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Building and renovating

Building new, or making changes to your current home, is the perfect time to make sure your home is well prepared for the tests of a natural disaster. See what you can do to make your home stronger and safer.

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Building or renovating where there’s increased natural hazard risk

When building or renovating, you need to consider whether your property has increased vulnerability to natural hazards and whether there is anything you can do to improve the performance of your property in a natural disaster.

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Different regions of New Zealand, and even different properties in the same street or suburb, can have different levels of vulnerability to natural hazards.

Natural hazards where you live has more information on hazard risks across New Zealand.

To understand more about the risks and building requirements specific to your area, consult regional and district council plans and maps – usually available through council websites. They will have information that may help you to determine where and how you can build.

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Choosing a good building site

Location plays a big part in how at-risk a building site is to natural hazard damage. You’ll need to consider the type of land your home will sit on and how that land will perform during a natural disaster.

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At or before the design stage, ask your local council whether your site might be vulnerable to:

  • liquefaction in the event of an earthquake
  • flooding
  • high winds
  • landslips
  • inundation from a tsunami
  • volcanic or hydrothermal activity.

You can also purchase information from your local council, which might be useful to consider before starting your building project:

  • Land Information Memorandum (LIM) – specific to your land and buildings that already exist on the site (check that it’s up-to-date if you’re basing your building or renovation plans on it). If building work is consented on land considered at risk of a natural hazard, the local council will usually note this on the LIM.
  • Project Information Memorandum (PIM) – specific to your building project, with valuable information to help inform the design phase of your project. A PIM must be obtained for all building work that requires a building consent.

If the council information raises questions or you have concerns, consider getting an expert opinion on the site from an appropriately qualified professional such as an engineer. The engineer may also be able to provide advice on design options that might reduce the impact of a natural disaster.

Find a qualified engineer on Engineering New Zealand’s website.

You’ll find more about consents and council information on the Understand your land so you design well page of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Building Performance website.

BRANZ’s Renovate website has more about building or renovating in areas of natural hazards.

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Building a more resilient home

Making smart decisions about design and construction means your new home should be able to perform in the best way possible in the event of a natural disaster.

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When planning your new build, talk to your licensed building practitioner, designer or an engineer about what designs, construction methods and materials will help make your new home strong and safe in a natural disaster.

Some things to think about when building a house:

​​House design

Certain house design features make some homes more vulnerable to natural disaster damage. Structural damage may be more likely in:

  • houses with large open internal spaces, large windows along the front wall and a lot fewer windows on the back wall
  • houses with irregular (vertical and horizontal) design shapes or split levels
  • houses with mixed foundation types (for example, some concrete slab and some suspended timber floor)
  • older (pre-1980) houses that use heavy roofing and wall cladding materials.  All houses with heavy roofing and cladding, built on land that is more vulnerable to liquefaction, are likely to have more structural damage than lighter houses.

If you’re interested in building a home with these features, ask a structural engineer to consider how these features might affect the way the building might perform in the event of a natural disaster.

Foundations

Different types of foundations perform differently, particularly in the event of a natural disaster. The ideal foundation type for your new home will depend on geographical location, ground conditions and any land features (for example, sloping ground).

Check council information and ask a licensed building practitioner or an engineer about the best foundation option for your site and proposed foundation type. It’s best to do this before you get too far into the design and construction process, particularly in areas where the ground may be vulnerable to liquefaction hazards.

Walls

There are many different wall framing and cladding options, so check what will work best for your home. For example, a house will generally respond better to the movement generated during an earthquake if it has strip cladding, such as weatherboards.  Stiff sheet materials are likely to show signs of cracking – particularly at joints.

Roofing

Well-secured, lightweight roofing materials are likely to be more resilient and safer in an earthquake.

Your designer or builder can get information from your council about wind zones to help them ensure your building has sufficient bracing.

Going beyond the Building Code

All building work must comply with New Zealand’s Building Code (which encompasses the minimum standards required in the Building Act). This includes work that doesn’t require council consent. The Building Code sets the minimum standard.

Building beyond the Building Code’s minimum standards may give you greater confidence that your home will perform better in the event of a natural disaster. Choices you make may also help your household recover more quickly following a natural disaster.

Some examples of building beyond the Building Code include adding more bracing or building stronger foundations than are required by the Code.

Learn more about smart construction systems for your design, location and climate on MBIE’s Smarter Homes website.

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Making improvements as part of a renovation

If you’re thinking about renovating your home, consider improving its resilience at the same time. Making upgrades as part of a planned renovation, rather than separately, could save you money, time and effort. For example, if you need to remove wall linings it might be a good time to check on and improve the wall bracing.

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Consider this work alongside your renovation:

  • Checking timber foundations are in good condition, well secured and braced
  • Removing unreinforced brick or concrete masonry chimneys that extend above the roofline
  • Changing your roof to lightweight material that is well fastened to framing
  • Replacing heavy exterior wall cladding (for example, brick veneer) with a lightweight option.
  • Checking retaining walls are in good condition (including clearing weep holes) and designed and built to a standard that is fit-for-purpose

Our homeowners section has more details.

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Insuring your property

You will need to find out about your options for insuring your building project and also your new or renovated home.

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You may have more difficulty getting insurance cover if your property has been identified as at risk from a natural hazard.

To qualify for EQCover for land damage you need to have a current private insurance policy for your home that includes fire insurance (most do).

EQCover for land is generally the land within your property boundary including land under your home and outbuildings, land within eight metres of your home and outbuildings and the land under or supporting your accessway, up to 60 metres from your home.

In general, private insurers do not cover land damage (although they may cover some aspects of your property, such as driveway surfaces and some retaining walls depending on the terms of the policy).

Our Land page explains EQCover for land damage in more detail.

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Before you build or renovate

  • Ask your local council about your building site’s vulnerability to natural hazards.
  • When building new or renovating, consider improvements that make your home stronger and safer.
  • Check you can insure your new or renovated home, especially one in an area vulnerable to natural hazards.