Thursday, July 2, 2015

Building consents in New Zealand

Everyone loves bureaucracy, right? Okay, maybe not, but it does serve a noble purpose in some regards. The Christchurch earthquakes, when compared with events of a similar magnitude in less regulated nations, were a good demonstration of what the standards exist for - not a happy example (nor a perfect one) but they do remind me why our houses are better built strong.

So, to ensure our house is good and sound once we've made all our changes we need a building consent. Some works are exempt, but three main things needed to be consented... And then because we're doing other works at the same time which wouldn't otherwise need a consent but should be factored into calculations around bracing etc those get added into the mix.

The most significant structural change, and therefore in my mind the most important bit to do by the book (because *cough* we're not doing everything in exactly the right order) will be the removal of a wall between what was a bedroom and a passage, to make a reasonably proportioned lounge. It's a structural wall and also provides bracing so we've got the engineer on the job!

Adding a north facing window into that lounge also needs a consent, because it's a new opening. If you are swapping a door for a window or vice versa, so long as they're the same width and height, i.e. don't need a new lintel, you don't need a consent, though as I understand it the work should be carried out by a Licensed Building Professional to ensure everything is watertight.

And the third thing on our list, and this is when our sequence is getting a bit out of whack, because we're doing this now and the consent submission is still being prepared, is moving the kitchen. If you are replacing a kitchen or bathroom in the same location you don't normally need a consent, but if you're moving them to a different location (and therefore making substantial plumbing changes) you do. We're working around this by making sure any changes we make remain visible until we get a building inspection, and at that point we'll be doing a lot of finger crossing that we get a friendly inspector!

Because our consent is still in progress we don't have the bill for it yet, but it will be a four digit number so not something you want to do too often!

The list of things that do and don't require consents are largely common sense - the big stuff that might compromise your house generally does, and smaller jobs that don't relate to the overall structure usually don't. We've found this guide really useful for working out what we can press on with.

The most surprising thing I've discovered that needs a consent is adding insulation to exterior walls. I was told - though by an insulation salesman so don't take this as gospel - that many councils waive this requirement, but I guess it makes sense because there is the risk of messing up the waterproofness of your house.

Have you had to get a building consent for anything? Were there any snags or was it smooth sailing? And are we the only naughty ones - did you wait for it to be granted before you started work?


  1. I've always wondered how you determine if a wall is structural or not? I mean obviously you can remove it and see if the house remains upright, but that seems a little extreme :)

    As for consents, it certainly pays to have it all ticked off. Otherwise when you sell your house and the prospective buyers poke around and get their building report or the file from the council, they can see everything is up to scratch. Or of the house burns down and the insurance inspector finds some unconsented work...

    The cost does suck though. For our place (single story, stucco), just widening a window starts at $2k, before you even do a thing.

    1. We get the council files for our house (have done it for both the last one and this one), which (usually) yields the house plans, and that should reveal where the structural and bracing elements are (though depends on age of house how clear the plans are!). Helps to have a friendly structural engineer you can ask to casually have a poke around your house, too...

      Yeah, the cost totally sucks - though if you bundle a bunch of things together in one consent it can spread the cost a bit - I think you have two years from start of work to complete everything covered by the consent. We're yet to see the bill for ours, we've budgeted $5k and obviously are hoping for less but could easily be more.