There is a direct link between damp homes and young children’s hospital admissions for acute respiratory infections such as asthma, a recent study published in medical journal Thorax shows.
Nearly one in five hospital admissions of young children with acute respiratory infections (ARI) in the study could have been prevented in they had been living in warm, dry homes.
The research from University of Otago, published in 2019, highlighted the need for New Zealand homes to be insulated, ventilated and maintain a certain temperature in each room.
The World Health Organisation recommends that homes should maintain a minimum temperature of 18 degrees through all rooms, to create a healthy living environment.
“Many studies now attest to the deleterious effects of damp and cold homes,” the University of Otago study said.
“Buildings are subjected to continuously fluctuating moisture and temperature conditions, which can cause damage to building materials and increase indoor humidity, promoting mould and bacterial growth, leading in turn to higher rates of respiratory disorders,” it reported.
More than 9000 under-two-year-olds were admitted to Wellington hospitals for ARI in 2015 and approximately 50% of GP visits for under five-year-olds in New Zealand are for respiratory infections.
Dr Tristram Ingham, who led the recent study, says that respiratory illnesses are not as well addressed as some others in the country.
"Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, the other three top conditions get a lot of air time, a lot of funding. Respiratory health gets very little," he told One News.
A recent Westpac survey of 1,000 New Zealanders showed that 38% of people were worried that cold or damp conditions in their home could cause or worsen health problems for household members.
While 89% of them said it was ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’ to live in a house that is warm and dry.
Although the cost of updating these features in a home can add up, financing options specifically for improving housing standards are available.
Westpac has launched ‘Westpac Warm Up’ loans, which offer up to $10,000 of lending interest-free for five years so that home loan customers can purchase heat pumps, solar panels, ventilation, double-glazing or insulation.
The initiative was launched to help make warm dry homes the new normal for New Zealand families.