Thousands of leaky homes resulting from poor construction practices in New Zealand may be causing respiratory and allegoric conditions in children and exacerbating otherwise existing ailments, a landmark study organised out of that country has found.

The study, which formed part of the second phase of an international research effort involving 46,000 children across 20 countries and which is being coordinated out of Wellington, shows extensive evidence of a link between living in damp or mouldy homes and conditions such as asthma, allergies, hay fever and eczema, researchers say.

Such living conditions were also shown to exacerbate existing asthma conditions.

Furthermore, while house dust mites were also shown to be more prevalent in damp homes and children living in such homes were more likely to become allergic to these, Wellington-based University of Otago researcher Professor Julian Crane says these in themselves had not been associated with wheezing, and that it is dampness itself which appears to be the problem.

Julian Crane

Professor Julian Crane, University of Otago

“The associations were found regardless of how affluent the countries were, and were not associated with allergy itself, suggesting that these effects are not as a result of allergy to moulds or house dust mites,” Crane says.

Coordinated out of New Zealand, the study has particular implications for that nation.

In what has become known as the leaky homes debacle, poor practices with regard to design and installation of materials have resulted in literally thousands of homes built since the mid-1990s failing to meet requirements for weathertightness as set out in the New Zealand Building Code.

As a result, many homes leak when rain falls, causing fungal growth and rotting when water or moisture becomes trapped behind certain cladding types in cases where no drainage and ventilation exists between the cladding and the framework.

Crane says the study demonstrates the need for action to improve housing quality.

“It is perhaps not surprising given this data that we have so much serious respiratory illness in children in New Zealand – we have such poor quality housing and so many children living in damp, cold, mouldy poorly heated often rented accommodation,” he says.

“For the respiratory health of children – which is the major cause of hospital admissions and time lost from school – dampness and mould is the rogue elephant in their homes.”

The study was published in the latest issue of Clinical and Experimental Allergy.