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Sunday, June 15, 2008

I feel better

- not my dog -

We had a beautiful weekend here in Christchurch, sunny and nearly 70 degrees both days. A lovely blip in what is usually a fairly miserable time down under (it's winter in the southern hemisphere). Even though New Zealand is an island (well, two) in the South Pacific, it is not a South Pacific island. Weather-wise it's closer to Portland or Seattle, temperate and damp. Curiously, Kiwi houses have not evolved to deal with this type of climate. Americans coming to New Zealand are usually shocked to learn of the lack of central heating. Kiwis use space heaters, wood-burning stoves, and fireplaces to heat their homes. Some new builds feature heatpumps in the main living areas, but bedrooms are rarely heated.

Commercials for under-floorboard "insulation" by way of polystyrene strips run frequently this time of year. The ads for Pink Batts wall insulation really have me LOL-ing. The commercials have an almost public service spin to them, not so much selling a brand of product but educating the public on its benefits. Warm = good, cold = bad.

More fun facts about Kiwi houses: Double-glazed windows are a new idea, most here have a pane as thin as a wineglass. Houses aren't ventilated which leads to huge dampness and mold problems (you crack a window when you shower). Most homes do not have clothes dryers, Kiwis prefer to hang their laundry outside or use drying racks on rainy or colder days. Dryers, dishwashers, and garbage disposals are considered "mod cons," modern conveniences that are somewhat upscale.

City councils have held a tight leash on allowing suburban expansion, supposedly for "green" reasons but I've not gotten a straight answer on this topic. This has led to a high premium on land and subsequently, in-fill housing. For those of you not familiar with that last phrase, it refers to the selling off of parts of your property for development. Basically, you can build another house in your backyard. Or more often, a home built say 50 or 60 years ago is demolished and between 3 and 5 are built in its place. Yeah, your mind is reeling right now at the thought of the sardine-like conditions. You get used to it. And high fences are the norm - can't see it, must not be there.

Now for our Kiwi experience, keeping in mind that houses in our neighborhood start at a $400,000 US dollars: When we moved into our current rental, it had three baseboard heating units, one of which was broken. Another stopped working within three days, so our landlord provided us with a space heater the size of a Mini Cooper powered by a tank of natural gas larger than most barbeques'. After the pilot light stopped working and my infant daughter and I were nearly asphyxiated, a heatpump was installed. The last remaining baseboard heating unit services four bedrooms and a bath.

Let's see, a couple of more tidbits... my kitchen cooktop is fueled by a gas tank under the sink (again like a BBQ). After 7 weeks of drying racks at our first rental, I insisted on purchasing a clothes dryer. Kiwi laundry rooms are not built to accommodate dryers so they are hung upside down, bracketed to the wall, over the washing machine. I'll pause for you to take that in... Hi, nice to have you back.

So why the rant? It was sunny and almost 70 degrees this weekend and I felt nearly human.

3 comments:

The Nerdy Fashionista said...

In many respects I am very glad to admit that Americans have the wrong of it: foreign policy, awareness of the goings-on of the rest of the world, use of natural resources, etc. etc. But when it comes to HVAC and plumbing I will go to the mattress for the absolute, incontestable rightness of air conditioning (remember that terrible heat wave in France a few years ago, when literally hundreds if not thousands of elderly French died because NONE OF THEM HAD ANY AIR CONDITIONING?), heating (I don't need to be wearing a tank top inside my house in the winter, but when I was traveling in Ireland in November a few years ago I was sleeping in three sweaters, a scarf, and a wool hat and was STILL COLD), and 20th-century plumbing (most of the sinks I saw in England when I lived there were of the variety with separate hot and cold taps, so that washing your hands was an exercise in speed and dexterity, darting your hands back and forth between the two taps, wincing in pain as the hot water penetrated the numbing effect induced by the cold water).

All this to say: I feel your pain.

Dave Kogan said...

I love the comment on the space heater the size of a mini cooper and a natural gas tank the size of a BBQ. I imagine that you must lie awake at night wondering if that gas tank will explode with enough force to make plates rattle in Japan and that it will be read on the richter scale the next day. Why not turn in that explosion in the making heater and get a radient heat panel that uses the same amount of energy as a low wattage light bulb? There are ways to keep warm without the risk of 3rd degree burns and explosives unlike any seen in any action movie at www.safeheaters.com.

perchance said...

Dave, I would love to explore alternative ways to heat this house but we are renting. And paying 3x our U.S. mortgage for half the square footage. Thanks for letting me know about the options. It's something to think about when we return to the States.