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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Warm My Flat

When I was a kid, I had the unfortunate experience of inhabiting several highly uninhabitable houses. There was that shack shed by the river that enthused my nature-loving parents so much, its proximity to the sea and to the forest, its quirky wee tendency to oscillate between the extremes of frost-inside cold to unsleepable heat. Then there was the lofty villa in which I spent my teenage years, which was much the same, except it never seemed to get that hot—it pretty much sat at sub zero year round. The unusual ritual of finding icicles in unexpected places—the shower, the cupboards—was a staple of my youth.

So it was with great pleasure (and a tinge of revenge) that I accepted the opportunity to help “energy audit” a flat. An energy audit is a process of checking how your crib can be made better—warmer, drier, more energy efficient. Freezing damp bunkers can be miraculously transformed into warm, dry, healthy houses. Or, at least that was what I was hoping as I shivered into the soggy villa that plays home to Max Hardy and Seamus Brady*.

The place was cold, damp, dark and obliterated by a menagerie of British political paraphernalia. Oh, and there were cats. Many cats. In hindsight, it was quite extraordinary how our brilliant auditors Seth and Sarah coped with the dank surrounds; they quickly got to work, analysing how the house coped with energy. They focused on where the energy came from, and where it could be leaking. How well the house was insulated was an important first check.

I’d never realised how I should be loathing windows. They’re like giant gashes in your house’s skin. Or, perhaps a more accurate (and less disturbing) comparison would be to a car window that’s frozen open at the top of Mt Ruapehu. Except, of course, comparing windows to windows is hardly literary genius. Anyway, they’re pretty bad, so getting a good pair of curtains can make a massive difference, keeping the heat where we can use it. If you have a Community Services Card, hit up the Curtain Bank through your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau—they’ll sort you out with thermal curtains, cut to fit, completely free.

Another little trick you can commandeer is the chimney plug (I’m thinking of copyrighting that title so don’t get any sneaky ideas). Unutilised chimneys are a common source of heat seepage: the average timber-free student fireplace is (in a fantastically ironic way) more ice-box than ice-eater. There is solace, however. Stuff a couple of plastic bags with newspaper, and then plug them up your chimney. It’ll go a long way to plugging an energy hole and, as an added bonus, the fool who in ten or twenty years time tries to light a fire will get a hilarious surprise.

Inevitably though, you can’t keep all the heat in the room in, but you’re still going to need to generate the heat in the first place. World health standards say that a room colder than 18 degrees is unhealthy, and in the Wellington winter you’d be lucky to get a high of fifteen degrees—generally the temperature is closer to zero. We all know how expensive heating can be, which means flats like Max’s end up cold. If your landlord happens to be an amazing post-Christmas-Carol Ebenzer Scrooge, I’m sure I don’t need to detail the delights of heat pumps—but asking is always worth a shot. However, for those of us less blessed, a better solution might be sorting out a roster with your flatmates and getting a good ceramic heater. If you use it wisely (young Padawan), it could be cheaper than you think.

It’s important to remember that heat is not the only grail good energy-knights are questing for. Think about how dry your house is—moisture is unhealthy, unpleasant, shit for the house and could even [insert gasping here] make your home less energy efficient. I know, right, damp equals lame. Unsurprisingly, bathrooms are typically the most soggy part of the house. Showers are often the culprit, with all that steam inevitably going somewhere, and your slimy body dripping water all over the floor doesn’t help either. New technology like shower domes can do a massive amount to dry up the place—you chuck them on top of your shower and they use Physics** to keep the steam from condensing. Still, at around $270 they’re kind of dear, and simply leaving a window ajar when you’re in the shower can deal to a lot of that steam. I’m sure that all of you, unlike Brady and Hardy, are wise enough to be using a bath mat too. ACC tells you too, so you know it’s a good idea, plus they’ll do a lot to dry up a floor.

Another common source of moisture is washing. When you dry clothes inside, all of the evaporated water is going to seep into your walls, roof and floor. The brilliant (if, admittedly, occasionally impossible) alternative is drying your washing outside. It’ll release all of the water into the air, and as an added bonus you’ll get that genuine clothesline smell.

A final source of energy-efficient goodness is the hot water cylinder. The one we looked at was pretty good, achieving the EECA recommendation of 60 degrees. It’s important that your cylinder is around this level, because that allows it to be hot enough to kill germs and invading swarms of Gumbumbles, while being not too hot to be considered unsafe. Remember, there’s nothing sexier than safety, and you’re going to be pretty gutted if you get sick the night before your final law exam or Olympic-level equestrian event. Make sure your water heater’s thermostat (if it has one) is at a decent temperature and help things along with a cylinder insulation wrap, which would probably pay for itself in electricity savings in less than a year.

There’s a lot you can do to make your flat warmer, drier and healthier. Ultimately, though, any major changes will have to come from the landlord. Quality ceiling insulation is always effective, and because of the EnergyWise insulation scheme, it would be heavily subsidised, so that you could get the job done for $15 per square metre. At around $400 for the average house, this is a cheap way that our landlords can up the value of their house while ensuring we don’t freeze to death. If you need help with convincing your landlord, VUWSA’s Warm My Flat campaign is kicking off soon, so talk to them and they’ll totally help you out.

So, what are you waiting for? Go get ‘em, you energy efficient tiger. Warm dry flats are where it’s at, you’ll be healthier, wealthier and stealthier. Well, maybe not stealthier, considering everyone will want to hang out at your place what with your newly found awesomeness, but it’ll be a good time. I promise.

*I’m assured that this wasn’t an instance of a corrupt VUWSA getting its exec a nicer pad.
**The Laws of Physics are the property of Monsanto Co, patent pending.

Find out more about VUWSA’s Warm My Flat campaign on their website.


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Comments (3)

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  1. Yeeah Wilbs! Free thermal curtains – I will remember this for next yeaaar

  2. Smarticus personus says:

    Silly Kiwis. You have been freezing since you first arrived a couple hundred years ago. Before you even arrived many in the world already deduced that double-paned windows and insulation keeps you warm. Why on earth haven’t the fine people of New Zealand been smart enough to bring back this “oh-so-difficult” technology.

    Btw, the “warm-air-shield” aka heat pump is just a waste of energy. New Zealand’s green image is simply wool pulled over the tourists eyes.

  3. smackdown says:

    oh i get it a nz / wool / sheep reference good one

    save me some jokes next time seinfeld

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