Common Problems with New Zealand Houses

Most migrants notice very quickly that New Zealand homes tend to be colder and damper than houses in the UK.

There are things you can do to improve the winter living conditions in a New Zealand home, and they don’t necessarily cost the earth. The following article is intended to give you an idea of what to expect when looking at New Zealand property. We also suggest how much the common problems will cost to rectify.

HEATING

CENTRAL HEATING IS VERY UNCOMMON IN NEW ZEALAND HOMES. IT IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT NEW EMIGRANTS AND KIWIS RETURNING FROM THE UK TEND TO MISS MOST.

Kiwis tend to heat their homes room-by-room, with living areas a priority. You may find the vestiges of an oil-fired central heating system in an older home in the south, but the oil shock in the early 1970s put paid to this. Neither electricity nor natural gas has ever been cheap enough in New Zealand for UK-style boilers and radiators to become popular.

Typical heating

The typical heating arrangement in a Kiwi home is a wood burner, heat pump, pellet fire or gas fire in the main living area. In some areas gas needs to be delivered in big bottles that sit outside the house. Piped or reticulated household gas is not available everywhere in New Zealand. There is often a night store or panel heater in the hallway to heat the rest of the house. Free-standing electric oil filled radiators are common where bedrooms need to be heated.

You can install central heating in a new or existing home, generally with ducted heat pumps or boilers burning wood pellets. Unfortunatley it is still relatively uncommon and expensive compared to a UK central heating system.

New Zealanders are increasingly aware that their homes are cold. They also know that this is a health issue rather than just a comfort one. Some local councils provide grants and low-interest loans to home owners and landlords looking to upgrade their heating and insulation.

WINDOWS

ALUMINIUM IS THE MOST COMMON WINDOW FRAME MATERIAL IN NEW ZEALAND. MOST NEW ZEALAND HOMES ARE SINGLE GLAZED.

Aluminium windows

Replacement aluminium-framed double-glazing is quite expensive ($25,000 + for a house). Double glazing is around 30% more expensive than single glazing, and is now mandatory for new homes in colder areas of New Zealand. A number of older homes have had their original wooden windows replaced with single-glazed aluminium joinery.  Aluminium is an excellent conductor, so if you get any condensation in your home it will appear on the window joinery. This can happen even if the windows are double-glazed.

UPVC windows

UPVC windows are available in New Zealand but uncommon. Apparently when UPVC windows were first introduced to NZ some decades ago, they did not last long in the strong sun. The technology has moved on, but they remain an expensive window option.

If you are thinking about replacing windows, a good place to start your research is the Window Association of New Zealand website

INSULATION

NEW HOUSES WERE NOT REQUIRED TO BE FULLY INSULATED (CEILING AND WALLS) IN SOME AREAS OF NZ UNTIL 1978.  NEW ZEALAND HOUSES CAN BE VERY COLD IN THE WINTER.

A typical New Zealand home without insulation loses around 30-50% of its heat through the roof, 18-24% through the walls, 21-31% through the windows, 12-14% through the floor and 5-9% through air leakage.

Roof Insulation

Fibreglass batting, loose cellulose and wool insulation products are very effective in the roof ($1500 – $2500 for a typical house).  There are various foil and polystyrene products that can also be fitted under draughty wooden floors ($2000 – $2500 for a typical house).

Wall insulation

Walls are harder to retrofit with insulation. There is a foam that can be pumped in, but it is contentious (particularly in brick homes). Cellulose can also be pumped in from the exterior, but there are apparently concerns that this will sag over time. Even a small gap in insulation can dramatically reduce its effectiveness. Another method of insulating walls is to remove the plaster board from the inside of a room and tuck in insulation. This is best done when redecorating or renovating.

VENTILATION AND CONDENSATION

CONDENSATION MANIFESTS ITSELF IN WINDOWS THAT ARE WET ON THE INSIDE AND IS A SYMPTOM OF THE DAMPNESS IN MANY NEW ZEALAND HOMES.

Condensation is mainly confined to the winter months. It can be as light as a faint misting on the bottom edge of the window, or as severe as drops of water that cover and run down the window and frame. If you don’t wipe it off, it will cause mould on aluminium windows and rot wooden ones.

Condensation on windows is a symptom of:

  • inadequate ventilation,
  • inadequate insulation, and
  • inadequate heating.

It’s quite a catch-22. If you stop up all the gaps and limit opening your windows in the winter so you don’t lose all your precious heat, you can prevent air circulating. Then, the the damp air you end up with is much harder to heat. Newer homes have better insulation, so are less prone to condensation problems. Unfortunately, if even a brand new home has inadequate ventilation, it can have moisture problems.

Address sources of damp

Should your New Zealand home have a condensation problem, it is probably best to get your insulation upgraded. You should also address any sources of excess moisture in your home, such as:

  • Dry clothes outside – or in a properly vented dryer.
  • Keep the bathroom door closed when you bathe or shower
  • Get extractor fans fitted in the bathroom and kitchen. They need to vent to the outside rather than into your roof space.
  • If you have wooden floors, check the ground under your house. If it is wet, consider installing heavy-duty plastic to prevent this dampness from rising up into your house.
  • Air your house as regularly as possible.
  • Avoid un-flued (portable) gas heaters – they don’t only create moisture problems, they are pretty toxic.
  • Make sure your gutters are clear, get any roof leaks fixed (leaks can be hard to track down on iron roofs), and make sure your storm water drains are not blocked.

If you have eliminated as much moisture as possible and still have condensation problems, it may be worth looking at mechanical forms of ventilation. There is a good discussion of these on the SmarterHomes  website. You can also control condensation with portable dehumidifiers, but these cost quite a bit to run and only control condensation in small areas rather than sorting out the moisture problem in the whole house.

GRANTS AND FUNDING

As well as local council initiatives to improve heating and insulation in New Zealand homes, there are nationwide grants available from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority or ECCA. Check here for further information on the funding that is currently available.

KEEP IN MIND

IF YOU ARE BUYING ANYTHING OTHER THAN A VERY NEW HOME IN NEW ZEALAND, AND YOU PLAN TO STAY THERE FOR A FEW YEARS, YOU PROBABLY NEED TO PLAN TO SPEND SOME MONEY ON HEATING AND INSULATION.

You may not recoup all of these costs if you come to sell quickly, as insulation in particular is relatively undervalued in the New Zealand real estate market, especially compared to a new bathroom or kitchen – but your home will be a much nicer place to live!

To find out more, request a free copy of our Financial and Pension guides for New Zealand.