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Renters bubble wrap windows as Canberra shivers through winter

Lachlan Roberts 22 July 2019 108
Canberrans are using bubble wrap on windows as a new form of insulation. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Canberrans are using bubble wrap on windows as a form of insulation. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Renters in Canberra are taking unusual measures to keep their house warm and keep their energy bills low during the bitterly cold winter months as a new report finds a staggering number of rental properties have the minimum energy efficiency rating.

30-year-old Cameron Van-Lane and his three housemates in Dickson have taken to bubble wrapping their windows in their Dickson home to keep the winter chill at bay.

Mr Van-Lane said the chill in the house led the group to be willing to try any measure to stay warm.

“Our house has a reasonable heating system and we run the heating in the morning and evening but it is an expensive heating system to run and as soon as you turn it off, the house quickly loses its heat and gets cold again,” Mr Van-Lane shared.

“Because it is an older house, the windows are single-paned, there is no insulation and there are gaps around doors. We have tried to fill up the gaps with tape where possible.

“The idea of bubble wrapping windows was introduced to me recently and I have tried it in my bedroom and it has made a difference. We are now looking to do that in some other communal rooms around the house.”

Mr Van-Lane said bubble wrapping his windows had never crossed his mind before but the practice was straightforward and nonobtrusive.

“Some people take issue with the fact that you no longer can see through that window or it might be an unappealing sight from the outside,” he shared.

“In our particular house, we have done it to windows that are not facing the street and aren’t particularly functional as it is. Moving from Brisbane to Canberra has been a bit of a rude shock and I spend most of my days and nights in down jackets just to stay warm.”

According to a new report from advocacy organisation Better Renting, more than 43 per cent of Canberra’s rentals have an energy efficiency rating of zero.

The report titled Baby it’s Cold Inside: Energy Efficiency Ratings in the ACT, reviewed over 19,000 real estate advertisements and found that over two in five rental property energy efficiency ratings were zero.

The report analysed 8,228 real estate advertisements and 10,796 rental ads between July 2018 and June 2019, finding that one in twenty ratings for properties for sale had a zero energy efficiency rating.

A zero star rating means “the building shell does practically nothing to reduce the discomfort of hot or cold weather”.

Better Renting has been running a campaign called Healthy Homes, asking the ACT Government to introduce minimum standards for rental properties, which executive director Joel Dignam said is essential to address the gap in energy efficiency standards.

Mr Dignam said the report’s findings send a shiver down renters’ spines.

“People who rent in Canberra are practically living in another world: a world of cold, draughty homes, that cost you money and make you sick,” Mr Dignam said.

“This report is an unwelcome confirmation of the fact that people who rent are missing out and being left to shiver through winter in the worst properties out there.

“People who rent are doing what they can to stay warm, but they can’t solve this problem. The ACT Government needs to make sure that landlords take responsibility for ensuring that their properties can be kept at a safe and healthy temperature in summer and winter.”


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108 Responses to Renters bubble wrap windows as Canberra shivers through winter
Ken Oath Ken Oath 11:47 pm 27 Jul 19

Remember the time when there was NO private air conditioning and you had a bar heater? If you were super lucky you had an electric blanket. Winter comes, you put clothes on. Summer comes, you take them off. Double glazing was only for a flight path. Pack of bloody nancy whingers seriously. This is Australia, toughen tf up!

Armand Delacroix Armand Delacroix 8:34 am 27 Jul 19

I and others in my complex live in worse conditions. We rent ACT housing properties through St Vincent De Paul. When I moved in I was forced to spend over 18 months without a heater of any kind. It had been removed by previous tenants and vinnnies never bothered to replace it. Our windows have cracks and/or holes in them, are extremely thin single pane glass from the late 70’s, there are holes in walls, floors etc and despite numerous requests over the last 3 years no maintenance has been carried out by St Vincent De Paul. They take over 1/3 of our disability pensions and give us nothing in return. We are expected to just live in conditions where the interior of our flats has been known to reach below zero.

    Ken Oath Ken Oath 11:31 pm 27 Jul 19

    Forced? What, you couldn’t buy a heater from Gumtree?

Daryl Duckworth Daryl Duckworth 6:58 pm 26 Jul 19

Harden up lol

BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 10:39 pm 25 Jul 19

Just wondering. How is it known what the energy rating is if it’s zero? Zero is the default until the property is actually rated and certified. Could just be unrated properties that aren’t actually zero. Most of those zero rated rentals are probably knock-downs just earning their keep until they are worth, um, knocking down.

Anyone would think that landlords are actually making money. The way the system works is the landlord makes a loss, that they claim as a tax deduction, until they sell the place and make a capital gain. So until they sell it there’s no cash to make improvements and then when they sell it there’s no reason to. The next owner is now doing the same.

But landlords can be quite a dishonest mercenary bunch too. There was a case where a tenant reported a hot water system failure. For several days they were showering in the neighbours bathroom. The landlord installed a new system in their own home and their old tank went to the rental, and no doubt the new system was claimed as a tax deduction.

    JC JC 8:27 am 28 Jul 19

    Agree with the sentiment that landlords can leave a lot to be desired.

    But in the example you gave if the landlord did that then they are pretty stupid. Because hot water heater replacement needs to be depreciated over 12 years. It just wouldn’t be worth the cost to do what is suggested.

Andrew Wilde Andrew Wilde 12:21 pm 25 Jul 19

Why, I let my tenants put up curtain rods, when they leave, just make good of the small holes. Sounds like you want every thing for nothing

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:40 pm 25 Jul 19

    You don't supply window dressings for your tenants? It needn't cost much to do. I curtained the whole house for $100. Mostly second-hand, but no rubbishy curtains. The curtain rails were extra and I put those up myself. Of course if insulated blinds are supplied instead, curtains aren't needed, and they become something tenants can add themselves if they want, in consultation with the owner, naturally.

Bethany Williams Bethany Williams 6:12 pm 24 Jul 19

I use bubble wrap on my windows too - but I own my place! It just helps keep out the chills.

Mitch Mitch 2:12 pm 24 Jul 19

If the owner permits, tenants can make improvements.
I’m sure they wouldn’t go as far as installing batts etc but curtains/drapes or the strips that prevent draught.
However my best advice to tenants – live within your means. If you want a house that has a better EER rating, look for something newer further out of Inner City living. But if you want something that you can jump on the tram in Lyneham, its commonsense that the house is probably atleast 35+ years old when the advances for energy wasn’t around.

Maybe instead of Better Renting, there should be a group set up to better educate tenants.

Andy Coogan Andy Coogan 7:04 am 24 Jul 19

It not just private rentals that are not energy efficient. Residents of public housing are having the same issues with heating and cooling.

Darron Marks Darron Marks 6:38 am 24 Jul 19

You mean like pink batts and insulation the Federal labor party at least tried to introduce a scheme to fund free insulation.

As much as it became the never ending amusement of the federal liberals this report says otherwise don't you think ?

Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 5:29 am 24 Jul 19

I live in an old cottage with a zero rating. And a fireplace.

Get some solid window treatments. I have waffle blinds and curtains on my old sashes.

Let every ounce of heat in when the sun is shining. Open up the doors in the afternoon on some days. Close everything tight at night.

And vice versa in the summer.

Sure, it's nice to have the aircon and heater blasting away - and some times, there's no amount of window-juggling works - but it's expensive and no good for the environment.

    Better Renting Better Renting 9:24 am 24 Jul 19

    Unfortunately peter people who rent can't just "get some solid window treatments".

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 10:05 am 24 Jul 19

    Why not?

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:16 am 24 Jul 19

    Better Renting Do what I did for a house. I went to fetes (try ones in up market areas), checked out charity shops and asked people I knew if anyone had spare curtains. I curtained a whole rental for $100, and although a few curtains could have been thicker, none were threadbare (or hideous 😄); many of them were very good quality thick curtains with separate backings in good condition; obviously originally expensive.

    Better Renting Better Renting 11:23 am 24 Jul 19

    Peter Mackay renters cannot make structural modifications to a property. They can't install a curtain rod, for example.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:39 am 24 Jul 19

    In my previous very cold house which I owned and lived in (a Narrabundah fibro house - Bega style for those who know what that is - with no insulation in the walls) I too would open doors and windows in winter if it were warmer outside (often), pull back curtains to let the sun in. I got plastic film and stuck it on the window frames to give a double glazed effect, or at least the half of the house with the wooden frames (like many older houses have). The other half of the house had been 'improved' (NOT) with cheap second-hand, aluminium window frames by a previous owner. We usually only heated one room and turned that off when we all went to bed. Beds had electric blankets, and later I used three hot water bottles instead. I had an eiderdown and five blankets and wore bed socks and a woollen hat that pulled down to the tip of my nose (naturally warm pyjamas too😁). Snug as a bug I was. I rented out the spare rooms and most tenants stayed for several years, so they handled the conditions okay too, along with me. Just to horrify some more😉, no plumbed hot water either, but instant water over the bath and a small unit for the kitchen sink. The hand basin in the bathroom was only cold. If someone wanted hot water they fetched it in a jug. The laundry was only cold. In summer the curtains, windows and doors were closed during the day and only opened when the inside temperature reached the outside temperature (about mid to late afternoon); then opened to catch an breeze. We used electric fans inside. At night, after the outside temperature dropped enough to reach the inside temperature, we opened the windows and doors. People got by.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:15 pm 24 Jul 19

    Better Renting If the property doesn't have this, of course they can in a cheap rental (expensive rentals shouldn't need this), as long as it's done properly and doesn't do damage. It's actually improving the property. I agree with Peter. I have both rented and rented out a house, so I have been on both ends.

    Clinton Berry Clinton Berry 3:57 pm 26 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin I think you’re a little out of touch.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 7:58 pm 26 Jul 19

    Clinton Berry Really, then please elaborate, so I know what you are talking about.

Brendan Kowalski Brendan Kowalski 10:09 pm 23 Jul 19

Hot water bottle and a concrete pill

Yvette Jones Yvette Jones 9:29 pm 23 Jul 19

Not surprised at all

Karl Schlimbach Karl Schlimbach 9:24 pm 23 Jul 19

Belinda Schlimbach papa's an industry leader in energy efficient homes....

Steve Monahan Steve Monahan 8:35 pm 23 Jul 19

It equates to cheaper rent. Add in double glazed windows, 6 star insulation, double backed curtains. Reverse cycle aircon. No worries. Just double the rent.

liberalsocialist liberalsocialist 8:27 pm 23 Jul 19

Susan Allin – that’s so true! We’ve tried to get people to quote for re-insulating our home, and they’re not interested. Even a well known window company out behind Fishies Bike store wasn’t interested in replacing 22 x windows with double glazing (so probably looking $40K plus).
They’re too busy dealing with the very easy, quick new-build homes. That’s cheaper and requires less skill and drama than remove/ repair/ reinstalling.

Katy Norman Katy Norman 8:06 pm 23 Jul 19

Is anyone staggered by this? Lots of privately owned homes have zero energy efficiency too. The problem is the building standards more than the landlords.

    Better Renting Better Renting 9:20 am 24 Jul 19

    Our research found that rental properties were rated 0 at almost 10 times the rate of properties for sale. This is an issue that mainly affects people who rent.

    If a home-owner is in an inefficient property, they can make structural improvements to it. This isn't true for people who rent.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:47 pm 24 Jul 19

    Better Renting That would likely be because many (most?) rental properties are more towards the centre of the city, because people renting have a preference to live in inner city areas, and those areas have most of the older houses, while a higher percentage of the housing in outer areas would be lived in by owners, and being newer housing, more likely to have a higher R rating. I drive down streets of older houses in inner areas, and by the condition of the gardens in many areas, a high percentage appear to be rented; whereas when I drive down streets in suburbs on the edge of Canberra, the gardens as a whole are so better cared for, indicating most are privately owned and lived in by the owner. Owners tend to look after gardens better than renters. So, the way you present the rating here, is unreliable and distort the facts. Owners who live in old houses in inner areas also are likely to live low R houses, while renters who live in newish houses, whether inner or out near the edge of Canberra are likely to live in houses with a higher R rating; in fact higher than live in owners in old inner city houses. So, tenants too have the choice to go and live in outer suburbs if they want a house with a higher R rating. Otherwise, they should be realistic, as should 'Better Renting' that old houses likely will have a lower R rating, as that is how they were built when they were built, and most renters prefer to live near the city, and the other benefits the location brings.

    Better Renting Better Renting 11:01 am 25 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin this is an interesting idea, and one that we could look into in the future: that the energy efficiency of rental properties is lower because renters are more likely to live in areas with inefficient properties.

    Better Renting Better Renting 11:04 am 25 Jul 19

    However, an initial look at the data suggests otherwise - you can see in this map that even in the same regions, rental properties are inefficient much more than properties for sale. For example, most rental properties in the Belconnen area are close to EER0, and you can also see this in the Weston/Woden area.

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 12:34 pm 25 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin I'm not sure its an inner city V outer city issue. I, like a number of my neighbours rent in Kambah in pretty basic accomodation. Most people I know who rent, are living in the outer suburbs of Canberra in pretty basic housing from the 70s and 80s. I would have thought the majority of inner city renters are in apartments with higher EER than the houses of Tuggers and Belco outer suburbia?

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:52 pm 25 Jul 19

    I see what you are showing, but I would like to see a bit more detail. Showing the R rating of a house from 0.49 to 4.49 is too wide. The rental properties in the newer areas of Gungahlin appear to have a similar R rating to houses for sale, so if tenants want a house with a higher R rating, then perhaps they should look in Gungahlin.

    Please don't get me wrong, I do want houses to be more energy efficient, but demanding present owners of rental properties should have to spend thousands of dollars (which some might struggle to find) to upgrade their rentals is unfair. A fairer demand would be to insist that a buyer of a house needs to bring the house up to a minimum standard, whether that house was to be an investment property or owner lived in. That way, the housing stock would gradually improve, without putting a financial burden on present owners. I also said the buyer of a house, rather than the seller, as that way the cost of bringing the house R rating higher, could be incorporated into how much they expect to pay, and they will be the ones who will get the benefit, not the seller. It might of course, lower the sale value of some older badly insulated homes, but not necessarily all, as for some prime inner suburban areas, it's more the land value than what house is on the block that matters.

    In the late 1970s or early 1980s I belonged to a group that advocated houses be built to a higher energy efficiency and along with other members of the group we wrote submissions about this and sent them to relevant authorities. Everything we wrote, as far I could tell, was dismissed. Then, some of Belconnen, some of Tuggeranong and none of Gungahlin had been built. It is horrifying to think of all that time that was wasted while houses were continued to be built to low energy standards, and while our sensible suggestions were absolutely and completely ignored and dismissed.

    On a personnel side to this issue I have both rented and rented out a property. The places I rented varied from warm to freezing. However, the cold places had cheap rent and this compensated for the lack of insulation. They were older houses. I don’t abdicate this for modern housing; Insulation exists and houses can be orientated towards the sun. Houses can be built for the Canberra climate that require almost no heating. I now live in one, and last night, after the warm sunny day, my house needed no heating.

    When I rented out, initially rooms in my house and later a separate house, they were not well insulated houses, neither the house I lived in (the coldest of the two), or the rental. If I still had that rental, I would find it offensive that you would demand that I improved the energy efficiency of the rental property, somehow seeming to think I lived in warm luxury, when in fact my own house was worse than the rental property. So no I didn’t expect the tenants to live in colder conditions than I was willing; was living in. Besides, the rent was very cheap, taking in the condition of the house. I also would have struggled to find money to improve the insulation for the rental property that you are demanding. (Not all owners of rentals are rich.) And it would have been a waste to spend this money on a house that in a few years was to be placed on the back of a truck and removed. In fact, if I had had to find the money to improve the rental property, it would have been harder for me to replace it with the energy efficient house. So, demanding I spend a lot of money upgrading the rental, might have meant one less high example of an energy efficient house would have been built. What you think are simple demands, can have complicated results.

    Sorry for the long reply, and I can fully understand why most people won’t read it, but it annoys me this suggestion of yours to force owners of rental properties to spend money upgrading rental properties. If you want houses improved demand that houses when they are sold should then be brought up to minimal standards. That would be fairer and both tenants and live in owners would then benefit, not only tenants. It would also have a flow on effect then to present housing stock, especially the rentals, as more houses were upgraded as they changed hands and then some of those were rented, it would improve the housing rental stock and make the longer owned uninsulated housing stock less attractive, and begin to force the owners of them to either upgrade them if they wanted to find tenants and be able to charge a good rent, or sell the houses…which would then be done up too by the new owner.

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 2:08 pm 25 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin Well I read your long response and I thought you made some good points. In my experience, many of the government regulations designed to improve rental conditions in Canberra have ultimately led to weekly price increases which impacts on the less well off and particularly lifelong renters at the lower end of the market.

    Skye Eddi Skye Eddi 2:45 pm 25 Jul 19

    You say that people renting are mostly in more central older neighbourhoods and this is why they have poor insulation but say that the cold houses have low rent. Central is not lower rent! You also question if owners should pay out for insulation because of cost but don't consider the huge amount that renters in properties with poor insulation need to pay for heating and cooling. It would cost owners less to insulate than it will renters paying out extra power expenses overly a lifetime. Insulation is also far better environmentally.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:45 pm 25 Jul 19

    What I mean by inner areas, can extend out to some of Belconnen and past Woden; basically houses that were built before higher standards re insulation were introduced. The rentals in Gungahlin should have higher R ratings, because those houses have been built since R ratings were introduced, so perhaps more people renting should be looking to rent there. You talk about living in a house for a lifetime. I lived in an almost uninsulated fibro cottage in Narrabundah for about 30 years, so I do know about living in cold houses. I found frozen water inside. There were R% 1.5 batts in the ceiling, but none in the walls, so the heat went straight through the thin plaster and then straight through the thin fibro. The floor was also uninsulated. We mostly only heated one room to save cost and turned off all heating when we went to bed. Our bill for three people was less than many others told us their bills were. We got by. The others were tenants, and many lived there for years, so they were able to live with the conditions too. If not, they would have moved come the first winter, but they didn't. I never thought to waste money on that house, as it was not worth it. I put on a jumper, coat if need be, woolly hat, and saved the money until I could afford a well built house. If I hadn't been meaning to build a house I would have packed up and moved years before. Perhaps people who find themselves in too cold a rental property should think about moving to areas of Canberra where houses are likely to have better R ratings, such a Gungahlin, and the tram is very nice :). I have ridden it myself a couple of times when visiting Gungahlin, despite not living near it. I later also had another house which I rented for seven years. If I had done that house up and put in insulation I likely could have got another $100 or more a week in rent. Better houses in my area where getting another $100 to $150 a week in rent. Do you want to pay another $100 or more in rent a week? That's what will happen if owners are forced to spend thousands of dollars on the house.

Steve Wood Steve Wood 8:04 pm 23 Jul 19

Bet Andrew Barr and his buddies dont have to worry

Clinton Dotta Clinton Dotta 6:27 pm 23 Jul 19

Trying tonight in my bathroom. Give me a few nights for comments 😉 if good rolling throughout my house and Canberra wide. Dept of housing take note!

Susan Allin Susan Allin 6:06 pm 23 Jul 19

The problem here is the difficulty in actually getting an insulation company to re-insulate older homes. We plan to rent our place in the next year, and have had two insulation companies come out to our place, one refused to quote, the other ghosted us afterwards.

    Anna Kay Anna Kay 7:12 pm 23 Jul 19

    Susan Allin that's incredibly disappointing!

    Ken Oath Ken Oath 11:43 pm 27 Jul 19

    Agree. Same thing happened to me a few years ago. Never bothered showing up. Had to do it myself.

Anna Kay Anna Kay 5:10 pm 23 Jul 19

Once I lived in a private rental. It was a granny flat unapproved structure.

Had to get a place really quick at the time.

The skirting had a huge half inch gap in the bedrooms to under the house which was on stilts. The entry part which was ground level used to flood in the rain.

The windows were huge, which was lovely natural light, but meant the single pane glass was icy cold. The curtains the landlady provided were mouldy and the bedrooms did not have window furnishings at all.

We put thick blockout curtains at our expense. There was no heating system. The flat was so cold some weeks, we had a heater going in each room. That quarterly bill was $1500! Whoopsie! Needless to say we've bought a new townhouse and it has a comfy 6 star rating and is north facing. Will be tinting windows before summer due to the intense heat. Sometimes you gotta take measures into your own hands. But basic things like adequate heating system and sealing skirting boards to floor properly shouldnt even be an issue. While it was a terrible flat, it was cheap and quick and we needed that at the time.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 7:49 pm 23 Jul 19

    Were you using all those rooms at once? Until a few years ago I lived in a very cold house, and we only heated one room at a time to save money; the one we were in. The thermostat was set to 18C, but sitting down the air temperature was likely closer to 15C. That way the electricity bill never blew out. However, I now live in an energy efficient house and I am sitting here with no heater on.

    Anna Kay Anna Kay 8:01 pm 23 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin well it was concrete and brick so we had to leave heaters on for a few hours in each room to heat it up. 2 bedrooms and the living room.

    Brick/cement really absorbs the cold and holds onto it!

    My new place is 3 levels and gets full sun in winter. I only turn the heater on cloudy days below 10 and subzero nights. Even then its on 16-18 degrees!

    My most recent bill last week was $400. Thats daily use of heater, dryer, washing machine, dishwasher. Gas cooking and water

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:38 pm 23 Jul 19

    Materials such as concrete and brick need big windows on the north to let in the sun and then the sun heats the mass. They are great at stabilising the temperature and in the summer also keep the house cooler. I now live in an energy efficient house made of concrete and I am sitting here at 11.30 at night with no heater on. Yes, wearing a jumper, but don't need a heater. My last bill for electricity use was $186. Before this I lived in a fibro house with no insulation in the walls. The heat went straight through them and out. I have found ice inside that house.

    Anna Kay Anna Kay 3:31 am 24 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin yeah it sat under a huge tree and didn't get any sun lol

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