Improving health, safety and energy efficiency in New Zealand through measuring and applying basic housing standards

N Z Med J. 2013 Aug 2;126(1379):74-85.


Substandard housing is a problem in New Zealand. Historically there has been little recognition of the important aspects of housing quality that affect people's health and safety. In this viewpoint article we outline the importance of assessing these factors as an essential step to improving the health and safety of New Zealanders and household energy efficiency. A practical risk assessment tool adapted to New Zealand conditions, the Healthy Housing Index (HHI), measures the physical characteristics of houses that affect the health and safety of the occupants. This instrument is also the only tool that has been validated against health and safety outcomes and reported in the international peer-reviewed literature. The HHI provides a framework on which a housing warrant of fitness (WOF) can be based. The HHI inspection takes about one hour to conduct and is performed by a trained building inspector. To maximise the effectiveness of this housing quality assessment we envisage the output having two parts. The first would be a pass/fail WOF assessment showing whether or not the house meets basic health, safety and energy efficiency standards. The second component would rate each main assessment area (health, safety and energy efficiency), potentially on a five-point scale. This WOF system would establish a good minimum standard for rental accommodation as well encouraging improved housing performance over time. In this article we argue that the HHI is an important, validated, housing assessment tool that will improve housing quality, leading to better health of the occupants, reduced home injuries, and greater energy efficiency. If required, this tool could be extended to also cover resilience to natural hazards, broader aspects of sustainability, and the suitability of the dwelling for occupants with particular needs.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Environmental Exposure / standards
  • Health Status
  • Housing / standards*
  • Humans
  • New Zealand
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety