10 Things To Consider When Building A House In New Zealand

Posted by on 16 March 2017

home under constructionAs with any country, New Zealand has a unique set of building conditions, geographical and climate based influences and legal requirements that need to be taken into account when building a new house.

Consequently, unless you’ve built before, navigating your way through the build process can be somewhat daunting at times. To give you a helping hand, here are our top ten things you’ll need to consider when building in New Zealand.

1.  Insulation

Quality insulation has been proven to help keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in the summer resulting in a home that will cost less to cool and heat throughout the year, as well as reducing noise levels and condensation. Well insulated houses are also less likely to provide a welcoming environment for mould and mildew, reducing the potential for allergens in the home.

When considering your home’s insulation needs, it is important to think about the walls, windows, ceiling and under the floor. The New Zealand Building Code regulations require newly built homes and renovations or additions to existing homes to be insulated to specific minimum standards. Defined by their “R value”, various types of insulation products will have different insulation values and properties than others. Your builder will be able to advise on exactly how much insulation is needed and where.

2.  Orientation

The local climate (namely temperatures, rainfall and winds), views, existing vegetation, street access, section size and covenants and expected noise levels are all factors that will play a role in the direction your home will face. However even though they are important in their own right, the need to balance these factors against the enormous benefit of harnessing the sun's energy for heating and keeping the home dry should take precedent when considering a house’s orientation in relation to its section or site.  

In New Zealand this means in order to make the most of the sun, the most used living areas should be northward facing or as close to it as possible. This includes having the largest glazing in the house (windows and glass sliders, bifolds or french doors) opening in a northerly direction, as well as plenty of glazing to the east to catch the early morning sun, a little less to the west to avoid overheating in the late afternoon and, of course, limited or smaller sized glazing to the south.

3.  Ongoing Energy Costs

Every appliance, automated system or electrical component added to your home has an effect on the ongoing energy costs and environmental impacts in the home. In New Zealand the average household spends over $2100 on their electricity bill per year so it makes sense to put some thought into ways to reduce this expense when building a new house.

The good news is there are lots of ways to incorporate energy efficiency into your home, today’s marketplace is full of energy rated electrical fixtures and fittings and appliances. Lighting is one of the simplest ways to improve energy efficiency and often the switch will even help solve insulation issues around lighting in ceiling.

4.  Heating

In New Zealand most homes are heated by electricity, gas or wood. All of these options have their own benefits and drawbacks, with many external factors like location, local regulations and even personal preference influencing a homeowner’s heating decisions.

Some forms of heating are considered more energy efficient than others, but all have some impact on the environment so this is worth taking into account along with running costs, fuel availability and the size of heater needed to comfortably heat the entire home. The NZ Government’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s Energywise website has an excellent breakdown of the pros and cons of each type of home heating providing valuable insight into what could best suit your new home.

5.  Site Access And Ground Works

When building a new house the focus is generally all about the features and aspects people want within the home, but it is important not to forget about the house site. Are you building on a hill side, flat land or hill top? Does the section size set limitations? In some areas of New Zealand access can be a huge factor when pricing the job for many contractors. Can you back a truck up to it? Can contractors get their gear on site without too much hassle? Are there large trees or other restrictions to accessing the property?

Geotechnical reports have also become important, especially in the Christchurch/Canterbury region where the land must be tested and cleared as appropriate to build. Any unexpected surprises can mean the need for extra reinforcing, foundations and major ground works resulting in a huge blow out of the budget.

6.  Delays

The length of the build will be dependent on various contractors, sub-contractors, the local weather, changes you decide to make and availability of materials. Any number of these things can cause significant delays or frustrations at any time during the build process. Proceed with the understanding that this is virtually unavoidable and be prepared financially.

The good old kiwi DIY attitude can be a tempting option when looking to reduce costs, however if planning to do some of the work yourself, keep in mind unless you are skilled in the particular field it will take you a lot longer than a professional and this alone could cause significant delays.

7.  Water Conservation

Here in New Zealand we are very fortunate to have access to fresh water and it is vital that we maintain and respect this resource now and into the future if we wish that to continue. Already many New Zealand rivers and water sources are contaminated, drying up or under pressure from excessive overuse. The financial costs associated with saving water are considered to be minimal at this stage with only some areas of NZ required to pay for water, but the environmental savings can be quite significant over the longer term.

Considering water saving or recycling techniques not only makes sense, it is becoming a standard option for many homeowners. Installing a rainwater tank is the simplest most inexpensive option at present. Collecting rainwater is great for use on the garden or even to incorporate into regular household use.

8.  Construction Materials

To date most houses in New Zealand are constructed from timber framing surrounded by weatherboard or brick cladding. However the use of steel framing and concrete has seen a surge in popularity, along with several alternative options including plasters, plastics, straw bales and earth mixes.

Whatever you decide, be sure to weigh up the local climate conditions, environmental impact, location, availability and budget implications, as once made this decision is irreversible. It is also worth noting that the type of construction materials used will also contribute to the completed R value or insulation of the home.  

9.  The Shape And Size Of The Build

Think about how your home will work for you on a day-to-day basis, functionality is one of the most important aspects of a new build especially with custom designs. Think about not only the size of the house itself but the size of each room, will the dining table fit in? Is there room for draws and a bed in the bedrooms?

A good tip is to look at your current house and rooms and use that as a guide to what you like and dislike. Measure up rooms, cupboards and living areas to see what fits and what doesn’t, also consider the proximity of bathrooms to bedrooms, kitchen to dining room, and the ever important storage space or lack of it. Keep in mind in general smaller houses are cheaper to build and much easier to heat efficiently.

10. Building Contracts

Since January 2015 if your build price is above thirty thousand dollars you are legally required to have a contract with your builder. The contract should include a detailed description of the building work to be carried out, dates indicating the expected start and end of the build, clauses on how variations will be dealt with, the payment schedule including the stages when progress payments are required, how to pay etc and dispute resolution procedures.

Building contracts in New Zealand usually come in three main types; Full Contract where the building company takes on all aspects of the entire build and Labour-Only or Managed Labour-Only contracts where partial responsibility lies with the homeowner.

For more detailed information on building in New Zealand feel free to contact Johnno at JMI Construction.