​Things to check and consider for your building project before you can start hiring designers or contractors.


When renovating or doing work on your home, the more you think about upfront the better it's likely to go. There's a lot to decide before you start hiring people.

Quiz: Are you ready to renovate?

When renovating or doing work on your home, the more you think about upfront the better. There's a lot to decide before you start hiring people. Test to see if you're ready. Answer these questions before you sign a contract or accept a quote.

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Plan your building job worksheet

Before you start renovating, make sure you are clear about:

1. Scope

What exactly do you want to do? Make a list of everything you would like to do, and next to each item, note whether it's important to have, nice to have, or not important. This will help you work out your priorities.

2. Budget

Unless you're planning to stay in your house for a very long time, you want to avoid overcapitalising, or spending more on your house than what it is worth. Take some time up front to work out what your maximum spend is.

Once you know how much you can spend, try to get an idea of what your plans might cost. Talk to people who have done similar work, check out online tools or have an informal chat with a builder. Costs for renovation and building projects can vary hugely, depending on where you live and the materials and fixtures you use.

You will need to factor in costs for:

  • labour of builders and other trades
  • building materials
  • fixtures
  • insurance — the cost of a policy to cover renovation work can be up to two times your annual house cover, so speak to your insurance company early to make sure you budget enough
  • contingency
  • alternative accommodation.

As a very rough guide, building projects in NZ average around $2,000 to $2,500 per square metre, though this varies hugely depending on where you live in NZ, the size and type of project and the materials and fixtures you use.

The cost of building in NZ(external link) — Building Guide

Building budget calculator(external link) — Building Guide

Make sure your budget allows for living expenses and unexpected bills, eg medical, car repairs.

Everyday budgeting tool(external link) — Sorted

Rotten floor adds cost

The day after work begins on Richard's kitchen and laundry renovation, builders discover the hot water tank has been leaking and the sub floor of most of the kitchen is wet and rotten. Before any other work can be done, they have to pull up the entire floor and replace it.

The builders bring in extra labourers for a day to help keep deadlines on track. As Richard's insurance policy doesn't cover the damage, the cost of the floor and a new hot water tank add thousands of dollars to the total cost. Richard is glad he has put aside extra money for surprises.

3. Timeframes

Most renovations take longer than expected, and will often take longer if you're living on site while work is happening. Design and planning can take three to four months, before you even get started on the building work. If there is a particular time of year you need or want the work to be done, speak to builders early to find out if it's doable.

Consider how you'll deal with any delays, and what impact they might have.

Read more on Keeping projects on track

4. What you're allowed to do

Building consents, covenants and body corporates

Before any project begins, you should check whether it requires a building consent. A full set of guidance about what projects may or may not require a building consent, and the rules that must be followed, is available on MBIE’s Building Performance website.

Which projects no longer need a building consent?(external link) — Building Performance

Regardless of whether your project needs a building consent or not, you should talk to your council to see whether you need a resource consent, and check whether there are any restrictions on what you can do with your property, e.g. if:

  • there are land convenants on the title, you might be restricted with what you can build on the site
  • you have a cross-lease title, you'll need to get formal approval from your neighbours before making any exterior structural changes
  • you have a heritage-listed building, there'll be a strict process and rules you have to follow
  • you own an apartment, your body corporate will have rules around what you can and can't do, and the process to follow for different types of renovations
  • you have council property, eg a drain, running through your land — this is called an easement.

You can contact your local council using Building Performance's Building Consent Authority (BCA) register.

Building Consent Authorities (BCA) Register(external link)  — Building Performance


You can do some building, electrical and plumbing work without the help of a professional, but you need to check the rules and meet the Building Code requirements.

Building work

Some building work requires a building consent to carry out, but some low-risk work can qualify for a building consent exemption, so you can do it yourself if you have the skills. To find out what work doesn’t require a building consent, visit the Building Performance website.

Building work that does not require consent(external link) — Building Performance

Any building work you do must meet the performance standards in the Building Code, whether it requires a building consent or not.

DIY but build it right(external link) — Building Performance

If you want to carry out restricted building work on your home, or holiday home, you can apply to the council for an owner-builder exemption. This means you won't need a licensed building practitioner to do or supervise any restricted building work. Be aware, the council will keep on file that you have done the work.

Obligations and responsibilities of owner-builders and their building project(external link) — Building Performance

An introduction to the Building Code 

If you have little or no experience in the building industry, MBIE's Building Performance series of online learning modules will help you understand how the Building Code works. We suggest you take a look before you start your building work.

NZ Building Regulatory System Modules(external link) — Building Performance

Ensuring building work complies with the law(external link)  — Building Performance

If you want to carry out restricted building work on your home, or holiday home, you can apply to the council for an owner-builder exemption. This means you won't need a licensed building practitioner to do or supervise any restricted building work. Be aware, the council will keep on file that you have done the work for the life of the building.

Obligations and responsibilities of owner-builders and their building project(external link) — Building Performance

Electrical work

If you're hiring an electrician, check if they are licenced by searching the public Electrical Worker Register.

EWRB Register(external link)  — Electrical Workers Registration Board

There are some things you can legally do yourself, but be sure:

  • you have the rights skills
  • you understand exactly what needs to be done
  • you are the legal owner of the home and you're living in the home yourself.

Leave electrical work to a licensed electrical worker, unless you have the rights skills and knowledge.

WorkSafe doesn't recommend doing your own work, unless you really know what you are doing. If you do want to, read this information carefully.

Doing your own electrical work(external link) — WorkSafe

It is illegal to do prescribed electrical work (PEW) yourself on a property you are renting or that you're the landlord of.

Plumbing work

You can do some limited plumbing work yourself as long as it's not sanitary plumbing. Sanitary plumbing is any work involved in fixing a pipe, plumbing fixture or appliance.

You can:

  • install appliances like dishwashers and washing machines
  • replace or repair taps, ball valves and plugs.

You can also do some limited drainlaying, eg:

  • clearing blocked drains — as long as you don’t move, repair or alter the inspection or ventilation pipe.

For any other plumbing-related work, you will need to find an authorised person:

Information for consumers(external link) — Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board

Some more major plumbing projects could require a building consent through your local council.

You can find out what plumbing projects won’t need a building consent on the Building Performance website.

Plumbing work that doesn’t require a building consent(external link) — Building Performance

5. How you'll manage the project

You can choose to do all the project management yourself, or you can get your main contractor to do some or all of it.

Doing it yourself might save you money, but it will also take a lot of time and effort.

The option you choose will decide the type of contract you have with your contractor. Research your options and when you start getting estimates from tradespeople, speak to them about the options and how they'll affect the total cost.

Read more about Building contracts

Think about whether or not you'll live on site while work is underway.


  • will it be possible to live on site, eg will you have access to hot water and something to cook on?
  • how will the noise and disruption impact on you and your family?
  • can you afford the cost of alternative accommodation, or do you have someone you can stay with or somewhere you could housesit?

Read more about Keeping projects on track

6. How you'll protect your project

Issues often crop up along the way, but you can usually manage them by being prepared.

Contingency plans

Make sure you have set aside a portion of your budget to cover unexpected costs, like rotten floorboards or borer. Your contingency fund should generally be about 10-15% of your total budget.

Also work out what you'll do if things don't go to plan – if timeframes stretch out, will you need alternative accommodation? What will you do if unanticipated repairs use up all of your contingency fund and more?

Common issues

All homes have their own quirks, but there are some issues specific to different types of houses, or houses built during different decades.

BRANZ have a detailed breakdown on all of these types of houses:

Renovate(external link) – BRANZ

Think about potential problems when you're planning your contingency fund.

Third party guarantees or warranties

Some builders and building companies, as well as the NZ Certified Builders (NZCB) and the Registered Master Builders' Association (RMBA) offer guarantees to help protect your project.

You usually have to pay extra for these guarantees, which cover things like:

  • covering some or all of the cost of completing a project if it's not finished by the builder you've hired
  • defects
  • quality and finish of the work.

Like an insurance policy, there are usually different costs for different levels of cover – make sure you understand exactly what the guarantee offers, and check that it gives additional cover to the implied warranties.

Check any third-party guarantee covers you for more than implied warranties in the Building Act.


You might need to arrange extra insurance cover before building work begins, even if your builder has insurance of their own, eg contract work insurance.

If you have a labour-only contract, you might need to arrange the extra insurances the builder usually arranges.

Arranging insurance for your building project(external link) — Building Performance

Find out what insurance your builder has, then speak to your insurance company about what else you might need.


Between the 1940s and the 1990s lots of building materials in New Zealand contained asbestos. Asbestos that's in good condition, sealed or won't be disturbed is relatively safe, but it can cause serious health problems if it's damaged or you intend to drill, sand or break it.

It is almost impossible to identify asbestos by eye. If you think or know your house contains asbestos, talk to a professional asbestos removal company before you begin any building work. Removing and disposing of asbestos will probably add time and cost to your project, and you may need to move out while the work is done.

Identifying asbestos(external link) — WorkSafe NZ

Asbestos licence holders(external link) — WorkSafe NZ

You have to use a contractor with a special licence for most work involving asbestos.