Cold houses
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Concerns over cold-housing deaths

Better Renting has released a report that estimates low-quality housing causes approximately 140 cold-related deaths per year in the ACT.

The report is titled Unsafe as Houses: Cold-housing deaths in the ACT, and compares temperature data with statistics on monthly deaths from 2009–17.

The report uses data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to quantify the annual death toll from cold houses. The data was to used to compare death rates between warmer and cooler months.

Better Renting has published the report to raise awareness that “inefficient housing means Australia’s population is more exposed to the health risks of low indoor temperatures”.

The report found that the people most at risk of dying from cold housing were aged 65 and over, renting or on a low income.

The report states that people over the age of 65 are usually more vulnerable to indoor cold due to more time spent indoors, reduced mobility, and decreased physical resilience.

Renters are considered more likely to suffer from a cold house because research has found that rental properties are usually less energy efficient, and offer less protection against the cold.

According to Better Renting, rental properties are almost 10 times more likely than properties for sale to have the minimum energy efficiency rating.

And finally, the report notes that low-income earners “are more likely abstain from heating in winter in order to reduce energy costs”.

The findings in the ACT reflect concerns about energy poverty around the country. According to RMIT University’s Dr Nicola Willand, over a quarter of a million older Australians are “fuel poor”; that is, they are unable to heat their homes to a comfortable and safe temperature, owing to low household income and low energy efficiency.

“Cold homes can lead to mould and dampness, to allergies, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, to chilblains and avoidable winter deaths,” said Willand, speaking on episode seven of the AIRAH on Air podcast.

She pointed to report released in July by Alfred Health, which looked at 217 hypothermic emergency presentations in Victoria and found that 87 per cent of elderly patients were found indoors, raising further concerns about whether this vulnerable population was able to afford adequate heating.

Unsafe as Houses: Cold-housing deaths in the ACT is available to download here.

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