Cold, damp homes harming children

By Sam Hurley

1 comment
If possible, children should always wear warm clothes in winter. Photo / Thinkstock
If possible, children should always wear warm clothes in winter. Photo / Thinkstock

Sixty per cent of the patients in Hawke's Bay Hospital's paediatric ward are children with respiratory problems from living in cold, damp homes, a specialist says.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board clinical nurse Meg Peterson said the viral infection bronchiolitis can cause "some serious lung damage" for families living in colder homes.

"It's really hard for those families.

"If it's possible to get your home insulated you should but it costs money to do that."

She said other priorities such as rent often take precedent over keeping the home and family warm.

"People should avoid using gas heaters, but the problem which I am told by a number of families is it's also the cheapest form of heating.

"They put a lot of moisture into the air and let off a number of toxins."

She said poor nutrition only worsens children's health in a cold home but said there were some common sense tips to help keep the home warm.

"It's kind of going back to what our grandparents used to do. Eating vegetables when you can and insulating your kids, if you can get them warm clothes to wear."

Ms Peterson said the HBDHB provides tips to the risks those with existing health conditions can face from the winter cold.

People with a heart condition living in the cold can increase blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and strokes.

Those with respiratory and breathing problems are more likely to catch a cold or have an asthma attack in cold homes. While arthritis becomes worse in cold, damp houses and people's strength and flexibility naturally decreases as it gets colder.

Mental and social health is also at risk.

Some people become lonely as they are less likely to invite friends around to a cold house and a cold house makes it difficult to concentrate, making it hard for kids and students to study.

Stay active to keep warm

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and energywise.govt.nz says when pressed for heating options, staying active will help you keep warm and well.

Spending time in the sun, and simply walking around the block are great ways to get your circulation going.

Heating options, however also come in various forms and each carry benefits and problems.

Heat pumps are good for low running costs when used properly and produce instant heat.

They are also convenient and people can control the temperature and timing with the thermostat and timer controls.

However, be aware that they must be sized correctly - for the space and the climate - to work well and some are a lot more efficient than others, while they also won't work during a power cut.

Modern woodburners are also good for low running costs, especially if you have access to free or cheap firewood. They also heat large spaces.

But firewood must be dry to burn most efficiently and a building consent approval for installation is needed.

Wood pellet burners are environmentally friendly and heat large spaces but won't work if the electricity isn't working. Building consent is needed for installation.

Flued gas (natural or LPG) heaters or fireplaces allow people to control the temperature and timing with the thermostat and timer controls and heat larger areas for longer periods.

Be aware, however, that you may have to pay a fixed charge for reticulated gas supply.

Unflued gas is good for back-up heating during power cuts, if your normal heating relies on electricity to operate.

But they are the most expensive form of heating (except for some open fires). There are also health risks - it will pollute air with toxic gases and large amounts of water vapour, so you must keep at least one window open when it is in use and never use it in bedrooms. They can make your home damp. Portable LPG heaters can be a fire risk, as anything too close can catch fire quickly.

Electric heaters are good for heating a small room infrequently and for short periods only and are very cheap to buy.

However, they are more expensive to run than most other heating options.

Central heating is great for providing whole-of-house heating but is usually very expensive to run if your house isn't well insulated, or is draughty.

How the cold affects your health

Indoor temperature:
*21C - Recommended living room temperature.
*18C - Minimum temperature with no health risk, though you may feel cold.
*Under 16C - More likely to experience respiratory and breathing problems.
*9-12C - Increases blood pressure and risk of heart conditions.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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