Your house is cold – so what?


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Have you ever felt cold at home? Shivered in your room?
We knew New Zealand had a big problem with cold housing
but we wanted evidence especially on youth experiences.
We surveyed 14-16 year old students in multiple schools
in different climate zones around the country. Overall we
found 77% felt cold in their homes during the winter at
some point. This resulted in many restrictions in their lives,
for example, how many rooms they use in the house.
New Zealand’s government is looking for ways to solve the
problem of energy poverty. We wanted to present ideas
for solutions from youth. Therefore, young people were
involved at all stages of this research: from questionnaire
design to research reporting.
Poor housing can damage children’s health. About a
quarter of all households in New Zealand are not able
to purchase enough energy to live a healthy life. Energy
is needed for keeping the lights on, heating the house,
showering, cooking, and household chores. When a
household does not have enough access to energy to
do all of these ‘normal’ things, social scientists call this
energy poverty. Causes of energy poverty include poor
building quality, low energy efficiency, and high housing
costs.
Youth are now recognized as one group most at risk to
the effects of energy poverty. Compared to adults, young
people spend longer at home, causing higher exposure
to the cold environment. Their growing bodies are more
at risk to problems caused by cold, and they live with
the consequences (e.g. lung damage) for longer. Health
risks for children include: lack of nutrition, obesity,
and hospitalisation for urgent health problems (e.g.
pneumonia). Some emotional impacts of energy poverty
are antisocial behaviour and increased mental health
problems.
Our study aimed to explore the effects of energy poverty
on youth in New Zealand. The goal of the study was to
provide a voice for youth living in poor conditions, and
bring government’s attention to the severity of energy
poverty among children.

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