Tips for buyers to spot a healthy home

Curtains should be wider than the window frame and preferably be double layered with a thick lining.

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Curtains should be wider than the window frame and preferably be double layered with a thick lining.

My husband and I have had enough of living in rentals that are damp and mouldy. We’ve saved hard for our deposit and all we really want is a place that’s warm where our kids won’t get sick, even if it means buying a smaller home or townhouse. What’s the best way to figure out if a house is “healthy”? We don’t have time to tackle costly renovations.

While they say DIY is in our DNA, it’s true that many Kiwis want to move into a house that’s “done”. Not everyone has the time and dollars it takes to renovate a property, so for many buyers, finding a home that’s safe, warm and dry is key.

Often, that key is good insulation. As you know, a house that’s hard to heat can make you sick and miserable. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 18C in our homes. In many properties, insulation is the most practical and cost-effective way to make a house more energy efficient. An insulated home is warmer in winter and cooler in summer, which can provide health benefits like reducing mould and damp.

Ask the agent or seller if the property is insulated, the type of insulation used and when it was installed. Ask your building inspector to check the state of the insulation. It should be replaced or topped up if it’s less than 12cm thick, doesn’t cover the whole ceiling, has become wet or damp, or been damaged by rodents or birds. If a property you’re looking at isn’t insulated, it’s a good idea to budget for the cost of doing the work, as your health (and your wallet) will thank you in the long term. Have a look into what support you may be eligible for, such as a Warmer Kiwi Homes insulation grant. Some local councils also allow you to add the cost of insulation to your rates and pay this back over time.

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Wall insulation and double glazing are real bonuses to look out for. Wall insulation is common in homes built after 1978 and many modern properties now have double or even triple glazing. Pay attention to what rooms are on the sunny north side, how many unshaded windows there are and be aware of other houses or trees that may block the sun, particularly in the cooler months.

When working to identify a healthy home, watch out for dampness. Signs of dampness include musty smells, damp or mouldy wardrobe contents, mould forming behind paintings or furniture, or mould or watermarks on ceilings or walls. Condensation on windows, especially in bedrooms, isn’t necessarily a sign of excessive dampness if it only happens occasionally during winter. Ideally, the house will have extractor fans in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry that are vented outside. Fans should not be vented into the roof space.

Kevin Lampen-Smith: "Often, that key is good insulation."

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Kevin Lampen-Smith: “Often, that key is good insulation.”

Something that can also help a home retain warmth are good curtains. It’s important to note that curtains aren’t necessarily included in the sale of the house, so ask about this and if the answer is yes, ensure they’re included in the list of chattels in the sale and purchase agreement. According to EECA, good curtains should be floor-length and fit tightly against the wall or window frame. Sill-length curtains are ineffective. Curtains should be wider than the window frame and preferably be double layered with a thick lining. If the property has ineffective curtains, or does not come with curtains, you should factor this cost into your budget.

While this list doesn’t cover everything that’ll be relevant to your family or the property you’re looking at, it’s a good place to start. We have a helpful open home checklist you can download from settled.govt.nz, as well as other resources to help you make informed decisions when it comes to buying a property.

Kevin Lampen-Smith is the chief executive of the Real Estate Authority (REA), the independent government agency that regulates the New Zealand real estate industry. If you have a question about buying or selling property, send it to susan.edmunds@stuff.co.nz For independent guidance and information on buying or selling, check out settled.govt.nz.

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