Cold bedrooms make people sick Let’s stop building new homes that are too expensive to keep warm

11 April 2022 by Jason Quinn

I know folks who still argue for not heating bedrooms. They love kids but just refuse to believe the research. Cold bedrooms make kids more likely to be sick with respiratory illnesses, which then make it more likely they’ll develop asthma. We all know by now that New Zealand is a world leader in childhood asthma rates: not a league table we want to top.The entrenched tradition of not heating our bedrooms during winter is likely part of that.

Recent research by public health researcher Dr Caroline Shorter at the University of Otago investigated people’s attitudes and practices in regard to heating children’s bedrooms. It resulted in a call to increase the Winter Energy Payment subsidy.

I agree with her arguments and go further: we should design all housing, new and retrofit, so that it is nearly free (and nearly zero carbon) to keep warm. Warm healthy homes are not a goal, they should be a baseline.

The $58 heating cost cited in the study (that’s per month per bedroom) is not an inconsequential amount of money. Assuming two bedrooms per household and pretending winter is only four months long on average, that’s $464 a year. 

I did some quick calcs out of interest. Let’s assume the home lasts 90 years and balance inflation and interest on money. An extra $41,760 in today’s money could have been spent upfront to avoid this ongoing operational cost. (Yes, my math was crude but the real range will be around this.) That’s around 10% of the construction cost of a new small home (I did say two bedrooms). We can build new to the Passive House standard for a sub-10% premium. Now for retro-fits.

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