Nice and warm and cosy

The beast otherwise known as my sweet little daughter is still ill. She’s remarkably cheerful for someone whose arse is exploding at regular intervals, but she also has a veteran smoker’s cough, and a gummy yellow case of conjunctivitis. All of which adds up to her being a nasty pestilential little piece of work. So we are staying inside, being warm and keeping our germs to ourselves.

I am attempting to set a world record for most hours spent wearing pyjamas in one calendar year. I think I have depreciated my current pair to a cost per wear of 12 cents, which is still prohibitive. I can do better than that.

Being stuck inside and sporting a fine line in ‘given-up chic’*is no barrier to cost effective enjoyment so I am thrilled to bring you the last word on fun budget activities in your very own living room.

Now as every talk back radio listener knows, the cheapest way to have a good time is to get irate about something.  So here goes.

It’s hard work staying warm in winter in New Zealand. Professor Robert Vale of Victoria University said “the average New Zealand house is scarily cold, badly insulated, has huge expanses of single-glazed glass, and is a nightmare to heat,” and he was being polite.

What is it with this country and its crap buildings, eh, eh? Piss poor building codes, because we wouldn’t want “bureaucracy” to hinder the poor housing developers in their quest for riches now, would we? Bugger all real incentive to improve the heat retention of older buildings, and every winter we have a power crisis. Well fancy that. Let’s not even get into the unnecessary burden put on the healthcare system by illness caused by people living in unhealthily cold and damp buildings.  I can and do bang on about this topic ad nauseam, but today I’ll spare you the full rant.

Back when I was a newbie in this country, I rented an old Victorian villa in the heart of the swamp that is St Albans. During that first winter I subsidised the rent by letting out the spare bedroom to the district coroner as an overflow morgue facility.  It was icy hell. I put on a hat to go to bed. The walls ran with damp and mould grew on my clothes in the wardrobe. There was NO HEATING AT ALL. I got chilblains on my feet. It was so long since I’d had chilblains that initially I had no idea what they were. And folks, lest you think I was a naive fool for renting such a cold house, please bear in mind that this sort of property is common place in New Zealand, particularly in the rental market.

So here we are, still renting, now with a house that has at least a passing acquaintance with the old pink batts and a nice heat pump, but there are still things that could be improved. And here’s where we get to the point of this post. At this time of year every magazine, newspaper and caring, sharing local council handout is full of advice to toasty up your hovel. But the vast majority of this advice is for people who own their home. What about people like us who rent? We have no control over our heating or insulation; how do we stay warm? Well my gift to you today is the accumulated wisdom from my many years trying to stay warm in winter in rented houses the world over**.

Most windows in New Zealand are single glazed. Ours are and it gladdens my heart of a morning to wipe the mould off my aluminium window frames. With single glazed windows you need HEAVY curtains, preferably full length, so they puddle on the floor and keep draughts from howling around your ankles. You might be lucky enough to have a nice landlord who has installed thermal drapes. If so, cherish them dearly, they are a rare and thoughtful beast. However, chances are that your curtains, if you have any at all, are of that particularly lovely variety, found only in rented accommodation, that resemble nothing so much as a pair of clapped out tea towels strung on a sticky wire. This will not keep you warm.

Here’s how to solve your problem on the cheap and with minimum effort like. Haste ye to Trade Me and buy yourself some bargain full length curtains. You can get great deals on the old Trade Me, everything from moth eaten velvet, granny style florals (très now sweeties), and plenty of nasty eighties prints, which is where you can really grab some good deals. Thermal curtains are a particular score. It doesn’t really matter if the real steals are hideous, because here comes the clever bit…

Beg, borrow or steal some old blankets. It doesn’t matter if they match or not, but if you are going to use an unmatched pair, it’s a good idea to go for some common colour scheme, a cream base for example. Op shops have piles of old blankets. Trade Me has more. You probably have a stash already. Sew your blankets to your old curtains. If you like the look of the blankets best, hang them facing outwards. If you dig the curtains and the blankets are skanky old horrors, use the blankets as lining. Either way, you’ll have yourself a pair of monster heavy drapes that will foil the iciest blast, and look pure dead gorgeous into the bargain. I made some with old blue striped blankets for the beast’s room, and it was my very own little Vogue Living moment. Everyone who sees them ooohs and aaahhs and admires and they cost me $25 and half an hour of slapdash sewing.

I thought that this was my own super original idea when I made my curtains, but no, it turns out heaps of clever people have had the idea already and executed it better too. If you go to World Sweet World, they even have a step by step tutorial, which means your curtains will end up much flasher than mine and I will hate you. It’s a win folks.

Let me talk to you about draught excluders. They call them draught snakes or something like that here in Kiwi land, but humour me here. Say draught excluders out loud with your very best Glaswegian accent…go on…do it….right now…

Awesome huh?

Right well, draught excluders. These are your friend. Breed the little bastards like pets and use them on every door in your house. If you are crafty you can make your own. Otherwise may I again recommend Trade Me (I know, I’m obsessed, I don’t get out much) specifically the offerings of the lovely Linda, who goes under the trader name of creative_two. Linda makes draught snakes out of sexy designer fabrics, and will also make custom sizes to order. She made me a huge striped snake for our awkwardly high and wide back door and her kids thought it looked like a giant monarch butterfly chrysalis. She is a delight, and very well priced.

Also, hang a blanket over your cat flap. Saucy eh?

If you have a major issue with the old condensation, and I’m yet to live in a house in New Zealand which doesn’t, you can temporarily double glaze your windows for peanuts by getting a plastic window kit. This works wonders, and isn’t that tedious to install, plus you get to blow dry your window frames, which is a new experience, and we should always embrace the new, non? If you live in jolly old Christchurch you can buy these kits from the good people down at the Community Energy Action Trust.

If you can, wrap your hot water cylinder in its own little custom made duvet.

This next section is about subsidies, so if you know all this stuff and your eyes have glazed over, please move on.

If you live in NZ and your rented home is freezing, you can talk to your landlord about the possibility of applying for Energywise funding for insulation and clean efficient heating. This is where the government subsidises part of the cost of insulating and heating a rental property. Your landlord will still have to stump up some cash, so they might say no. But in that case, my advice to you is to move on and find a better landlord.

In Christchurch, the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust is a good place to start for guidance on what assistance you may be entitled to. If you rent within the Christchurch Clean Air Zone (Lyttelton falls outside this zone, bad luck oh Southerly facing suckers like us) and your house is only heated by an open fire or a log burner, your landlord is legally obliged to replace the fire /burner with clean heating and may be entitled to assistance under the Clean Heat scheme to do so.

And that’s all folks. Another day, another ramble. I have plum crumble in the oven and a pot of cream in the fridge. My world is nice. Hope yours is too.

*Thanks to Lindo for this excellent description of the kind of clothing favoured by knackered mothers everywhere. However I would like to state that I am a mere beginner in the field of ‘given-up chic’. The other week I was pootling along Stanmore Road in east Christchurch and a grown woman wearing a fleecy onesie crossed the road ahead of me.

**All this stuff is on the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust site. They rock.


9 thoughts on “Nice and warm and cosy

  1. “resembling nothing so much as a pair of clapped out tea towels strung on a sticky wire”

    After doing my own obscene share of renting, this seemed to particularly tickle my fancy and set of the fore-mentioned snorting, I must be sure to only read your blog when alone. Xx

  2. This is one thing I am really not going to miss about Christchurch! I hate the damp. Our house is exactly like the ones you described. Mould everywhere, no matter how much I scrub. Always cold, always damp. Ugh!

    • Yes, bizarre building/climate denial I reckon. Maybe the early developers were anticipating global, catastrophic climate change that would raise the average temperatures here by 4-5 degrees? Naaah…

      Oh and btw – the mould is really dangerous we’re now discovering – the spores are a major cause of asthma and other respiratory illness. Get scrubbing!

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Oh, so true. Why did early settlers leave crappy, cold and wet weather in Scotland and move to NZ for more crappy, cold and wet weather, then resolutely refuse to build houses capable of keeping the occupants warm? On arrival I couldn’t believe the massive sales of de-humidifiers and no double glazing in sight. Most NZ houses are colder on the inside during winter. Mind you, I’ve slept in flats in Glasgow where the curtains doubled as a sleeping bag and there was ice on the inside of the windows! Keep warm.

    • You’ve nailed it there – people buy and run de-humidifiers, sometimes at the same time as gas heaters, to cope with the condensation. Over the course of the year it must cost a fortune but as tenants you’re not in the position to refit your home with proper insulation or better yet – home ventilation system. See this:

      As for home owners, what are they waiting for? NZers are literally throwing money away every winter plus seriously endangering their health. I think I need to write a post on this…

      The great old homestead we lived in (you know the one) was great for cultivating ice on the inside… we were lucky we had two mild winters there.


    • Joana, tis true. The romance factor round these parts is sky high. I like your blog, so thanks for coming round and commenting. I’m off to slip into something more comfortable and clean the toilet now.

  4. Yeah, I can never really understand the houses here either. We stayed at a place last week that had double glazed windows. Double glazed!!! Feel the luxury!!

    Lucky you for having a heat pump and curtains… I always get annoyed at that helpful council advice which is mostly useless for renters. Thanks for the good advice above… Re. curtains – is there a way to get around this if you have no curtain rails, do you think? I suppose we could pin blankets up, but that doesn’t seem very couth…

    Good luck with the sick child!

    • You could totally pin blankets up, it can look quite dashing if you’ve got an artistic hand with the drapery, or if you are handy with the hammer, you could nip down the local salvage yard and score some super cheap curtain rails and whack them up. I can’t imagine your landlord would mind. To be frank he or she should do it for you, it’s plain uncivilised to rent a place without any means to put up curtains! Shame on them I say, shame shame.

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