Gill South calls on an expert to see how her home can be more effective when it comes to heating.

Well, I think we all know that in order to be healthy we need to live in healthy houses, so I have invited Matthew Cutler-Welsh, a Homestar technical manager, to my house, to see whether he thinks I and my family are living in a good environment. Homestar is an independent environmental rating tool for new and existing homes.

I've done an online survey (, answering questions like "do I have a hot water cylinder wrap" (huh? Couldn't even tell you where the hot water cylinder was) and "are my lights fluorescent or omnipresent"? Okay, I made that up but I'm very vague on my lights, though I think we have made efforts in this area.

So, having completed this in a rather breezy over-optimistic fashion, our house has come out with four stars, which I'm pretty chuffed about. The house would have to be completely self-supporting to get 10 out of 10, and that's not going to happen any time soon, ex-1930s state house that it is.

My self-assessed four-star rating soon gets taken down a notch or two by Matthew to a less impressive but more typical two stars. Our house's biggest failing is the insulation in the roof - or rather the lack of it. We did have some, I swear, but it seems to have compressed or "moved" over time, it seems. Thank goodness we have gas central heating or I'd be freezing but it's not really the height of efficiency is it, having heating going straight out the roof?


Matthew gives the big thumbs-up to the size of our house, which is not large though has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The size means it is easier to heat. He obviously disapproves of the ever-larger houses popping up all over the place, with their excessive media rooms, five bedrooms and hostess kitchens. Well I'm glad my relatively compact house makes someone happy. Personally I live in fear of living too close for comfort with teenage boys in a few years' time but our upcoming renovation should, fingers crossed, help that. I'm also hoping their friends' large houses will accommodate the teen get-togethers. Who wants to be party central? Not me.

The technical manager says that the large amount of windows our house has is a slight negative because it is letting cold out. The most efficient house is a box with small windows, he tells me with a twinkle. Well, I like my windows. Nothing like a snooze in winter sunshine in the afternoon.

My Homestar report gives me a long list of recommendations to improve the cosiness of the house, things we can incorporate when we renovate. They include more (much more) ceiling insulation, increased insulation underneath the house, which is looking a bit straggly and, for good measure, insulation (a black polythene sheet, nothing fancy) on the ground beneath the house, a good moisture barrier. We should be eligible for a Government subsidy of around 30 per cent for the insulation. We ought also go for more insulation in the walls and have any new windows double-glazed. Our thermal envelope will get a big push and we will go soaring up to four stars once again, says Matthew.

And all this insulation will help keep my allergy to nasty old dust mites away too. They just love damp and humidity, says Matthew. He seems to feel quite personal about dust mites, bless him.

Being healthy starts at home. Here are three organisations helping to ensure your family is living safely.

3 of the best Healthy Homes websites.
1. Energy Smart
Ph 0800 777 111

Combines advice and information from local councils, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), Community Trusts and local health organisations (DHBs, PHOs), focusing on providing free or heavily subsidised home insulation for low-income families or families who have health-related conditions such as asthma. Targeted at homeowners and tenants with Community Services Cards to help them live in warmer, drier, and healthier homes. Check out tips on living warm, living smart, reducing dampness and improving your green footprint.

2. Lifemark
Ph 0800 227 888


Lifemark is a seal of approval for New Zealand homes designed to be easy and safe to live in for a lifetime. A joint organisation of CCS Disability Action and the Government, Lifemark provides design ideas for houses that are accessible, adaptable, safe and usable by elderly or incapacitated people.

3. New Zealand Green Building Council

The New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) is a not-for-profit industry organisation dedicated to accelerating the development and adoption of market-based green building practices, with environmental rating systems, industry and government advocacy, research and industry training. A member of the World Green Building Council (WGBC).

World Green Building Week, September 17-21

More than just green buildings, the focus is on green communities, neighbourhoods and precincts. Take a tour of Hobsonville Point, September 20, 9am-12pm ($65) to see the concept of sustainable community development and medium density living in action. See one of the country's first six Homestar certified show-homes and two new Green Star schools currently under construction.