Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

New book reveals ongoing health and social costs of leaky homes

Medicine medical equipment

Tuesday 8 December 2009 2:47pm

The long-term social costs of leaky buildings constructed following deregulation of the building industry by the National Government in the early 1990s are not just the result of failures in construction, according to a book published on Tuesday December 8 (details below).

This first book on the broad effects of the leaky buildings saga in New Zealand, “Do Damp and Mould Matter? Health Impacts of Leaky Homes” is edited by Professor Howden-Chapman, Dr Julie Bennett and Dr Rob Siebers from the Public Health Department at the University of Otago, Wellington.

Professor Howden-Chapman says: “This book examines not only the fundamental reasons for the failure of the building industry in the 1990s, but also the long-term health costs of living in damp and mouldy homes, which are a consequence of this industry failure.”

Professor Howden-Chapman says these significant personal mental and physical health costs are conservatively estimated to be $26 million a year on top of the ongoing millions being spent on legal fees and remediation of leaking houses.

The editors say a more permissive Building Act in 1991, the downgrading of the apprenticeship system, the increased use of poorly supervised ‘labour-only’ gangs in conjunction with monolithic cladding techniques, and new building designs unsuited to New Zealand’s wet weather, all contributed to the ongoing leaky homes debacle.

An unpublished estimate by the Auckland City Council was that 80,000 houses built with monolithic cladding in the 1990s have leaked or will eventually leak and current estimates put eventual remediation costs at $11.5 billion.

The book brings together a wealth of information regarding the extent of the leaky homes problem in this country, with wider material which pinpoints the poor state of much of New Zealand housing, even housing from an earlier era.

For instance, about one third of New Zealand homes have mould in one or more rooms, particularly in deprived neighbourhoods. This is having an impact on the health of the nation.

Besides the direct multi-million dollar cost to homeowners, as well as councils and taxpayers, there are wide-ranging health costs associated with damp and mould from leaking buildings. These health costs were first analysed in a report by the University of Otago, Wellington to interested stakeholders and City Councils in February 2008.

In broad terms, current available research described here indicates there is sufficient evidence for associations between damp and mouldy homes and the development of respiratory symptoms. Although the exact causal relationship is still unclear, there are links between living in mouldy houses and increased asthma severity. This conclusion is backed up by a 2009 WHO report on indoor air quality, respiratory symptoms and inflammation, which was co-authored by two of the contributors to the book, Professors Jeroen Douwes and Aino Nevalainen..

Professor Howden-Chapman concludes that mould in houses is a major health, social and economic problem in New Zealand, made significantly worse by poor building standards and inadequate regulation in the 1990s.

She says this book shows housing in New Zealand is often erroneously considered only to produce private benefits, but indoor damp problems are a public health issue that go beyond leaky buildings. The leaky building crisis demonstrates the wider costs for the whole community in terms of ill-health and disease. “It’s good to see that the Government is reviewing the Building Act, but it is crucial that the health impacts and sustainability of buildings are considered along with considerations of efficiency and risk.”

Mr Don Hunn, the former State Services Commissioner, who wrote the 2002 report of the Overview Group on Weathertightness of Buildings says, “This book underlines the importance of high quality research to ensure the massive regulatory failure which the leaky building fiasco represents, will not be repeated”.

The launch of “Do Damp and Mould Matter? Health Impacts of Leaky Homes” will take place on Tuesday December 8th at the National Film Archive on Taranaki St at 5.00pm.

Information for those wishing to obtain a copy of the book, please download a copy of the Do Damp and Mould Matter flyer (in PDF format).

For further information contact

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman
Director, He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme
University of Otago,Wellington
Tel 04 918 6047

Professor Jeroen Douwes
Co-Director, Centre for Public Health Research
Massey University Wellington Campus
Tel 04 380 0617