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It is also hoped the research will show that a "one size fits all" home insulation subsidy may not work effectively in different climates.
The HomeSmart Renovation Project aims to retrofit 750 homes around New Zealand to a high standard of sustainability. Research was being done in six centres, including in Dunedin.
The effectiveness of forced-air and heat recovery systems was also being assessed in Dunedin and Wellington.
Beacon Pathway researcher and HomeSmart Renovation project manager Lois Easton said despite its cold climate, Dunedin had long been overlooked by energy and sustainable renovation researchers who did most of their work in milder regions of the country.
Dunedin's distinctive combination of being in a colder part of the country, its older housing stock and virtually whole suburbs not getting much sun in winter, meant the solutions would be different from other parts of the country, Ms Easton said.
"What may constitute a sustainable renovation in Auckland or Wellington simply won't reflect the needs of the far south."
What she had heard from Dunedin homeowners was that some houses were in "very, very extreme states" with cases of frost on the inside of windows and even on bed covers.
"These are terrible conditions we are hearing about anecdotally."
Retrofit subsidies were applied evenly across the country, but this research could build a case for a higher standard of subsidies to provide for more expensive retrofits for colder climate homes, she said.
"Research done [indicates] the kind of subsidies for retrofits are not adequate to really make a difference."
Wall insulation was expensive, as it required removing wall linings, but it could make a big difference to homes in Dunedin, she said.
Researchers wanted about 40 homes in Dunedin, of varying ages and types, to take part in the project.
The aim was to help homeowners find the best and most cost-effective way to retrofit their homes to make them warmer, drier, healthier and cheaper to run. To take part people needed to be planning to renovate their homes in the next six to 12 months.
"People are concerned about their houses being cold and damp, but do not know what to do about it, so they reach for the latest technology they've heard about."
That was often a ventilation system. Initial research had shown in many instances ventilation systems did not solve the problem. But some had noticed improvements, Ms Easton said.
The research was being done in conjunction with the University of Otago and BRANZ. They had begun assessing homes, but were still seeking more to take part in the research. Once selected, renovation plans were developed, taking into consideration energy and water use and indoor environment.
Once retrofitted, homes would be monitored for 12 months, most through assessing their electricity bills and a few by installing monitoring equipment to assess temperature and humidity.
Beacon Pathway Ltd is a research consortium funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology, BRANZ, Scion, New Zealand Steel, Waitakere City Council and Fletcher Building.
• Involves up to 40 homes in Dunedin.
• Provides independent research-based information on how to renovate your whole house.
• Aims to make homes warmer, healthier and cheaper to run.
• Will monitor effectiveness of home ventilation systems.