NZ’s High Winter Death Rate And Burning Wood To Keep Warm

The University of Otago published a report in 2008 stating that NZ was in the upper end of an international scale for excess winter mortality (EWM) and that 1600 more people died over the winter months than the summer (On overage, 600 more deaths occurred in July compared to February) and that this high EWM had remained pretty constant for the last 20 years.

Otago’s Associate Professor Michael Baker reported that NZ’s EWM is 2% higher than the mean mortality rates of 14 European countries, even though many of those countries had lower winter temperatures than New Zealand. Why is that?

He said

“One theory is that countries like Canada, Norway and Russia have such cold winters that people have developed better insulated houses and other strategies to survive winter. More temperate countries like New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal have a higher EWM because we are less well adapted to cold conditions.”

The report concluded that further research was needed:

EWM in NZ is substantial and at the upper end of the range observed internationally. Interventions to reduce EWM are important, but the surprising lack of variation in EWM by ethnicity, region and deprivation, provides little guidance for how such mortality can be reduced. More targeted research is needed to explore a number of other possible factors that could be contributing to EWM, including the role of climate, influenza, behaviour, crowding in winter, levels of home heating & thermal performance of houses.”

Other recent studies seem to confirm that there is a serious problem with the condition of many houses in New Zealand with poor insulation, damp and mould having serious effects on human health.

A year earlier Professor Robert Vale, a sustainable architecture expert, said he was “appalled” by the state of New Zealand’s houses. In his opinion even New Zealand’s most ecologically advanced houses were 40 years behind European cutting-edge eco-houses:

“In terms of energy efficient houses we are not very far along. It’s pretty much where the Scandinavians were in the 1960s.”

“Scarily Cold” Houses

Vale emigrated to New Zealand 13 years ago and described the average New Zealand house as “scarily cold“, badly insulated, with huge expanses of single-glazed glass and a nightmare to heat. He and his wife were expecting a country that was environmentally advanced but instead found a country with little interest in sustainability.”It’s not what we expected, with New Zealand’s clean green image and the anti-nuclear thing.”

It’s estimated that 1,100 people die prematurely in urban areas from air pollution and that most poor air quality is caused by high winter levels of particulate matter (PM10) from wood and coal used for home heating. Auckland also experiences high levels of PM10 from road transport.

Vale pointed out 17 houses that are being promoted as paragons of energy efficiency on the Building and Research Association of New Zealand’s website. These were supposed to be zero and low energy houses but more than two thirds used more energy than the average NZ house, one used 57,000KWh in a year – 5 times the average of 11,000KWh per year.

One large Lyttelton house with a floor area of 330 sq m, used little electricity but more than 53,000KWh worth of firewood each year whilst another promoted as a zero energy home used an LPG heater and a log burner with a wetback.

NZ’s Houses Compared to Refugee Camp Huts
According to a health expert 3 out of 4 homes in some regions of New Zealand were so cold, damp and mouldy that they were on a par with refugee camp huts. Associate Professor Jeroen Douwes of Massey University cited a 2005 study, that found mould in 75 per cent of the 1310 households surveyed.

University of Otago public health researcher Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman said New Zealand’s high asthma rate could well be related to the incidence of damp houses.

Up to one in five New Zealanders suffer the chronic and sometimes life-threatening respiratory conditions. Wellington’s Asthma Research Group has found that asthmatics allergic to mould had much more severe symptoms, and were almost twice as likely to end up in intensive care.

Health Ruined in Quarter of a Million Homes
Another study estimated that occupants’ health has been ruined in 250,000 New Zealand homes and that both old and new houses were affected. The houses were so cold, damp and poorly built that they caused serious health problems. It’s estimated that it would cost $20 billion to put it right.

Air Pollution
The Ministry of the Environment has said that poor air quality is a significant issue in some areas of New Zealand and that two thirds of the population live in areas that can experience air pollution.

15 thoughts on “NZ’s High Winter Death Rate And Burning Wood To Keep Warm

  1. that just reminds me of that stupid new flag issue which is in their oppinion more importnant thaN insulated warm homes … SO THE NEW NEW ZEALAND FLAG WOULD COST ABOUT THE SAME AS INSULATING NEW ZEALAND HOMES … AND JOHN KEY AND HIS GOVERNMENT THINK THAT’S MORE IMPORTNANT THAN KEEPING THEIR CITIZENS WARM , HEALTHY AND ALIVE ? can’t they do anything good ? pfff you need to take your destiny in your own hand kiwi’s ! they will not do it for you dear kiwi’s immigrants. you can get out. there is always a way !

  2. One more thing. The best thing you can do when your in NZ is to leave asap. That’s not an understatement or a joke. Do the research and find it out. What is a joke is: we spoke to several people from Christchurch about the poor driving. They literally said that the traffic has always been this bad and that CHch inhabitants are horrible drivers. Well,,,, ok I will do some work now… Thnx admin.

  3. Ow yeah, totally agree here. I xp exactly the same thing. With my sensitivity to allergies and my Astma, it’s been a struggle to live here. We have given up saving for a house here in NZ. Not worth it we think. Our Van is more comfortable than any house we stayed in for 3 years! Chch is the worst city I have lived in. Dangerous traffic, dusty, idiots (accept for a few nice people who are mainly from the UK and Ireland), noise pulution, vandalism, gangs, ripp off culture/products, no social system, Earthquakes, what about asbest that flows around? Ow right, nobody takes responsibility so people avoid the subject and look away. WTF!!!!! The worst place ever!! I’m looking forward to leave asap.

    • We moved out of Christchurch a couple of years ago. I agree with some of what you are saying. I sort of enjoyed the place during the day but it becomes very sinister at night. We had a lot of drag racing in our area and it was impossible to sleep at the weekend. Teenagers used to pour oil on the roads and do burn outs. One time in broad day light when small children were still out on the street some boy racers started drag racing on the pavement and reversing, cars on racing on each side of the road in reverse. I have a friend who has prostitutes using their front garden to services clients every weekend and also using the garden as a toilet. It is like the wild west. I saw something on TV the other day about a big expo to attract medical professionals from the UK. They were trotting out the cliches, “better lifestyle”, “better place to raise kids” etc They didn’t mentioning anything about hookers in your garden at 3 am.

      • That clip was epic, my ex-colleague (immigrant) mentioned how his whole family burst out with laughter after watching those cliched words. All of these people will eventually land on this forum soon after the honeymoon to share their stories. I only wish they read these experiences before making the move to get some reality check.

        Not sure if these exhibitions share latest news:

  4. “Rachel”, please give a link to the post saying “all Kiwis are evil racist numbskulls” and it will be deleted. Neither racism, nor personal attacks, are tolerated here. P Ray’s well intentioned advice does not reserve the reaction you gave it.

    On edit: the phrase all “Kiwis are evil racist numbskulls” has never been used. Perhaps you’d like to recant?

  5. Of course I’ve asked anyone that can help me. W I N Z won’t touch me with a ten foot pole, as a student, and the student loan department won’t give me anymore and my parents are over the threshold for allowance eligibility. It’s not just emigrants who are suffering here, you know. We Kiwis aren’t all evil racist numbskulls like you say. Don’t assume that I’m shit because most of my country men are. I detected patronising in your comment and I’m sorry if you didn’t mean it that way but it seemed like you aren’t open to showing compassion to people who are also fed up with this country’s nonsense but happen to be native to it. We are all kind of on the same boat here but at least for you guys you get to say “well at least I didn’t come from here” and hopefully for you, get the chance to return. I am stuck here and that is tragic to me. Don’t push me away because I am not one of you, because I am here with compassion and understanding and we shouldn’t be flinging hatred towards eachother. Again sorry if I misread but it seemed like an attack and not very caring

    • When some people are angry, they’re going to make really wild accusations …
      so that it provokes the other person to react badly, and then it’s the “See … you’re not so different from me! So your opinion isn’t valid at all!” defence.

      One thing is for sure though:
      Some people make out that “looking for driftwood from the beach to burn so I can heat my house” is a HOBBY (I’ve actually seen online albums of this, with people from NZ), when it’s actually … people desperate for warmth who can’t get it any other way!

      The question is, are people so driven to keep the smiling facade going … that they don’t dare to protest loudly and openly, when lives are at risk from the cold temperatures and warmth is so costly?

      Just dropping this here :whistle:

  6. I live in a New Zealand Wellington flat up a hill, and the cold is shocking. I pay more than my income from study link to rent here and can’t afford to run heaters, the windows are drafty and it’s as if I’m sitting in the middle of Siberia. I look up at the curtains and cobwebs in the corner and they are all breezing back and forth. I think it’s time the govt takes responsibility for some of the terrible living conditions some of us students are living in. It’s just not good enough, and we as tenants should not have the added onus on us to ask the landlord for a price decrease or fixing the windows. I’m really cold 😥 and I can’t afford new winter clothes) Trying to focus on my study but my hands are freezing up and becoming numb. Sometimes I wish I was born somewhere else

    • Soooooo many times I have WISHED SO HARD that I was too born somewhere else, almost anywhere else in the world. I used to think why not some place like UK, EU, AUS etc. NZ is a money gubbling, poverty increasing, corrupted, lying, rob all the tax payers while pushing you further into the forementioned foundations of NZ kind of country.
      I hope this makes sense.
      I too have lived in houses that are draughty, cold, mouldy, so cold you can see your breath, no fire place, power too expensive to use heating, on a “standard” (low) income or at one year a students benefit and cant afford wood to heat a home.
      IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.. I also work in the hospo industry so I meet and talk to alot of people, some of my regulars from the UK and EU have told me that NZ houses are sooo behind on world standards of housing (and it is not what they expected immigrating here 20 years ago) and there is no double glazed windows, good roofs, proper insulation, air filter systems, underfloor gas heating and such.

      Also on being a student- I have been there in your shoes, living in Hamilton and studying is not as expensive as Wellington but sure enough it is still blimmen expensive!! I hardly had much food in my space at any given time, struggled to afford to pay for transport to get to my classes, had to scrape mould off my mouldy bread just so I had some to eat etc NOT EASY and this is while I was studying to be a Veterinary Nurse, so we did really long days 8am to 5pm + surgery days all day etc and I feel I needed more food and warmth at home so I might have been more motivated to continue and finnish my Diploma part of my studies, not just the certificate in Technology.

      Sad reality of being born into or living in NZ… it’s not an easy or green life like we’re marketed to be, domestic violence and abuse, rape culture, gang culture, depression, anxiety, binge drinking and the like are so “normal” and acceptable here which I think is very backwards and primative and alot of people resort to it because how else does a nation have an outlet for all this ingrained frustration of daily living.

      Like our fellow humans in other *actual* 1st world countries (which NZ is not) we should be able to enjoy the benefits, but we can’t because we’re forced to live DAY TO DAY on an average wage of $200-300 per week (because full time work is just not that available anymore) whilst having to rent/pay some other bastards mortgage, feed ourselves, maybe some kids too and pets and then theres student loan repayments which they whip off you faster than you can say bobs your uncle, and also for the kids you have school fees, clothes shoes, etc.

      I saw my Mum absolutely struggle and she would go without lifes esssentials JUST so I had some food, a uniform and my school fees paid, and especially so the animals were all fed aswell!! Oh and believe me she is remarkable- she is blind so therefore OSH wont allow her to work in workplaces these days even though shes perfectly capable say 90% out of 100, and only lives off the Invalids benefit and she also raised me as a single parent (and I am an only child) from when her and my Dad split up, I was 8 years old. She always grew our veges to eat and we had some fruit trees and also shared or swapped with the family too so that helped us, and there was also allways baking she did because it was cheaper. I used to HATE being the only kid in my smallish school who had homemade clothes from my grandma which I had to wear, mums home made baking instead of toffee pops and squiggles and sandwiches instead of pies and junk food money.

      But you know what, I am 23 years old now and I am darn thankful for it now!! I have learnt how to be self sufficient in the way of food and how to be “sensible” with my money and all of that and how to survive struggling every day with little to no help. Not even from WINZ when all those dumbass shit 3 month work trials end.
      But I don’t want this future for my children, I’m lucky enough to have a fiancee who is by my side all the way but we want a better future. He immigrated here 4 years ago from India to the highly praised land of NZ and guess what he said when I asked him what he thinks of it now… “it’s f***in’ bullsh*t. What I thought before coming here, and after being here thats what I think”.

  7. I once asked the NZ Ministry of Health for stats re the elderly death rate for the winter periods. I was told that NZ does not record such mortality rates and that the only way to find out would be for an extensive scrutiny of death certificates of the elderly to see what had been entered as a cause of death.


    New Zealanders are notorious for sitting in cold, damp houses huddled together on the couch wrapped in blankets. KATE CHAPMAN of NZPA looks at whether the Government’s insulation subsidy scheme will make any difference for those who don’t own their home.

    Wellington, Sept 29 NZPA – Renters earn a low-income, have high power bills and live in the country’s worst houses, many of which are “past their use by date”, an advocacy group says.


    A register of rental properties and ensuring they met certain standards were ways of increasing the quality of rented homes, she said.

    Much of the rental housing stock was “past its use by date”.

Leave a Reply to Blazee Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s