I guess the term freezing is somewhat of an exaggeration. It’s actually 7°C (44°F), but as it’s close to that temperature inside my home office, and I’m sitting at my computer, it feels fricking cold.
Why so cold? We are replacing the windows and ranchsliders [Nu Zild for a fully glazed sliding door with a moving panel that slides behind a fixed panel] on the the main floor with double glazing. Huge gaping holes where the glass was doesn’t do much for keeping heat in and cold out. However we are looking towards cheaper power bills and a more evenly heated home when the job is completed hopefully by tomorrow evening.
Our house was built in the mid 1980s and apart from a regulation requiring minimal ceiling insulation, little consideration was given to keeping homes warm. What heating there was was on a room by room basis. Central heating was unheard of and it is still very much a rarity. It wasn’t until early this century that double glazing, wall, ceiling and underfloor insulation became mandatory for all new home construction. Why? I could claim that were are a hardy lot, but the large immigrant population are a namby-pamby softies, and can’t stand a little cold.
The truth is that compared to much of the rest of the world, we have a very mild climate. Summers are not overly hot, and winters are not extremely cold. Where I live, anything below 15°C (59°F) is considered cold and it’s bitterly cold if it drops below 10°C (50°F). We get between 5 and 15 frosts per year and a smattering of snow once per decade at most. It’s hot at 25°C (77°F) and insufferably hot at 30°C (86°F). So artificial heating and cooling is not necessary for survival – it’s a luxury to make life more pleasant.
However, cold homes are also damp homes. Dampness brings in mould and mildew, which is now acknowledged to be a serious health risk. We have a very high rate of respiratory illnesses in this country. Hence the the warm home regulations. Existing homes don’t need to be insulated to new home standards, but the government is looking at mandating all rental accommodation be brought up to the modern standard.
A few years ago, we took advantage of a government subsidy on underfloor and ceiling insulation and that made a big difference in reducing the daily extremes of hot and cold and eliminated mould from much of the house. Our sole form of heating was a woodburner, which made one end of the main floor cosy to too hot while the rest of the house remained cold. It was also somewhat expensive to run. Even lighting it late afternoon and not feeding it after 10PM cost us close to $700 per year for firewood and cleaning, even though we only used it for the coldest three months of the year.
So we had a heat pump installed. Typically in NZ they are used to heat a single room, and multiple units are used to heat a whole house. Ours is a larger unit installed in the main floor hallway with the goal of maintaining a comfortable background heat throughout the main floor while allowing some heat to rise up the stairwell to the upper floor where the bedrooms are. Mostly it works well and is very much cheaper to run even though it’s running 24/7. But on very cold days, the rooms at either end of the main floor can drop to as low as 15°C if the curtains aren’t drawn. And who wants to draw the curtains during the day, especially when we have such a great view. (If you view this blog directly in a browser and not via the WordPress Reader, the views in the random image at the top of the page are taken from our home.)
Neither of us are getting any younger, and we are both more sensitive to variations in temperature than we were even ten years ago. So we dipped into our savings for the double glazing. We’re doing the main floor except for the utility rooms (laundry, bathroom, toilet, exercise room) as they are used less frequently and/or have smaller windows. Even so, there’s 30 square metres (320 square feet) of glass to be replaced, and as our children will no doubt say, it has taken a not so insignificant bite out of their inheritance ($19,000 to be precise). Not that that worries me. I came into this world with nothing, and if everything goes to plan, that’s how I intend to leave it.
There’s a few more “big ticket” expenses that are looming on the horizon. Our car is now 12 years old, and while it’s still very reliable, the day can’t be too far away, when its reliability will be called into question. And as all cars are imports (there’s no local car manufacturing), they are not exactly cheap. A new sub 2000cc car such as a Toyota Corolla or Mitsubishi Mirage is around $28,000 to $30,000.
The exterior of the house is due for a repaint. Once upon a time I would have tackled this task myself, but age, injury and a multi-storey home means this is not a reasonable option any longer. OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) requirements mean that the use of regulation scaffolding and safety harnesses etc is mandatory for our dwelling due to its height, all of which does not come cheaply. I’d be surprised if an external paint job sees any change out of $15,000.
Then there’s floor coverings. With the exception of the kitchen, they’re all original, which means they are over 30 years old. In typical New Zealand fashion, most of the floors are covered in woollen carpet. It’s getting threadbare in places and a decision will need to be made soon as to whether we replace all the carpet or only in those rooms showing the worst wear. Re-carpeting the whole house will cost around $20,000 for a medium priced carpet, so it’s more likely to be done in stages.
Some rooms require repainting and new wallpaper – the grandchildren seem to have the ability to locate seams that have slightly lifted and then tearing the wallpaper back to where it is adhered firmly. At least this is one task I’m still capable of doing (I hope), having papered and repapered three previous homes. But If I need to hire a professional, then it’s goodbye to another $8,000 to $10,000. So this is also likely to be a project completed in stages.
And finally, we’d like to become less dependent on the national grid for electricity. Now that storage batteries are reasonably cost effective, we’d like to install a solar power system large enough to allow ourselves to be close to a net zero user of external electricity. How much? Not sure, as prices are still falling. I suspect something over $25,000, but if the Greens get their wish, there might well be a subsidy similar to the one they obtained for insulation (around 25%). Time will tell.
When we built our first home a couple of years after we married, it cost us a grand total of $12,000 for the land, house, fixtures and fittings, and we managed to finance it with a deposit of only $130! Mind you, my weekly pay package back then was around half of today’s minimum hourly wage. How times have changed!
And in case you’re wondering why I used main floor and upper floor instead of first, second etc, there are two very good reasons:
- Difference in NZ and US usage. What Americans call the first floor, Kiwis (and many other Commonwealth countries) call the ground floor. So our first floor is the second floor in the US.
- Because the house is on a sloping section (Nu Zild for lot) the main floor is the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the west, but the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the east. The upper floor is the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the west and the second floor (US third floor) when accessed from the east. And finally, the lower floor is the basement when accessed from the west, but the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the east. Confused? So am I!