If you own your home, an owner-builder exemption could allow you to perform restricted building work yourself. But for some tasks, you’ll need to call a professional. Find out more on the exemption, rules around doing domestic electrical work, plus what to consider when hiring a professional.

Do it yourself or professional?

You may be able to do basic maintenance and repairs such as leaking taps, washing the roof or oiling hinges. You may also be competent to carry out more complex jobs.

But know your limits. It is better to hire a professional and get the job done properly the first time around than to make costly mistakes. By law, some jobs have to be done by a professional, such as electrical, gas, plumbing or drainage work and any restricted building work. Some work may look simple but require an expert or expert advice, such as:

  • Replacing sealant movement control joints in cladding.
  • Recoating a monolithic cladding system.
  • Repairing flashings.

If you’re doing DIY work, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions.

Owner-builder exemptions

Owner-builder exemptions are the golden ticket allowing keen and competent DIY-ers to build, renovate or repair their homes without the need to employ a licensed building practitioner. If you own your home you can perform restricted building work by applying for the exemption when you submit your building consent application.

However, you’ll only be granted the exemption if you actually live in the house, so landlords hoping to save on the cost of using a licensed practitioner are out of luck. You’ll also need to carry out the work yourself or with the help of unpaid family or friends, but you can’t outsource it entirely to a tradie mate who owes you a favour.

There’s also a three year cooling-off period if you’ve used the exemption to carry out restricted building on a different home you own (or have previously owned), so it’s not an option if you’re looking to make a career of doing up houses then flipping them after a year or two.

But be warned: future buyers will be able to see whether the work was carried out by you or a pro. This means you should only apply for the exemption if you know what you’re doing, as canny buyers are likely to look closely at any major work done by the owner, which could easily expose your shoddy jib-stopping.

Note: there are some jobs that you’re barred from carrying out even if you’re granted the exemption, including gas-fitting, drain-laying, plumbing and anything but minor electrical work.

To apply for the exemption, you’ll need to fill out the owner-builder statutory declaration and have it witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or similar, before giving it to your local council when you submit your building consent application.

DIY electrical work

The law allows you to do a reasonably-wide variety of electrical work, as long as you both own and live on your property. But the bottom line is that you must stay out of the switchboard or anywhere near live conductors or terminals, unless you’re just replacing a fuse cartridge or wire.

Even at low voltages electricity is dangerous and unpredictable, and there’s always a chance of death or injury when replacing something as simple as a light switch. We strongly advise undertaking electrical work only if you’ve had some training in electrical practice.

Part 5, Regulation 57 of the Electricity (Safety) Regulations 2010 allows the following exemptions for domestic electrical wiring work:

  • removing and replacing fuse links,
  • connecting and disconnecting fixed-wired appliances,
  • relocating existing switches, socket-outlets, and lighting outlets that are supplied with electricity by tough plastic-sheathed cables,
  • removing and/or replacing any of the following types of fittings, as long as it doesn’t involve switchboard work:
    • switches, socket-outlets, and light fittings;
    • permanent connection units, ceiling roses, cord-grip lamp-holders, and flexible cords connected to any of them;
    • batten holders;
    • water heater switches;
    • thermostats;
    • elements.

Homeowners are also allowed to install, extend and alter subcircuits (including submains), but only if 1) you don’t enter any enclosure containing live conductors, and 2) the work is tested and certified by a person authorized to inspect mains work. Your alerted subcircuits will also need to be connected to the mains power supply by the licensed electrical inspector, who will issue a Certificate of Compliance.

Note that landlords and business owners are barred from carrying out electrical work in any of their rental properties or their workplace unless they hold the relevant practicing licenses. See Work Safe New Zealand’s Energy Safety page for more information.

Hiring the professionals

When you need to hire a professional, be thorough in your selection process. Tradespeople who are members of trade organisations are often required to meet education and experience requirements in order to be members of a professional organisation. Ask around for references from friends and family.

When you are choosing a potential tradesperson:

  • Do some early research so you have a clear idea of the scope of the job — how much preparation is involved and to what standard, what materials you want used and when you want it done by.
  • Get more than one quote unless you are reusing someone you know and trust.
  • If you do not get a written agreement then make notes at or after each meeting of any decisions agreed upon.
  • For larger jobs, ask for a written fixed price quote.
  • For smaller jobs ask for a written estimate with a fixed top price. An estimate should be close to the final price, within 10-15%.
  • Ask for an hourly rate for extra work that may come up in the course of the job.
  • Tell the tradesperson you must be advised about any extra work before they go ahead with it, so you can agree on the scope and approve any extra costs.
  • Ask for guarantees on the workmanship. Whatever guarantees the tradesperson offers, you still have protection under the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Building Act 2004.
  • Ask what insurance cover the person has for any damage caused during the work. You could also ask for proof of cover.
  • Sort out how payments are to be made — at the end of the job or progressively for larger jobs. The Construction Contracts Act 2002 provides a process for deciding what payments have to be made under a construction contract and when they are due.

Note that in some cases it can be difficult for someone to give you a firm quote because the full extent of the problem is not always obvious. For example, if you are having some rotten weatherboards replaced, the extent of rot may not be evident until the boards are removed. You should then ask for an hourly rate quote for the removal of the timber and the cost of the replacement boards or any other further costs that may apply. Alternatively you could ask for a worst-case price.

For larger jobs, such as repiling your home, you might want someone to manage the project for you, paying them an agreed rate to supervise the work, the payments and the code compliance side of things — see Project management options for more information.

It is your responsibility to ensure a building consent is obtained (if required) prior to the work commencing and a code compliance certificate issued at completion.