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Home Insulation problems - householders can do something about it.


A spate of house fires in Australia was reported recently, caused by macerated paper insulation coming in contact with downlights or exhaust fans. These both make hot spots in the ceiling. Is this a problem in New Zealand?

EECA has responded that the New Zealand home insulation scheme does not allow macerated paper insulation. There is still some fire hazard when any hot areas are covered – but no fires have been reported in the 30,000 houses insulated to date. An audit of 579 houses revealed 17 houses where downlights were covered – these have all been fixed, at no charge to the householder, by the installers. Procedures have been tightened up, and a subsequent audit of 200 houses revealed no fire hazards.

The earlier audit did, however, reveal at least some problems in 2/3 of the houses, which would reduce the effectiveness of the insulation.

Typical issues are gaps in ceiling insulation, and sagging floor insulation, both of which will let air flow and carry heat away from the ceiling or floor. A less common issue is if a ceiling insulation blanket touches building paper on the roof; it could transmit moisture which could accumulate.

Recessed down-lights are an awful problem – they have ventilation holes, which “pump warm air” from the room into the roof space, and often let polluted air from the roof space back into the room. Consider sealing them off – there’s a variety of lighting solutions that don’t need that ventilation.

These problems are most likely in homes that were insulated last winter or spring – the early days of the scheme. If you are concerned, the first step is to contact your installer, and ask for a copy of the “Post-Installation Audit” (PIA) of your house.

If you (or a fit, supple friend or relative) are prepared to crawl into the ceiling or under the floor, just check whether it matches the PIA.

There should be no gaps, and downlights must not be covered. A digital camera would provide the necessary evidence. The government scheme requires the installer to fix the problem within 20 days – or immediately if there is any fire risk. If you are still not satisfied, you can ask EECA to have one of their independent auditors check it.

Don’t knock the home insulation scheme! Though not perfect, it has safeguards to protect householders. It’s up to you to make use of those safeguards, to ensure that Government’s promise of a “warm healthy home" is realized.

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