Insulation, heat issues for tenants

Janet Stephenson
Janet Stephenson
A major report on energy efficiency is highlighting a ''particularly problematic'' issue over fuel poverty and a lack of legal requirements for landlords to provide adequate insulation for many rental properties.

The report, titled ''Energy Cultures: Implications for Policymakers'', was produced by the University of Otago Centre for Sustainability and launched yesterday at a national conference on energy-related issues in Wellington.

The centre director, Dr Janet Stephenson, said in an interview that the benefits of more efficient energy use for individual consumers, families and New Zealand as a whole were a ''no-brainer''.

The Energy Cultures research project (2009-12) was undertaken by the centre, and funded by a $1.05 million grant from the then Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The project aimed to examine the ''economically viable potential for residential electricity savings'', focusing on household behaviour linked to space heating and hot water heating.

Such heating accounted for about 60% of household electricity use and offered ''great opportunities for energy efficiency''.

But rental properties raised ''particularly problematic'' issues.

Landlords had ''no incentive to make energy efficiency investments like insulation'' that they would not ''enjoy personally'' or see reflected in higher rental income, and tenants had ''no interest in making alterations that will only pay off over time''.

But research showed rental properties were likely to be colder than other dwellings.

About two-thirds (65%) of all those New Zealanders aged under 65 who were in poverty were living in rental houses. For children in poverty, the figure was more than 70%.

There were ''no requirements'' for rental properties to be ''insulated or free from undue heat loss''. Only new dwellings were affected by the Building Act 2004.

Housing improvement regulations also required dwellings to be free from dampness, but said ''nothing about cold or heat loss'' and nothing in the Residential Tenancies Act obliged landlords to ensure properties were ''warm or habitable''.

An Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty had recommended the Government reconsider the regulations on the performance of rental accommodation.

The wide-ranging Energy Cultures report highlighted the ''energy efficiency gap'' between proven energy savings, and the fact that people often failed to invest in them.

The report identified several main subgroups of energy consumers, including one group of 19% of consumers, which was generally wealthier than other groups, but paid little attention to improving their home energy efficiency.

Another group of lowest energy users had ''very economical energy practices'' but was hampered by ''substandard housing and inefficient energy technologies''.

The Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart subsidy programme had partly addressed some of the latter group's financial constraints but it should be extended, including to help with efficient space and hot water heating.

Some of New Zealand's energy efficiency policies lagged behind other similar OECD countries.

Tradespeople and design professionals influenced household energy decisions but there was a need for ''better training in energy efficient products and services'', the report suggested.


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