nytimes – Why are Australian homes so cold?

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Over the past few weeks I have found either wrapped in thermal clothes and a blanket or working from my bed with my laptop balanced in my lap because it really is cold in my apartment.

It is not so much a new awareness as something else that the pandemic has brought to light (with existing inequalities, our country’s dependence on international migration and travel, etc.). It wasn’t until I was spending most of my days working from home, in a room with no heating instead of an office with central heating, that I really started to really notice that it’s basically the same temperature. inside and outside my apartment at all times. time.

It turns out that I am not alone. Experts say home design in Australia is largely about keeping us cool in the summer. We are, after all, a sun-scorched country: our relentless summers, and the threats they bring, loom large in our collective consciousness all year round. But that does mean that staying warm in winter often becomes an afterthought.

A Queensland public health professor said a few years ago that “many Australian homes are just glorified tents” in winter, after publishing a study which found that 6.5% of Australians have died from the cold against 0.5% of hot weather.

We tend to think of the cold as something to be tolerated rather than dealt with, according to Chris Jensen, senior lecturer in construction management at the University of Melbourne.

Especially in places like Melbourne, which are getting colder than most parts of the country, there is an attitude ‘we’re going to go through this, we can deal with the cold, we’re Melburnians,’ Dr Jensen said. “And while that is true, the point is that our accommodation has led us to this condition, and it does not have to be so.”

In many parts of the world, building materials do the heavy lifting in keeping homes warm, while heaters only make the final difference. “But what we have in Australia, especially in colder climates, are houses where the building fabric doesn’t provide that initial advantage to keep the house comfortable, so we are completely dependent on heating,” he said. Dr Jensen.

Our walls are often not well insulated or insulated at all, our windows are not double glazed, and we grew up with gas heaters and fireplaces, which means our homes are designed to be well ventilated.

As an example of how our houses might feel instead, Dr Jensen recounted an experience he had visiting relatives in Germany: their house was well insulated, which meant that a one fuel wood stove was enough to heat the whole place. It was not cold when we were near the windows as they were double glazed. The whole house was warm everywhere instead of being hot in the radiator shelf and cold in the other rooms.

“You don’t think it’s cold or hot because it’s just cozy,” he said.

We are moving in the right direction, said Dr Jensen. Energy efficiency standards for new homes have slowly increased over the past few decades. But we still need a cultural shift in the way we think about construction and design.

“We have the skills to create buildings that are naturally comfortable enough without heating or cooling,” he said.

How do you cope with the cold this winter? Write to us at [email protected]

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