Migrant Tales – Winter is Coming and New Zealand Homes are Dank and Full of Draughts

Welcome to the latest in our series of Migrant Tales, first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand taken from place around the net.

Winter is coming. An Antarctic weather bomb is hitting much of the country over the next week so we thought this would be a good time to highlight the problems, and the solutions, of the typical New Zealand home during the long winter months.

Today’s tale was published recently on an emigration forum, it was written by a British person.

We moved into a 90s brick and tile in Pommie-moa, the agent laughed when I asked about heating and said we didn’t need it because it never got really cold. If there was a god, he’d have stuck her down with lightening for looking me in the face and telling that lie!

In the winter, it got so cold – you could lie in bed in the morning and see your breath on the air. I used to sleep in fleece pjs and a Wolfskin fleece I used to wear horse riding in the snow back in UK.

We suffered more illness in 18 months there, than 20 years collectively. My kids were constantly ill with chest infections and colds, the whole family got bronchitis – and every week, I used to pick a room and just go hard with regard to cleaning the mould from the window frames,blinds and back of furniture. i’d rotate weekly, so that no room ever went longer than 9 weeks without a good scrub. BUT, it was a miserable way to spend days off, and I’ve probably caused who knows what damage to my respiratory system with the bleach and chemical fumes I inhaled.

Once our lease was up, we moved into an older wooden house which was insulated in the roof (but you can see daylight through the gaps in the floor – so lots of carpets and rugs) but it has a wet back, HRV and solar hot water.

We still run our dehumidifiers 24/7, but the wetback and solar save us over $100 a month in the summer, and $250 a month in the winter.

Even with the floor issues, it’s dry and warmer than the old house.

I made super heavy, triple lined curtains which are too long (no gaps at the floor) and we’ve put econo heaters up in the bedrooms and bathrooms (11c an hour to run, and they have timers – $88 each from warehouse).

The children haven’t been ill once since moving here, I haven’t had to clean mould off anything – and we’re all a lot more comfortable and happier as a consequence.

We’ve just purchased the house from the L/L, so flat broke and no money to do anything, however next summer – we’ll insulate under the floors and also look at a wool insulation which can be piped into the walls.

If we were ever renting again, we’d stay away from brick and tile unless it was built after 2010 (but even then check that it has insulation)

We wouldn’t consider anything without a wood burner, unless it was a new house with double glazing and insulation.

The extra you would pay in rent, you more than make up for in health and comfort. (IMO)

You do have to take into account the cost of wood, but you can buy cheaper in the summer and store it yourself. You’ll pay a lot more for wood in the winter, especially wood that has been cut a year before, because it burns hotter and lasts longer.

We’ve gotten pretty good with the fire – we’re rural and some of the local farmers have pointed us in the right direction with choice of woods. We can get the thing really hot, then turn it down so it burns slowly all night. Gives us a toasty house in the morning and free hot water.

If you can find a way to heat your home efficiently so that you’re comfortable and you keep mould and illness at bay, it makes an enormous difference to your happiness and well being.

I never realised how awful life is, when your home becomes a place of dread and every family member hates being there.We actually used to go outside and find things to do because it was warmer – I think this may be the reason the kiwis like outdoors so much!

Apologies for ramble, I wouldn’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes we did. It’s an expensive way to learn the lesson.

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5 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – Winter is Coming and New Zealand Homes are Dank and Full of Draughts

  1. True, New Zealand houses are very poorly insulated, don’t often have adequate heating, and are damp and moldy. They smell like it too. Reminds me of the smell of our basement
    in our house in the States, before we fixed it up. Our current wooden shed smells a bit like a New Zealand house.

    The news is that very, very few houses aren’t like this, even among the most expensive, fanciest homes. In fact, I have never seen a house for sale, at any price, that would be considered adequately insulated and heated, except by New Zealand standards. The bare minimum requirements in the building codes in Auckland do not allow for the cold damp weather, and usually the bare minimum is the best you can get. Minimum standards are treated as the gold standard, instead of the bare minimum it should be. I speak here of Auckland district, but I can’t imagine it’s any better elsewhere.

    A few years ago I saw a house for sale at 3.5 million, recently built, that had single glazed, aluminium floor to ceiling windows, no heat apart from underfloor bathroom heat. You can just imagine the amount of condensation, and therefore mould, that would accumulate. When I asked if there was any heat in the bedroom, I was told you don’t need heat in Auckland! Of course, there was no cooling either. I also viewed a mult-million dollar turn of the century mansion in Auckland a few weeks ago at an open home. It was advertised as being completely renovated to the highest standard. Apart from the fireplaces there was no heat, and the recent additions built had single glazing. It was very cold inside, apart from the kitchen, where the estate agent had the foresight to turn the Aga stove on at full blast!

    These are just two examples of my observations after nearly a decade of looking for a house to buy in the Auckland area. We have viewed many expensive homes in upscale areas and they are all the same. Little or inadequate insulation, little or no heating. When they are heated, they aren’t well insulated. Remodeled to the highest standard usually means Italian baths and German tapware. It’s actually quite remarkable how rare it is to find upgraded electricals in older, upscale homes with high price tags, but that’s another topic.

    There is a misconception that if you buy a new, or relatively new home you’ll be ok, as they are well insulated. I can tell you with authority this is not true. The double glazing that’s installed is aluminium framed with no thermal break, so they will weep like single glazing. Aluminium double glazing with a thermal break is beginning to be sold, but I can’t imagine you will find too many houses built by a developer that will have them. Anyway, I don’t believe double glazing is even required by Auckland district code. You can install what’s known as Low E glass, which has a film applied to the glass. Problem is, the coating doesn’t last very long, apparently, and certainly isn’t as good as double glazing for keeping a house warm on a rainy cold day. Also for some reason, too, no one seems to insulate the garage or laundry rooms.

    Of course, you can always build your own house, or upgrade an older home to a proper standard, but this is a very costly enterprise in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

    As an aside, the poor people of Christchurch have it far worse, of course. My mother in law had her house fixed (finally) after earthquake damage, and they left it in a worse state than it was before. Cheap, aluminium single glazing (even though new builds in Christchurch usually require double glazing), concrete steps replaced with wonky, narrow, cheap and nasty wood steps, and sloppily installed and inadequate insulation on walls, etc.

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  3. I left New Zealand at the tender age of 18. I distinctly remember how cold the winters were as a child and how we used to sleep with hot water bottles. Oh and that mouldy dampness of our poorly insulated home resonates with me still. I remember being sick all the time. I’ve never come back to New Zealand to live and I’m now 45 years old. Most of my siblings and their kids now live in Australia. I now live in sunny San Diego where we have 20C degree temperatures even in winter. I do go back to New Zealand once a year but only in summertime and you know what I’ve noticed? Those damp mouldy old New Zealand homes have not changed one bit but the price tag to own one sure has. I feel sorry for these people moving to New Zealand.

  4. You MUST buy or rent a new house if you come to Nz is the way to get around the cold and damp. The climate of Nz has changed in the last 20 years – to be heaps colder and more wild and windier than it used to be. I recently house sat for a friend that had a new 3-story townhouse – the winter sun poured in during the day as it was north facing and even though I do feel the cold, at her place I hardly needed a heater at night. So much better. So just make sure you get a new place.

  5. This story rings very true. Winters were so hard and uncomfortable for us, and we lived in the so-called “winterless north” (NOT). If the wetback and solar save them over $100 a month in the summer, and $250 a month in the winter, can you imagine what their total bill would be without these “savings”! I knew a family next door who paid 400 a month to heat a 2-bedroom brick and tile house for winter to a European standard. They had young children and could ill afford it. The wood houses I saw, however, often had green slime on the outside that needed constant cleaning, and the wood became very wet and warped. I think the direction in which the house faces and the amount of shade that trees provide it are important. In general, you must be much more careful in choosing your accommodations in New Zealand than anywhere else. Maybe one out of 50 abodes will be suitable to live in and also suit your pocket. And that’s an optimistic estimate. The dehumidifiers really run up your electric bill in winter. Let’s not count the damage to all your books, photos and clothes from all the humidity.

    They should watch out, if the wool insulation gets wet it can cause some real headches. Saw this happen. Wetness comes through somewhere in the rotten joinery and old wood and they have a compounded problem on their hands. They should also choose their installer very carefully. Too many cowboy tradesmen in New Zealand. Another issue is pesticides on the wool that sheep are treated with to keep bugs off them. There are no organic standards set in New Zealand, so when you buy organic you do not know what you are actually getting. The foxes (sellers of organics) guard the henhouse with regard to organics.

    Most people who move to New Zealand soon are pumped clean of their money buffer and have little to work with in terms of making life gains, so buying a new house or putting insulation in an old one are put off from year to year – there is never enough spare cash to do so, and life becomes a struggling misery.

    I have no idea why migrants like them would choose to live that way, when they could move to a rural area of the UK and live the same way, but get further ahead in life and be closer to their family, and travel-cultural-educational opportunities for the children.

    “I never realised how awful life is, when your home becomes a place of dread and every family member hates being there.We actually used to go outside and find things to do because it was warmer – I think this may be the reason the kiwis like outdoors so much!”

    Spot on!

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