A reliance on wood burners in the past, the Kiwi mentality of heating a single room and the perception New Zealand has a warmer climate than Europe and the UK means central heating is non-existent in more than 95 per cent of our homes, according to experts.

They say central heating is a nice luxury allowing bedrooms and living areas to be kept at a consistent heat, but the reality is the majority of people cannot afford or do not expect to pay between $8000 and $15,000 to heat their homes.

Whereas the majority of UK houses have central heating, less than 5 per cent of homes in New Zealand do.

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A ready supply of wood in New Zealand made it easy to turn to wood burning fireplaces.
A ready supply of wood in New Zealand made it easy to turn to wood burning fireplaces.

Sustainability Trust chief executive Phil Squire said it came down to cost and custom.

"It's not customary for us to have central heating...

"I think it's just that norm that folks don't expect to spend that kind of money because we are also very used to single room heating.

"We might put a heat pump in our living room and possible hall and use portable heaters in our bedrooms - but we kind of think of it as quite a luxury item."

However Squire said heating solutions had advanced and heat pump central heating was proving an efficient solution. While installation was between $10,000 and $15,000, the running costs were under 10c per kilowatt hour compared to electric heaters which were 30c per kwh, he said.

"If you can afford it, then central heating is a wonderful solution."

Many of the trust's clients either relied on landlords to install heat pumps in the living areas or the trust recommended radiant or micathermic plug-in heaters.

Heat pumps are an effective and energy efficient solution if central heating is too costly, experts say. Photo / File
Heat pumps are an effective and energy efficient solution if central heating is too costly, experts say. Photo / File

The Community Energy Network member Gary Kelk, who also manages Healthy Homes Tai Tokerau, said although New Zealand would benefit from having whole heating solutions such as gas central heating, the cost of installing them was too expensive for the majority of people.

He said New Zealand's housing stock was so far behind that a lot of houses needed to first have adequate insulation installed before heating and then ventilation was considered.

"Our housing stock is so poor compared to overseas. We historically had a lot of timber in New Zealand so we have had wood fires, which have been the open fires... and also insulation didn't come into homes until 1978 and that was a very low requirement."

He said while New Zealand was not perceived to get as cold as places like Canada and the UK, it still had a very wet climate and a big drop in temperature overnight.

Kiwis have traditionally used the principle of heating one room at a time.
Kiwis have traditionally used the principle of heating one room at a time.

Healthy Homes Tai Tokerau pushed wood burners to its clients because they could often source the wood needed to run them for free, he said.

University of Otago professor of the Department of Public Health in Wellington Philippa Howden-Chapman said New Zealand should be concerned about cold houses because more people got sick and died during winter. Heating only one room in the house was also a problem, she said.

"There is recent evidence in Japan that your blood pressure actually goes up during the night and that's a problem if people have their heart compromised or are a young baby or older person, whose regulation of their temperature isn't as good as people in the middle years of their lives."

Howden-Chapman said there needed to be heating designed especially for New Zealand homes.

"The big issue now - because we are not doing well on reducing carbon emissions - is to make sure we make ourselves warmer without using lots more carbon."

In her view, the best heating solutions were energy efficient ones such as heat pumps, which worked well unless the temperature went below zero.

Pros and cons of central heating

Good for:

• Providing heating for your entire house

• Convenience - you can control the temperature with the thermostat and use the timer

• Zoning - many are zone-controlled so you can control the temperature in different parts of the home

Be aware:
• Can be expensive to install
• Heat can be supplied by a range of heating systems for example gas, wood pellet or heat pump
• It's worth choosing a system that has an individual thermostat for each room
• Can be very expensive to run if your house isn't well insulated or is draughty

Source: Energy Wise