What Home Improvements Can You Do Without A Consent?

Imagine stepping out onto a sun-drenched deck through a set of doors that were once a window.  Or entertaining your friends and family in a new open plan kitchen and dining space rather than being isolated from the action while preparing the meal.

There are many improvements you can make to your home without incurring the cost of a building consent.  With some creative thinking and careful planning, they can significantly enhance your home’s layout and add real value.

New Zealand’s legislation recognises that some building work has minimal risk and therefore does not require homeowners to obtain a building consent from their local council.  This sort of work is listed in Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004.

The information in Schedule 1 is quite technical and can be hard to decipher, so we have made it easy for you!  Read on for examples of ways you can enhance your home without the extra cost and hassle of a consent.

 

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Window and door changes

 

Don’t be afraid to investigate ways to alter the current windows and doors within your home to create better flow and increase the general liveability of your spaces.  You might be surprised at what you can do under Schedule 1 without a building consent.

  • Change a window to a set of doors.

When our lovely old villas and bungalows were built, there wasn’t much consideration given to the home’s ‘indoor outdoor flow’.  But now we want to be able to access our outdoor spaces with ease.  Perhaps there is a window facing your rear garden that would make the perfect place for a set of doors?  Provided the correct sized lintel is installed by an LBP Builder and you build a deck or platform outside to step onto, you can replace that window and walk directly out to the garden in no time.

  • Upgrade your windows to modern double-glazed units

As old single glazed windows can be responsible for up to 40% of your home’s heat loss, it’s a no brainer that upgrading to modern double-glazed windows will improve your home’s comfort and value.  The process is a simple one and, unless the windows have failed their durability requirements, will not need a building consent.

  • Add a skylight

Do you have a dark spot within your home?  Provided it fits between the existing roof trusses, you can install a skylight into your roof to help flood the area with light.

It is important to note that you can only replace a window, roof window/skylight or exterior door without a building consent if it has not failed prematurely (ie; under 15 years) and won’t affect any specified system surrounding it for example a fire wall or waterproof membrane.

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Alterations to walls

Today’s modern homes are often built with a large open plan kitchen, dining and living space. It’s a way of making a home feel more inviting - the flow is more natural and typically smaller spaces can feel much larger.  But if you live in an older home don’t despair.  The good news is that provided a wall is not bearing any load from the roof, doesn’t contain a bracing element and is not a firewall, under Schedule 1 it can be removed without a building consent.

  • Create and open plan entertaining space.

Provided the wall isn’t load bearing, a bracing element, a firewall or built using brick, concrete or stone you can remove the wall between your kitchen and dining room without a consent to make room for a new kitchen.  No more being stuck in your kitchen while your guests are in a different room!

  • Add a scullery to your kitchen.

Many NZ homes were originally built with the laundry backing onto the kitchen.  If the wall between them is non load bearing and not part of the home’s bracing system, use the Schedule 1 to remove it to open up some extra space for a scullery/laundry.

 

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Standalone Studio/Office/Sleep-Outs

The opportunity to build a single storey standalone building (up to 30m² in size) without the additional cost and time of obtaining a building consent is very useful for those wanting to create some extra habitable space.  There are some rules around this exemption that need to be followed but it’s amazing what you can fit into 30m²!

The Housing Improvement Regulations and Healthy Homes Act say that the minimum size of a single bedroom is 6m² provided it is at least 1.8 metres wide. If two people are sharing the room, then it must be a minimum of 10m².

So, it’s very feasible to accommodate two single bedrooms or one double bedroom with a living space into a 30m² sleep-out.  Or create a spacious studio or home office with plenty of storage.

Despite not needing a building consent, the building must still be constructed as per the Building Code.  This means any building work that involves the structure, or the weather envelope needs to be completed by a Licenced Building Practitioner.

The usual local planning rules such as the height in relation to boundary, setbacks and site coverage also need to be followed. No plumbing or cooking facilities can be installed otherwise the building is considered a ‘minor dwelling’ which does require a building consent and attracts other council fees.

Other considerations when building a standalone building (up to 30m²) are;

  • The position of the building needs to take into account the location of any underground services. As with any build you can’t build over any drains, electricity, gas or telecommunications.
  • The storm water that comes off the roof of the building needs to be managed. Any new drainage must be laid by an authorised drainlayer.
  • Any sleeping spaces need to have smoke alarms installed.
  • To use quality building materials, components and construction methods that are sufficiently durable to satisfy the Building Code.

 

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Kitchen and bathroom upgrades

The legislation also allows homeowners to upgrade existing kitchen and bathroom fixtures without a consent as long as the renovation does not add any extra sanitary fixtures.  Some examples include;

  • Installation of new kitchen cabinetry and bench tops provided the kitchen sink stays in the same location.
  • Moving a toilet from a separate room into the main bathroom.
  • Reconfiguration of the bathroom layout.
  • Replace your bath with shower over it, with a separate shower and new bath within the existing bathroom.

 

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Decks and retaining walls

Having a BBQ out on the deck is a classic Kiwi way to spend summer.  So, it’s great that building a deck less than 1.5 metres off the ground is exempt from a building consent. Just remember to install a handrail around any spots where it is over 1 metre of the ground.

A simple retaining wall holding no more than 1.5 metres (vertically) of ground also does not require a building consent.  However, it is essential that drainage to manage the ground water is installed in this situation. The exemption does not apply to any retaining wall that may be under extra load from cars, swimming pools or buildings.

 

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Carports

Carports not only protect your car, they can also be used to cover boats, motorhomes and if designed well, include some storage for other precious items. Under NZ legislation, to be considered a carport, the structure must have at least one side open to the outdoors at all times.

Carports over 20m² but less than 40m² can be built without a consent under Schedule 1 but it’s important they are designed by a Licensed Building Practitioner with a design licence and construction must be carried out in accordance with that design. If you are planning a carport this size then opt for a bespoke carport, as opposed to a kit set, as it can be designed to maximise the space available.

As with standalone sleepouts/offices, the disposal of storm water from the carport roof needs to be managed appropriately and the usual height in relation to boundary, site coverage and setback requirements still need to be followed.

 

But it’s important to remember it’s not a free-for-all.  Regardless of whether a building consent is required or not, all building work still needs to comply with the Building Code to the extent required by the Building Act 2004.  This also means some exempt building work still requires an authorised professional to carry out, supervise, design or review the design of the proposed work.

 

If you want to know what might be possible with your home, get in touch with us today.

 

** this article was written with reference to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s document named ‘Guidance: Building Work That Does Not Require A Building Consent’

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