Zealand, cold homes probably play a role in the 1600 extra deaths that occur each year in winter but not in summer, says Howden-Chapman.

How so? This “excess winter mortality”, as it is called, isn’t found everywhere. “It doesn’t occur in very cold places like Sweden or Siberia, it doesn’t occur in Canada. It occurs in temperate countries, and the most famous examples are New Zealand, Portugal, Greece and Scotland. And they have in common that they’re basically temperate countries but the housing is built as though they were much warmer countries.

“Being inside a house where people are actually shivering, where they can see dragon breath, where their breath is condensing, makes the body work much harder in terms of reduced immunity and more stress on the circulatory system if they have a compromised circulatory system. “We know it has an impact on older people’s circulation in particular, because the blood gets more viscous and is more likely to form plaques, and people are more likely to have atrial fibrillation, or stroke and malfunctioning of their heart.”

It seems plausible that cold homes are partly to blame for extra winter deaths, Howden-Chapman says, because the home is where most people spend the most time, particularly the elderly. Fuel poverty is a concept originally developed in Britain in the 1980s and is based on a healthy home temperature being 21°C for living areas, and 18°C for bedrooms. The Otago-led research modelled electricity costs needed to keep a 100sq m house at those temperatures in different parts of the country.

Understandably, fuel poverty is running at higher levels in colder parts of the country, affecting an estimated 47% of households in Dunedin, 40% in Christchurch, 24% in Wellington and 14% in Auckland. Among Western countries, some of the worst rates of fuel poverty are found in parts of the UK: 27% in Scotland and 44% in Northern Ireland.

As part of other research, Howden-Chapman has visited many homes that are very cold, about 8-10°C. “They’re unheard of temperatures in other parts of the world for inside housing. That’s when your body has to work particularly hard to keep warm. Shivering is your body trying to generate some heat to keep your organs warm,” she says. In the past five years new evidence has emerged that viruses last longer in colder temperatures. And in homes where everyone is clustered in a single warm room, the chance of sharing bugs rises. Cold homes are a particular issue for asthmatics. One in five New Zealand children has asthma.

The jump in fuel poverty in New Zealand appears driven by a troika of causes – low incomes, rising electricity prices and New Zealand’s crummy, badly insulated housing stock.

“Real wages are dropping for a proportion of the population, and unemployment is still relatively high,” says Howden-Chapman. “We have large houses compared with the rest of the OECD, and we’re making good progress with insulating them, but we still have a long way to go. And the cost of electricity in particular has been rising exponentially in the residential market.

“Sadly, those on the lowest incomes pay the greatest proportion of their income – almost 13% – on household energy, yet we know that houses in New Zealand are still cold and damp with all the problems that ensue from that.” Often it is the homes of the poorest that are the worst-insulated and therefore the most expensive to heat. Since 1996, a series of insulation subsidies have been offered, most recently in the Warm Up New Zealand programme. Under this latest one, more than 100,000 of the 900,000 homes estimated to have had substandard insulation have been upgraded so far. However, rental properties are under-represented in the Warm Up programme, making up only 15% of the numbers, even though they are eligible for a 60% subsidy if the tenant has a low income. A third of all households are rentals.

Christchurch second*hand trader Paul Stephenson’s 130-year-old weatherboard cottage is one of those that are hard to heat and have few protections against the cold. The floorboards are close to the earth, the walls are unlined. Until he got a heat pump five years ago under a council scheme, it used to get so cold that sometimes ice would form on the inside of the panes. He left a DVD on the floor in its case one night, and by morning it had cracked in the overnight cold.

He gets fewer coughs and colds now, but Stephenson is still cautious about how much heat he uses, with his most recent power bill just $140 for a month. “I dress like I’m in Siberia. I have long johns, woollen vests and jumpers.” During recent snowfall he added scarves and gloves. “It’s just so cold at night in these old wooden houses.”

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Old 3rd August 2012, 10:44 PM
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It has been a shock since moving here five weeks ago from uk where double glazing and central heating is in every home, we are in rented house with no double glazing, no heating but has got DVS system so don't get condensation. I have hot water bottles, oil heater and electric blanket. I haven't had my first electric bill yet but have been conscious of how much I use as been told expensive. After a year of renting I know we will be buying or building and heating system will be top of my list.

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Old 4th August 2012, 12:42 AM
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Originally Posted by carosapien View Post
I thought this may be useful as we're discussing the cost of living at the moment.
Personally, I can't see the usefulness. I can get you to name any country in the world and google for similar newspaper stories of poverty within that country (including England). Immigrants to NZ will generally have a pretty good standard of living (in my opinion - based on what I know of here and my travels through other countries) as most will be receiving a good salary (they generally have to in order to get in).

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Old 4th August 2012, 01:00 AM
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Originally Posted by walshdon View Post
It has been a shock since moving here five weeks ago from uk where double glazing and central heating is in every home, we are in rented house with no double glazing, no heating but has got DVS system so don't get condensation. I have hot water bottles, oil heater and electric blanket. I haven't had my first electric bill yet but have been conscious of how much I use as been told expensive. After a year of renting I know we will be buying or building and heating system will be top of my list.
A very sensible plan it is too, if you're building new at least you'll have the opportunity to look around at the most cost effective options. Something as simple as orientating your house to face north can make such a difference, as can planting a wind break to shield from southerly winds.

There's not that much can beat a good log burner IMO and if you can get a supply of good cheap/free wood you're onto a winner.

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Old 4th August 2012, 06:22 AM
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So how easy is it to get permissions etc.. to build your own house in NZ? its something iv always thought about but doubt id ever be able to do in the UK so gave up on it here!

I know straw is a great thing to build your house out of, if its packed tightly enough you dont get pest problems - the insulation is high quality and not messy at all once its all together! (watched far too many documentries)

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Old 4th August 2012, 06:58 AM
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They are sold under the title sections and think they must have building permission before they can be put on sale.

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Old 4th August 2012, 07:36 AM
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^^ straw house
I too have seen documentaries on these types of buildings, and I have just the thing for you - on your camping trip between Wellington and Pitangirua Pinnacles you can pass thru Martinborough and stay at the Straw House Lodge !
I've never seen one apart from on tv - there's a company here that has an agent in NZ, also this one


The Short Straw Café, Silverstream, Wellington - a café built from straw

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Old 4th August 2012, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Krazyspence View Post
So how easy is it to get permissions etc.. to build your own house in NZ? its something iv always thought about but doubt id ever be able to do in the UK so gave up on it here!

I know straw is a great thing to build your house out of, if its packed tightly enough you dont get pest problems - the insulation is high quality and not messy at all once its all together! (watched far too many documentries)
Many people build from scratch - we did all the investigation to do just that - then found a pre-built two year old house so it never happened!

NZ is well set up for BYO (that's 'Build Your Own') - and also if you want to attempt to go off-grid. We have huge water tanks, septic tanks, and 3 Kw solar electricity on our roof.

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Old 5th August 2012, 07:18 AM
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Song_SI : Thanks for that link too! im going to need a map to keep track of all these places to visit!! I definately saw a documentary about a guy who built his house from straw and was amazed at the benefits.. should be used more often!


Topcat : Sounds like a great idea! Kind of what I want to do.. as long as im not too far off the grid that I cant get the internet for communicating with the family in England! something to look into!

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Old 5th August 2012, 10:05 AM
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Song_SI : Thanks for that link too! im going to need a map to keep track of all these places to visit!! I definately saw a documentary about a guy who built his house from straw and was amazed at the benefits.. should be used more often!


Topcat : Sounds like a great idea! Kind of what I want to do.. as long as im not too far off the grid that I cant get the internet for communicating with the family in England! something to look into!
We have a better internet connection here than we did on Bucklands Beach peninsula. Apparently the guy down the road used to be something big at Telecom!

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