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DIY legal restrictions

Some types of work must be done by licensed tradespeople. We explain what you can and can’t do yourself under the law. We also consider the sort of work that will require a building consent.

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Building work

Some types of building and design work now have to be done or supervised by a licensed building practitioner (LBP). But DIY is still possible. We explain the rules.

Licensing of building practitioners

The Building Act 2004 introduced the Licensed Building Practitioners Scheme, which was phased in from November 2007.

The scheme aims to set national standards of competence for people in the industry, and to ensure skills are raised and maintained.

There are seven licence classes, five of which are trade and specialist classes.

  • Design
  • Site (for site supervisors or construction managers)
  • Carpenters
  • External plasterers
  • Roofers
  • Brick and blocklayers
  • Foundations workers

The LBP scheme recognises that some work is so fundamental to the structure and weathertightness of a building that it should only be designed and carried out by a practitioner with proven competence. This work is known as 'restricted building work'.

Restricted building work

Restricted building work is critical building work on houses and small to medium-sized apartments. It is aimed at maintaining the integrity of a building to ensure it is structurally sound and weathertight. In other words, the building is protected against the effects of nature, such as our often stormy weather.

Restricted building work includes:

  • the design and construction of the primary structure (eg foundations and framing)
  • the design and construction of the external envelope (eg roofing and cladding)

People designing or carrying out restricted building work have to be licensed for their area of expertise (or be supervised by an LBP).

DIYers are able to claim an exemption as an owner-builder to carry out restricted building work on their own home when they apply for a building consent.

What this means for DIYers

The LBP scheme will have little impact on the type of work most often done by DIYers. You are still able to maintain your property and make alterations to your house. Much DIY work does not need a building consent, and much of the work that does need a consent will not be restricted building work.

The owner-builder exemption for DIYers is intended to ensure that the Kiwi tradition of DIY building work can continue. People who want to build their own home can still do so, by claiming an exemption from restricted building work.

You are an owner-builder if you:

  • Live in or are going to live in the home (including a bach or holiday home)
  • Carry out restricted building work to your own home yourself, or with the help of unpaid friends and family members, and
  • Have not, under the owner-builder exemption, carried out restricted building work to any other home within the previous 3 years.

The exemption includes renovating your property as long as you follow the consenting and inspection procedures.

Before you can use the owner-builder exemption you need to complete a statutory declaration form showing that you meet the owner-builder criteria. The form has to be witnessed and signed by a Justice of the Peace or someone else authorised to do so. The form needs to be given to your local council with your application for a building consent, or before the restricted building work on your home starts.

If you hire someone to do restricted building work for you, they need to hold the required licence class.

By following these guidelines, future homeowners will have more certainty that significant work undertaken on any house they buy has been done to a good standard by competent and accountable practitioners.

For more detailed information about licensing or the owner-builder exemption, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Building Performance website.

Building consents

Before doing any alterations or renovations, check with your local council to see if you need building consent for what you have in mind.

Under the Building Act 2004, examples of building work that will require a consent include:

  • Alterations, additions and many structural repairs to existing buildings, specifically those that will affect the structural stability of the building. In some cases, you will need consent to replace all the wall linings at once as they may serve a structural purpose. Any alterations to inter-tenancy walls, i.e. those separating units in a multi-unit development, will need a building consent.
  • The demolition of existing buildings and structures.
  • The removal or relocation of existing buildings.
  • Sitework, for example, earthworks for a new extension.
  • The construction of decks one metre or more in height above ground level.
  • Building retaining walls that:
  • Are above 1.5 metres in height above ground level, or
  • Will retain driveways or structures - the 1.5 metre height limit does not apply in this case.
  • Changing building use, for example, converting your garage to a bedroom.
  • Plumbing or drainage work other than routine maintenance – although this can only be done by a registered plumber or drainlayer.
  • Installing or replacing an inbuilt, free-standing log and solid fuel burner, heater or open fire place.
  • Putting in a swimming or spa pool.
  • Fences over two metres high.

Note: this is not a complete list. We strongly recommend you talk to your local council before doing any major DIY projects.

A Building consent was formerly known as a building permit. You will often find "Building permit" references on LIM reports for older houses.

Electrical work

There is a limited amount of electrical work you can do when it comes to wiring in your own home. This is listed in regulation 64 of the Electricity (Safety) Regulations 2010 and includes:

  • Replacing switches, socket outlets, lamp holders, ceiling roses, water heater switches, thermostats and elements.
  • Repairing light fittings.
  • Moving, repairing or replacing flexible cords connected to permanently connected outlets or ceiling roses.
  • Disconnecting and reconnecting permanently wired appliances.
  • Moving switches, sockets and lighting outlets, but only if they are wired with tough plastic-sheathed cables.
  • Installing, extending, or altering any cables (except the main cables that come from the street to your switchboard). You have to get the finished job checked and tested by a licensed electrical inspector. You cannot connect your work to the electricity supply yourself. The inspector will connect it, test it, and issue you with a Certificate of Compliance (see below) if it complies with safety requirements.
  • Fitting plugs, cord extension sockets or appliance connectors to a flexible cord.
  • Replacing fuse wires and fuse cartridges.
  • Repairing appliances.

Before you do any work, make sure:

  • You have the necessary knowledge and skills.
  • The power is turned off.
  • You are not anywhere where conductors or terminals are live or could become live.

When something goes wrong

If you think something has gone wrong, make sure the power is off and contact a licensed electrician. Otherwise you risk injuring yourself or someone who lives with you and you could be prosecuted and fined $10,000 (section 163 of the Electricity Act 1992).

There are training providers (like technical institutes) that run courses for people wanting to do their own electrical work at home.

For more information about working safely with electricity, contact the Energy Safety Service.

Work that must be done by a licensed electrician

Any work not appearing in the list above must be done by a licensed electrician. This is a person registered by the Electrical Workers Registration Board (EWRB).

For any new work done, the electrician must issue you a Certificate of Compliance (CoC), a copy of which is also sent to the EWRB. The CoC is an assurance that the work has been done to New Zealand’s electrical and safety standards. Keep the CoC safe. You may need it for an insurance claim or when you are selling your house.

A CoC is not required for maintenance work such as replacing sockets and light fittings.

Note that you are not permitted to do any work on a switchboard, apart from replacing fuse wire or fuse cartridges.

Plumbing and drainage work

You can only do simple DIY plumbing work which does not involve installing new pipes. You can install dishwashers and washing machines to existing connections, change tap-washers, ball valves or seals and replace taps. All other plumbing and drainage work must be carried out by a Licensed or Certifying Plumber (or Drainlayer). This is for health reasons – an incorrect plumbing connection could allow a back-flow of polluted water into your drinking water.

When you employ a plumber or drainlayer, make sure you see the Authorisation Card that all licensed tradespersons must carry and check the back of the card for any supervision requirements.

Plumbers and drainlayers are licensed by New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board.

Note that new plumbing and drainage work will require a building consent. For more information about licensed plumbers see Renovations and alterations.

Gas fittings and appliances

You are limited to working on portable gas appliances such as barbecues and patio heaters which are supplied by gas bottles. But, the consequences of having incorrectly fitted gas appliances can be fatal so it is recommended that you use the services of a Licensed or Certifying Gasfitter to do any gas work at your home. DIY is not a recommended option.

Any work to install gas fittings and appliances in a building, caravan, boat or motorhome must be carried out by a Licensed or Certifying Gasfitter.

When you employ a gasfitter, make sure you see the Authorisation Card that all licensed gasfitters must carry and check the back of the card for any supervision requirements.

A Licensed or Certifying Gasfitter is a person registered by the New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board.

For more information about licensed gasfitters see Renovations and alterations.

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