Sick and cold.

How does New Zealand's clean, green image measure up with its houses?

All of us have been sick with colds or flu. And if I wake up Adam with my coughing, he makes me take his vile cough medicine. (Have you tried this stuff? It's horrible and kind of scarily effective.)

A recent study has shown that New Zealand’s cold (and mouldy) houses increase people’s likelihood of becoming ill with colds, flu, asthma, respiratory illness, and other allergies. But part of our national identity insists that you just “harden up”, or “put on another wool-y jumper”.

Our houses often are so cold in winter that it is warmer outside. (I’m not kidding.) New Zealand is notorious for houses much colder than the 18 C recommended by the World Health Organization.

This is because many of our wooden houses have inadequate insulation (or are not insulated at all), and they also can have lots of single-pane windows. Since it is expensive to heat these houses, many Kiwis, especially those with lower incomes, will heat and live in just one room.

Obviously, houses that are not insulated are not energy efficient. Most houses do not have heat pumps. Many homes need dehumidifiers. And even if an “energy-efficient” household does not use much electricity, it still may use a LPG heater, or vast quantities of wood to heat the home with a log burner.

When I came to visit New Zealand, Adam’s mother said, “Bring all of your wool-y jumpers. Because you will want to wear all of them at once.”

I scoffed. I wanted to tell Adam’s mother that Wellington doesn’t get that cold in winter. I used to live in Chicago! Wellington is a subtropical climate. On the coldest days, the temperatures might drop only to 6 C (42 F).

But I didn’t realize the subtropical climate is a myth. In New Zealand, winter is inside. If you are an immigrant moving to New Zealand, bring your wool-y jumpers and be prepared for chattering teeth.

When it is time for bed, I bundle up by the warmth of the fire in the lounge. Fleece, thermals, socks, slippers, gloves, and a hat. It's like I'm going on an expedition to Antarctica.

I already have warmed up the bed with an electric blanket or a hot water bottle. To remove the chill in the bedrooms before going to sleep, we use oil column heaters. Then it is a matter of having enough layers above and beneath you to keep you warm through the night.

It's not hard to imagine myself living just like this 50 years ago.

Edited to add. I've been getting hit with lots of spam, so I've had to turn on the CAPTCHA text in the comments. My apologies.


From AA to NZ said...

Ah, winter in Wellington .... I remember it well. However, it does force one outdoors, if only for the warmth - and the scenery is gorgeous. Cold/shivery: hot/sweaty (weighing.....)

lisahgolden said...

Yikes! It's one thing to live with the cold outside, but inside? That's too much.

gray said...

Ha, harden-up. I used to live in the bay and never gave the cold a second thought, but now that i've lived stateside for 8 odd yrs i think i've gone soft with central air and heat. Its gonna be shock when we move back. I'm probably gonna have to buy a heat pump for my American wife though. hehe
Cheers Grayson

Unknown said...

You'd better believe you're going to have to buy a heat pump for me! Also insulation and underfloor heating in the bathroom.

The One and Owenly said...

Get well soon!

Jacqui said...

When I first moved here from Canada I was in Dunedin. People use to say to me "what do you mean you're cold, you're from Canada, you should be used to this" and I'd be all "in Canada we have this newfangled thing called INSULATION and DOUBLE GLAZING and CENTRAL HEATING. We also don't have 100% humidity in winter" It was the coldest I've ever been. There were people who thought that double glazing meant they couldn't open their windows. Of course now I live in a house that's colder inside than out in winter and I'm quite sure it contributes to our levels of illnesses. And this is despite being insulated.

Sheila Siler said...

But Frodo and Gandolf always looked so cozy . . .