Healthy home

Warm and dry homes

Being in a cold and damp house is not only uncomfortable, but it can seriously affect your physical health. Cold, damp, and crowded homes increase your risk of respiratory issues, infection, and other easily preventable illnesses. It is especially important to keep your home warm and dry as you get older because you may be more susceptible to health issues. Making sure your home is warm and dry in the colder months will increase your chances of staying healthy at home. The World Health Organisation recommends keeping your living space between 18 and 21˚C.

How to heat your home

Insulation will help your home retain heat and make it more efficient to keep warm. New houses will be built with insulation to meet current building standards, but if you own an older house you should consider retrofitting insulation if possible. Insulation will also help to reduce draughts, through which up to 20 percent of heat can be lost. You can find information about insulating your home here.
 
It is important to choose the right heat source for your space to ensure it runs efficiently. You can choose to only heat the room that you are in to increase efficiency. Finding a heater that uses renewable energy, such as a heat pump, wood burner, electric heater, or flued gas heater will be better for the environment and is cheaper to run. You can read more about the pros and cons of different types of heaters here. It is important to make sure that the heater you choose is the right fit for the area you are heating. This will ensure that it can adequately heat the space without wasting electricity. You can use the heating assessment tool to find what sized heater you need here.
 
Along with insulating and heating your home, it is important to open windows and curtains on sunny days to let heat and sunlight in. This natural source of heat can be trapped in the home by closing the windows and curtains when the sun goes down. You can trim trees that grow close to your home or ask your landlord to do this to let more sunlight in through the windows.

Funding

If you are a low-income homeowner in an older house and want to install insulation or buy a heater, you may be eligible for a grant. The Warmer Kiwi Homes programme is available for people who own homes built before 2008 that have no insulation or heat sources, and who hold a community services card or live in a low-income area. You can check your eligibility and find out how much the grant will cover on the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) website.

Keeping your home dry

Along with keeping your home warm, it is important to keep it dry to prevent mould and stop you from getting sick. It is also easier to heat your home when the air is drier. While running a dehumidifier can improve dampness in your home, it can be expensive and there are other things you can try to improve the dryness of your home. These include: 

  • Airing your home regularly. You should aim to open doors and windows for 10-15 minutes every morning, or to use a ventilation system inside your house
  • Dry washing outside. Drying washing indoors will keep moisture inside your home and may increase the risk of mould. Hanging washing outside will help to kill bacteria on your clothing. If you need to dry your clothes indoors, try putting them in a garage or shed
  • Use energy efficient, safe heaters. Avoid unflued gas heaters, and try to use safe heaters that are appropriate for the space you are heating
  • Use extractor fans or open windows in bathrooms, the laundry, and in the kitchen to reduce moisture from steam. If you are cooking, you can use pot lids to reduce the amount of steam that escapes. Keep these damp spaces closed off from other living areas and bedrooms to prevent steam from dampening other rooms
  • Move furniture away from walls in winter. This includes beds and couches. Leaving a 10cm gap between furniture and walls will discourage mould, especially on external walls. If you have a mattress on the floor, you should air it out daily by removing bedding and standing the mattress on its side
  • Leave wardrobe doors slightly open to allow for air circulation which will discourage mould growth on clothing

You can find more information on reducing moisture in your home here.

Healthy Homes Initiative

The Healthy Homes Initiative, supported by the Ministry of Health, aims to help families in cold, damp, and crowded homes to increase the safety of their houses. The initiative focuses on crowded housing and low-income households in areas of poorer quality housing. Through the initiative, families are given assistance in accessing insulation, curtains, beds and bedding, floor coverings, ventilation, and heat sources. Healthy Home families are supported in paying power bills and finding alternative accommodation if needed. The initiative is currently operating through eleven district health boards. You can find out more information on the Ministry of Health website.

Making your home safer

Along with improving the warmth and dryness of your home, it is important to make your home safe in other ways to avoid injuries. There are some easily changed things around your home that can be done to limit avoidable injuries. Try considering the following:

Moss

Moss can build up on outside areas such as steps, paths, and decks which can be very slippery. Moss can be removed with special moss removal products, or can be water blasted or scrubbed away. You can limit the growth of moss by cutting back trees and shrubs so sunlight can dry out moss-prone areas. To make outside areas slip-proof, ensure proper lighting in dim areas, line step edges with paint or tape, build new decks with grooved timber, and paint decks with nonslip paint or add grit.

Chairs

Avoid using chairs to reach high places as they can be very unstable when stood on. You should use a ladder or step ladder to reach high places. You should store any heavy or regularly used objects lower down to make them more accessible. Try installing long life smoke alarms and light bulbs so you do not have to change them frequently.

Power cords

Make sure that power cords, phone wires, and other hazardous wires are out of the way so they do not become tripping hazards. You can secure cords and wires to the wall and manage multiple cords with cord clips and multi-boxes. You may consider using baskets and other storage systems for electronics and charging areas.

Rugs and mats

Look out for rugs and mats that have frayed or have rolling edges and ones that slide when you walk on them. Unsecured rugs and mats can be a trip hazard. You can secure them with anti-slip tape, a spray-on nonslip coating, or carpet grips. If you are buying a new rug, look for one with a nonslip backing. Make sure all carpet or coverings on stairs are firmly in place. If you have wooden or tiled floor, wear shoes or slippers rather than socks to avoid slipping.

Puddles

Puddles and wet areas can be dangerous and put you at risk of slipping. You can use a nonslip bath and shower mat, as well as install handrails to help you get out of the bath or shower. Use floor mats to absorb any excess water. Be sure to wipe up any spills as soon as they happen with mops, sponges, or cloths. You can install nonslip flooring in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundries when building or renovating.

Housing modifications

If you have a disability or require other features in your home to keep you safe and independent, you may be eligible for funding to modify your current home. Housing modifications are aimed at improving safety and mobility, and if they are not already built into your home, they can be added to a pre-existing house rather easily. You can find more information at Firstport.

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern