Poor housing to blame for Australians dying at twice the rate of Swedes from cold

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

Did you know that Australians are twice more likely to die of cold related causes than people in Sweden? And also, more Australians die of cold than of heat, despite having mostly temperate to subtropical climate and increasingly hotter summers.

Due to a lack of insulation, cheap, single glazed windows and gaping holes, it’s often warmer outside than inside. I’m writing this wrapped with a blanket around my legs, Ugg boots on my feet and a little fan heater sitting next to me like a trusted family dog (not that I’m allowed to have a pet as a renter).

If you don’t believe me, one friend had frost on her kitchen floor one morning after a particularly cold night!

Or if you still don’t believe me, read the scientific study in reputable medical journal, The Lancet. The point is: While temperatures rarely drop below zero (at least in metropolitan Sydney), cold and damp pose a real health risk.

Lack of insulation and ventilation makes people sick

According to this article in Renew Magazine, the majority of Australian homes rely on ’natural ventilation’, which describes a combination of open windows and imperfections in construction (gaps and holes).

The article continues “In humid or colder areas, and particularly in uninsulated buildings, there is also a significant potential for condensation when humidity levels are too high, and this can result in mold growth and various health issues.” We learn about the possible link with Australia’s asthma rate which is the highest in the world; and from my own observation, Australians suffer from a lot of allergies.

Also, consider that each 4°C decrease in living room temperature has been associated with roughly a 5% increase in cardiovascular risk. The ideal indoor temperature is between 18 – 24°C according to the WHO (by comparison, our room temperature currently hovers between 10 and 12°C without the heater running non-stop).

Housefires caused by faulty electric blankets, electric heaters etc are another common issue associated with the winter months. Tragically, more than 50 people across Australia die in housefires every year. I’m not sure if that was included in the Lancet study, but certainly a concern as people are desperately trying to stay warm in their drafty homes.

Energy efficiency a pipe dream for renters

While winter is a season of suffering for all Australians living below the Tropic of Capricorn, the situation is even worse for tenants. As this article in Renew Economy points out, rental properties have significantly worse energy efficiency than owner-occupied properties, increasing bills and harming health for renters:

“These people are living in properties that are much less energy efficient. Renters are four times more likely to live in a home without insulation, and they are less likely to have window treatments, such as curtains.”

Government websites such as Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources offer well-meaning but otherwise largely useless advice. Switching off the lights and minimizing the use of heating, surely we can just hibernate in a cave to re-emerge during spring time. Have you ever tried to get your landlords to fix a broken appliance such as aircon or dishwasher? You know you’re in for a long battle that will possibly take you all the way to the Tribunal. Now try to negotiate an appliance upgrade just to reduce YOUR energy bills…

The only solution is regulation. We need minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals (one of the points in my Manifesto of the Sydney Renter). Why was it possible for the ACT to introduce minimum energy efficiency standards, but not NSW as the most populous state? If the NSW State Government is serious about climate change and energy efficiency policies, tenants need to be part of the strategy. Remember, dear politicians, we're also paying taxes and will vote at the next election.

>> Read more: Manifesto of the Sydney Renter

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