Last updated: 29 Jun, 2023 10:43am
Keeping the house warm is not only for comfort, but to maximise the health and wellbeing of you and your whānau. The World Health Organisation recommends an indoor temperature between 18-21°C, especially if you are living with babies and young children, people with illnesses, and older peoples.
Keep heat inside your house
Windows are the second biggest source of heat loss in the home (after the roof). There are quite a few ways we can use our curtains as well as small home improvements which can minimise this heat loss.
Use curtains strategically during winter by closing them in the late afternoon if you’re home to keep in the small amount of winter sunshine heat.
Make sure your curtains come below the windowsill at the very least or ideally right to a little puddle on the floor. Check that they are thermally lined (aka double or triple layered) – if not, you can stitch lightweight blankets and sheets to existing curtains. Check out this article for a DIY run through.
If your curtain tracks aren’t covered by a pelmet, roll up some old towels and pop them on top of the closed curtains to minimise cold air moving into the room.
If you wake up to crying windows in the morning, try applying insulation film to the frames of wooden windows. These come in kits that are relatively inexpensive (around $6 per standard size window from places like Mitre10) and act like double glazing by trapping air between the glass pane and the plastic film. For an even cheaper alternative, you can also use bubble wrap. Here’s an instructional video on how to apply the window kit.
Minimise gaps around the window frame by applying a self-adhesive weather strip. This is super easy and affordable to do, and costs as little as $1.60 per metre and all you need is a pair of scissors
Doors are another way we can lose heat easily in our homes and again there are some easy ways to improve their efficiency.
For internal doors, consider using door snakes/draught stoppers to keep heat within the room you’re heating or to stop heat going into unused rooms. You can even make your own easily from scrap materials you have around the house. Check out the step-by-step guide for DIY draft stoppers.
For external doors, look into installing an outside door seal which you can pick up from around $20-$30 at Mitre10. While you’re there, you can also use the adhesive weather strip around the door frame.
Other things to consider:
Block up chimneys that are unused
Things like these are super easy to do – check out this instructional video from Mitre10 which demonstrates how to stop draughts in your home and losing heat through your windows and doors.
If you’re thinking that a bit of home improvement might be on the cards:
Look into install insulation in your ceilings and floor. If you remove the gib for internal walls, look at installing wall insulation while you’re there. If you own the property and have either a community services card or live in an area identified as low income, you could quality for a grant which covers 80% of the cost of floor and ceiling insulation.
Another option is retrofitting or replacing your windows to be at least double glazed. If your house as timber joinery, retrofitting may be a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option, and maintains the character of the house. If you are looking at replacing your windows, make sure that the both the windowpanes and the frame are both thermally broken to ensure the most optimal heat efficiency.
Reducing the amount of moisture in our homes is another important way to help our homes be healthier, and – as damp air needs more energy to heat up – having a dry home can help make heating your heating costs cheaper.
Things that are free to do
Open windows and doors on fine days to help flush out damp and poor-quality air. By opening all the doors and windows throughout the house, this helps air flow more easily, and only needs to be done for at least 15 minutes a day.
When cooking, put lids on pots and pans to minimise the steam escaping, as cooking can produce 3 litres of moisture into the air throughout the day. Similarly, showers release around 1.5 litres of moisture per person. Open a window or external door to allow the moisture to leave the house if you don’t have rangehoods or extraction fans.
Avoid drying your laundry inside, which can release up to 5 litres of moisture per load. If it’s raining outside, use a garage, carport, or porch instead if you can. If using a clothes dryer, make sure that you open a window or door to allow moisture to escape if the dryer isn’t externally vented.
Remove condensation from windows every morning with some old towels or rags. This helps remove moisture from the room and minimise the chance of mould growing.
Things that are cheap to do
When cooking, use a rangehood or extractor fan if you have one. Rangehoods only cost 6-12 cents per hour to use (less than $2 a week!) but will save you considerably in home heating costs. Reminder that extraction fans in kitchens and bathrooms are now a legal requirement for rentals under the Healthy Homes Standard and private landlords must ensure that their rental properties comply with the Healthy Homes standards within 120 days of any new or renewed tenancy
Invest in a ‘Scoopy’ (only $30) or similar product to help remove condensation from your windows to make your life a little easier in the mornings. See the how to use a window scoopy video.
Things to invest in
Install a ground moisture barrier underneath your house if you can access it – you can either do this yourself or get a building professional to install it for you. Ground moisture barriers are relatively cheap and cost approximately $7.50 per square metre. For those renting, ground moisture barriers are now a requirement under the Healthy Homes Standards.
If you’ve tried minimising moisture, reducing heat escaping, and heating your house well, but are still getting dampness, then consider investing in a dehumidifier. This will set you back a few hundred dollars for a good model and cost between $0.09 to $1.22 to run for 8 hours a day. Dehumidifiers also release heat when converting water in the air into liquid, so you get the added benefit of heating the room. If you’re thinking of investing, check out the ConsumerNZ buying guide which has tested different dehumidifier models in New Zealand conditions. It is behind a paywall but spending a few dollars now to ensure you get the best model is well worth it.
If you have a shower cubicle in your bathroom, consider installing a Shower Dome or Steam Stopper. These products work by keeping the steam within the shower cubicle rather than spreading to the rest of the bathroom (goodbye foggy mirrors!) and are a great alternative to a bathroom extraction fan. Pricing for domes start from $300 and you can either install yourself or get a professional to do it for you.
Burn dry wood
We all love the roar of the fireplace over winter, however burning wet wood can make heating your home more difficult. Unseasoned (wet) wood can have up to 100% moisture content, which means when burning that the energy is used to evaporate the water rather than actually heating your house. But burning seasoned (dry) wood means that all that energy is going into heating instead. Burning wet wood also releases particulate matter into the air which affects our local air quality.
Not sure how dry your wood is? Check your firewood moisture content a wood moisture meter. Dry firewood will have less than 25% moisture. You can purchase moisture meters at hardware stores such as Mitre10, or you can borrow as part of the Home Health Assessment Kits available at all Wairarapa libraries.
To save money over time, buy unseasoned firewood which is often cheaper in spring or early summer. Unseasoned firewood needs at least 6 months to dry, so buying in spring will ensure it is dry in time for winter.
For more information on firewood visit:
Reduce your power bill
Use less hot water
As much as we love a hot shower or a warm bath on a cold day, hot water can cost a lot of money in heating your hot water cylinder or in gas supply.
Here are a few tips to help minimise the use of hot water:
Try keep showers to 5 to 10 minutes (the shorter the better!). Any more than that can strip your body of natural oils and cause skin irritation. If you lose track of time, set a timer or put on your music and only stay in there for 2-3 songs.
Check the flow rate of your shower – you can do this easily at home with a bucket and record how long it takes to get to 10 litres. The recommended flow rate by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is no more than 9 litres per minute. If your shower is greater than this, consider purchasing a shower flow restrictor from your local hardware store.
If you really want a long shower, consider just having a relaxing bath instead! A bath typically uses 80 litres of water which is the same as staying in the shower for 15 minutes, so any longer than this is wasted water and energy.
Wash your clothes in cold water most of the time, as using warm water to wash your clothes can use up to 10 times more energy. Using a cold wash can also help clothes retain their colours, reduce shrinkage in natural fibres, and protects delicate fabrics. However, do a warm or hot wash every 5-10 cycles to keep the machine clean, and when washing stained and heavily soiled items.
Wait until you have a full load to run the washing machine or dishwasher
Fix any leaks or dripping taps around your home. Unfixed leaks can cost hundreds of dollars in power if not sorted out!
Set the thermostat of your hot water cylinder to 60°C, which is hot enough to prevent bacteria growth but keep your power bill down. You may need a plumber is come in to do this for you. If you are going away for more than 2 weeks, consider turning off your hot water cylinder altogether! Just make sure you give it at least half a day to warm back up and kill any bugs before using when you get back.
Wrap your hot water cylinder with a cylinder wrap and wrap the first 1-1.5 metres of your hot water pipes with pip lagging to reduce heat loss (just like insulation for your house). You can buy supplies for these at local hardware stores. Depending how old your cylinder is, this could save you up to $80 a year.
Appliances and lighting
With more tech and appliances in our lives than ever before, being mindful of our power use is still extremely important. Turn off appliances, charger, screens (and all manner of other tech!) at the wall if you’re done using them. While appliances are getting more energy efficient, sitting on standby mode can use more than $125 in power a year. Similarly, avoid charging your devices overnight as they only need a couple hours to fully charge.
If you are looking to purchase new appliances for your home, make sure to do some research and consider the needs for your household. Look at the water-efficiency, energy-efficiency, and size of the models to make sure they won’t cost you longer over time and not too big or small for your needs. If you’re unsure, use the ConsumerNZ product review guides online to help select your new appliance.
If one of your light bulbs blow, use that opportunity to upgrade to LEDs. These can reduce your power bill for lighting by up to 83 per cent and also last much longer than incandescent bulbs.
Fridges and freezers
Check the temperature of your fridges and freezers to make sure food doesn’t go off and energy is used well. Fridges should be around 0-4°C, and avoid overfilling fridges so that cold air can circulate around. On the other hand, freezers work better the fuller they are, so add a few bottles of water if it is not very full. The temperature of freezers should be around -18°C.
If you need to defrost something, try defrosting in the fridge if you have space. This minimises the amount of work the fridge has to do to keep cool, while also ensuring good food safety.
Make sure that fridge and freezer doors are sealing properly to prevent your refrigerator working extra hard to keep things cool. If you notice it isn’t, look into finding a replacement for your seal
Try leave a 3-5cm gap between the back of your fridge or freezer and the wall, to enable good ventilation. Poor air circulation can double the electricity use of a fridge or freezer. Likewise, avoid placing fridges and freezers in areas that get direct sunlight or next to heat/cooking sources.
Assess your home
Home Health Self-Assessment Kit
To know more about the energy efficiency and performance of your home, you can borrow the Home Health Assessment Kit from any Wairarapa Library.
The kit includes:
- An infrared thermometer – measure hot and cold spots around your house
- Hygrometer – measures room temperature and humidity
- Stopwatch – to help measure shower pressure
- Power meter – measures power usage from appliances
- Wood moisture level meter – measures the moisture content of your firewood
These tools can help you determine where you might need to make adjustments or improvements in your home. See the Home Health Assessment Kit video for more information .
Whaiora Healthy Homes and Safe Kids Assessments
For certain groups of people experiencing health concerns related to unhealthy homes or other populations, there may be further support for help improve the health of your home through a Healthy Homes Assessment and Safe Kids Assessment through Whaiora.
The primary criteria for these assessments include:
- A child (0-5 yrs) hospitalised with a housing-related indicator condition
- A child (0-14 yrs) that has had rheumatic fever
- Upper respiratory infections (e.g., asthma) or skin infections
- Pregnant people and new-born babies
Whaiora works across the Wairarapa, so you can ask your local doctor to refer you to check your eligibility.