Planning your design hero default

Planning your house design

Before you choose someone to design your house, you need to gather ideas of what you want.

Join us now to unlock this content

Unlock all of Consumer from just $12 a month

  • Heaps of buying advice so you can choose with confidence
  • Independent reviews of thousands of products and services
  • Personal advice an email or phone call away on our advice line (members only)
Log in

Gathering ideas

Before you choose someone to design the house, you need to gather ideas of what you want.

Start collecting together ideas in a scrapbook or shoe-box. Every time you see something you like in a magazine or book, cut it out or photocopy it and add it to the collection. Visit shops and websites and get brochures and information sheets on products. Start a dossier of roofing materials, types of exterior claddings and interior linings, joinery, paint, wallpaper, ceilings, appliances, carpets, taps, etc.

Keep a note of prices as you go – this will help with budgeting later on.

To help with house design ideas:

  • Visit show homes, home expos and open homes.
  • Drive around new subdivisions and older areas for ideas about exterior design, materials and colours.
  • Ask others who have been through this process for recommendations on designers and, if possible, visit homes they have been involved in.

A skilful designer will be able to work out from talking to you and discussing your ideas what you really like, turning your collage of ideas into a design.

3 approaches to house design and building

The 3 usual ways of getting a house designed and built are:

1. Using a group housing company. These companies usually provide packages which can include some or all of the following:

  • The section.
  • Standard house designs (which can usually be adapted to your requirements – this may add additional cost). Finance.
  • Project management and construction.

2. Going directly to a builder who can arrange the drawings according to your instructions. Some building companies offer a design and build service giving a fixed price for designing and building the house. See below for more information about this option.

3. Custom-designing your home to your ideas using a registered architect, an architectural designer or an architectural draughtsperson. You then need to decide who is going to build and manage the building process. Architects, and sometimes other designers, offer this service. See Custom designs for more information.

Group housing companies

Group housing companies offer a range of standard designs. Some companies will let you change almost anything on the design. Others may not be so keen to alter their standard plans.

Some firms will take care of the entire building process from building consent and local planning compliance to landscaping.

One big advantage of this type of housing is that the price should be exact because you are buying a package (apart from any variations that you ask for after the fixed price has been agreed).

To find a group housing company go to these trade organisations:

Or search the web for individual company websites, or the Yellow Pages.

There are also companies whose business it is to sell house plans.

The advantage of using a stock plan is that it is likely to be tried and true and you can view it as a show home or a private home. However, the design won’t have been done specifically for your section, so choose the plan that will work best with the shape, size and contours of your section.

Using a group or kitset housing company will be cheaper than hiring an architect or other type of designer. However, you may not get the benefit of having a design that entirely meets your specific needs.

Design and build builders

Some builders offer a design service, either drawing the plans themselves or using an architect or designer that they work with to draw the plans.

Builders aren’t usually trained in house design but this option might work for you if you are very clear about the design and specifications. Ask to see examples of their work.

Certain design work must be done or supervised by a licensed building practitioner. There are two levels of design practice depending on the complexity of the project. To find out more go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Building Performance website.

Importance of good design

The advantages of good house design include:

  • Making best use of space within the home.
  • Making best use of the section.
  • Making sure the right materials are selected (for function and style).
  • Saving money by providing a home that is energy efficient and maintenance-friendly.
  • Having a home that is harmonious to live in, comfortable, convenient, and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Having a home that will provide a secure investment and be free from weathertight problems or other serious defects.
  • Having a home that will be easier to sell.

What to consider in the design

When you brief a designer, tell them:

  • How many rooms you want (consider the possibility of more children, or perhaps elderly relatives coming to live with you).
  • What sort of living spaces you want. Do you entertain regularly? Do you want separate space for the children to hang out? Do you need an office or hobby room? What about decks and outdoor living spaces?
  • What you want in the way of bathrooms and kitchen. Do you want ensuites? An industrial-sized kitchen?
  • The size of the house. If it is too large to fit comfortably on your section you might have to consider whether you need to build upwards.
  • Your garaging requirements.
  • The importance of sun, particularly in the winter.
  • To avoid features that will put the house at risk of leaking.
  • To identify materials, especially claddings that will require lots of on-going maintenance.
  • To make provision in the design to allow for on-going maintenance.

You also need to start thinking about design features and materials - heating, external cladding, or the shape of the roof, for example.You also need to consider costs at this early stage.


A change to the plans or materials originally specified in the contract.

Case study promo default

Case study

When you ask a builder to quote for a job, be aware that you might be expected to pay for some initial design work before you get the quote (and decide whether to go ahead with that builder or not).

This happened to Mary. She asked a builder for an accurate site plan to build a garage close to a boundary and to quote for the job. Eight months later she was shown a set of building plans that were incorrect. A further six months later, she received a final quote that was quadruple what the builder had originally estimated. She didn’t accept it. She also got a bill for $900 for building plans, although she did not ask for full drawings. She went to a Disputes Tribunal which said it was common practice to pay for building plans before a quote to build was accepted, and ordered her to pay.

Mary was astounded. She talked to two lawyers who both thought she shouldn’t have to pay for something she hadn’t asked for.

If you use a builder to design and build, find out in advance what costs are involved for any early design work in getting to the quote stage.

Building renovating default

Building articles

Whether you're planning to build your own home or renovate an existing one, we've got you covered with a wide range of articles covering the whole process.

Find out more

Renovation promotion default

Renovating articles

Renovating and altering houses is a favourite pastime for many New Zealanders. Our articles take a look at what's involved when you undertake a renovation project.

Find out more

Home maintenace default

Home maintenance

Regular maintenance is needed to ensure your house holds its value and remains safe and comfortable to live in.

Find out more