Cold homes leading to extra deaths every winter: report

Better Renting

Cold weather in South Australia is associated with over 600 extra deaths every year, a result that advocates say is linked to the poor quality of homes in South Australia.

A new report “The sick season: cold weather and mortality in South Australia”, from Better Renting, a tenant advocacy organisation, looks at monthly death rates compared to temperature.

The report finds that when temperatures go down every winter, death rates go up.

For each cold month, over 150 excess deaths occur, compared with the rest of the year.

Although Australia has a relatively mild winter, our homes are less resilient when the weather does get cold.

Ironically, this fact means that deaths from cold are often worse in warmer countries.

The deaths are mainly due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and tend to occur amongst older Australians.

Better Renting Executive Director, Joel Dignam, says the findings demonstrate the need for urgent action to improve the thermal performance of housing.

They are calling on the SA Government to urgently implement minimum energy efficiency standards for rental housing.

“A cold home doesn’t just mean higher power bills, it means living every day with a threat to your health.

A home without insulation or with the wind blowing through can be more deadly than a rickety staircase or a broken circuit breaker.

“People who rent are especially vulnerable because their homes are less energy-efficient and because they can’t make changes themselves.

The SA Government needs to ensure that property investors are required to make their properties healthy and safe to live in.”

Dr Lyrian Daniel, from the University of Adelaide, is also concerned about the problem of cold housing.

Since 2017 she and her colleagues have conducted thermal monitoring of Adelaide homes during the wintertime, with the aim of providing objective evidence of the living conditions within South Australian housing.

“The results of the 2017 study were stark – very few of the houses within our sample recorded an average daily temperature above 18 degrees, which is the minimum safe temperature for homes recommended by the World Health Organization, during the cold months.

“For many of us, problems of cold housing have been hidden. We don’t think of Australia as having particularly cold winters and are fairly used to putting another jumper on to cope.

“The lockdowns and restrictions that have kept us at home much more over the past 18 months have meant that we are now, more-than-ever, aware of how poorly constructed and insulated much of our housing stock is.”

Staff from Uniting Communities also report that they see first-hand the unhealthy temperatures that many South Australians are living with.

According to Mark Henley, Manager of Advocacy and Communications, the cost of heating in winter can leave some household struggling to afford food.

“In our work we see many rental properties that have drafts through broken windows, ill-fitting doors, and gaps between walls and ceilings.

“Sadly, many renters are reluctant to approach their landlord for fear of eviction or a rent increase.

“Many people coming to financial counselling services are going without medication or fresh food so they can pay their rent and energy bills.

“Minimum energy efficiency standards for rental housing would mean that renters don’t have to choose between heating and eating.

“We all benefit when people in our community can afford to have a healthy home.”

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).