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August 13, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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How to Stay Warm in Shitty Flats

-Are you sick of sitting on the loo in the middle of the night and jumping up from the shock to your privates?
-Have you had it with finding that the only warm place to study is under two duvets in bed?
-Do you find yourself sleeping with people you don’t fancy just to stay warm?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, this column is for you. Firstly, where you live in Wellington really does make a difference. While I have no empirical evidence, I’m pretty sure that Karori is probably colder than Kelburn or Aro Valley, particularly if you live high on the hills. Aro Valley places have a reputation for being damp, and getting very little sun, but they are sheltered. Having said that, if you ever look at a place with a dehumidifier that comes with it – don’t move in!! The warmest places are likely to be those which are sheltered but get sun for at least half of the day.

Apartment buildings and semi-detached houses will also be warmer, as lots of other people close to you have their heaters cranked up. Also (and this is really interesting) a lot of places around the world are warmer right in the CBD, so move into a Ministry!

How you heat the place is also very important for your levels of comfort and your power bill. If you want an appliance that drinks electricity like water, go ahead and buy a fan heater. Likewise, a column heater can be on all day and all night, but if the room hasn’t reached a bearable temperature, it never will – unless you live in a broom cupboard. Freestanding gas heaters are very effective in warming all but the biggest spaces, but they do give off exhaust fumes and water vapour, so will make a damp place even damper. If you find your power bill depressing, this could be a way to slowly kill yourself… Of course, the ideal way to heat a place is with a heat pump – it produces cheap and plentiful heat. Heat pumps may be found in places which were built in the last 25 years or so, so the chances of finding them in the usual student flats near Uni are unlikely – you may have to brave the wilds of Karori West.

While an open fireplace adds a lot of atmosphere, and can be a great way to seduce people, the amount of heat it puts out into a room is tiny. The only thing less efficient for heating than an open fire is an open oven (don’t laugh, people actually do this!).

All the best heating in the world will make no difference if the condition of the place allows heat to make its merry way outside. One of the top ways to lose heat is through leaks such as the gaps under doors, around windows, in fireplaces and even (and you are to be pitied if this sounds like your flat) in gaps between the walls and the floor. Plug these with rolled up towels, put plastic bags up the chimneys and duct tape around window frames (you won’t be opening them in winter anyway).

Heat is also lost rapidly by tops that don’t cover you midriff and people who insist on talking about their ex all the time…

The next best way to never be warm is to not have curtains or to not close the ones you have. You can get cheap curtains from the Salvation Army, even if they offend your sense of colour and style. In the worst of houses, a whopping 50% of the warmth you generate goes outside. Consider this when you are looking at a particularly cheap place – the $20 you save per week will probably end up on your power bill.

The World Health Organisation standard for a healthy home is that it should be at least 16oC. A house which is this warm, but damp, is still a health hazard. Asthmatics, children, the elderly and PhD students should always be in at least 18oC. NZ health statistics show that people who live in substandard housing are much more likely to get ill in winter. Is it worth saving $40 on your power bill if you then have to shell out $80 for Codral, Berocca and cough mixture for the week you get a cold?

Finally, if you worry about where your power dollar goes and want to make a difference, sign up with Meridian Energy – that way you know that all the electricity you use is renewable. If we all did that, NZ could go 100% renewable for electricity – that would be a world first.

Please send your questions and stories about renting to rentingwithali@gmail.com.

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