If you want your remodelled home to fulfil your hopes and dreams, you need the right people working on the job.
If you've always wanted to flex your DIY skills, you're allowed to do so, but there are still some restrictions that apply. Most people will resort hiring tradies at some stage though. Choosing a skilled and competent professional should mean they'll do it right the first time, but you need to know what to look out for when making your selections.
DIY or hire a tradie?
Hiring a professional to complete your reno might be a no-brainer if mucking about with building and decorating materials isn’t in your skill set or you don’t have the time.
The default law is that you need to call in a professional to handle restricted building tasks. The consequences if something goes wrong with this type of work can be major, even potentially life-threatening.
But, depending on the size and complexity of the project, you may want to do some of the work yourself.
While the Building Act requires a licensed tradie to carry out restricted work, owner-builder exemptions allow keen and competent homeowners to build, renovate or repair their homes themselves.
But there are conditions:
- You must live in the house (which includes baches or holiday homes). This means landlords can’t work on rental properties.
- You must do the work yourself, with only the help of unpaid family or friends.
- You can’t outsource the job to a tradie who’s building for you as a favour.
- You can’t apply for an exemption within three years of your previous application – so, you can’t make a career out of doing up houses and flipping them after a year or two.
- You must hire a licensed electrician/plumber/gasfitter/builder to do certain high-risk jobs .
It’s important to note that if you sell your home, future buyers could see that the work wasn’t carried out by a professional. This could cut into their offered price or willingness to buy if work isn’t up to scratch. Only apply for an owner-builder exemption if you know what you’re doing.
All your work must still comply with the Building Code and will be inspected as usual. You will be responsible for the quality of the work and for fixing any defects.
See building.govt.nz to find the application form and for more on the obligations and responsibilities of owner-builders and their building projects.
Know your limits
Unless you’re absolutely sure you’re capable of the job, it’s usually quicker, cheaper, and often safer, to hire an expert. They’re better able to get it right the first time (or put it right at their own cost if they don’t).
Also, don’t do a job unless you know how to use the equipment. Even climbing a ladder safely is harder than it looks, especially while carrying tools.
Be aware that some tasks might look simple, but require an expert, or at least expert advice. A botched DIY job could end up ultimately costing you more than it would’ve if you called in a pro.
DIY electrical work
With an owner-builder exemption, there’s a long list of domestic electrical jobs you can do yourself. The main thing is to stay away from the switchboard and any live conductors or terminals (unless you’re just replacing a fuse cartridge or wire).
The jobs homeowners with an exemption are allowed to do include:
- 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 these types of fittings, providing
you don’t have to touch the switchboard:
- 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
You may also:
- install, extend and alter subcircuits (including submains), but only
- you don’t enter any enclosure containing live conductors
- the work is tested and certified by someone authorised to inspect mains work.
Landlords cannot do any electricity work themselves unless they hold the relevant practicing licences, as they do not qualify for an owner-builder exemption.
Selecting the right tradespeople
Once you’ve made the decision to hire a professional builder, pay just as much attention to choosing them as you did your architect or designer.
You want to work with someone who has the skills, attitude and aptitude to ensure as smooth and stress-free a renovation as possible.
If you’ve gone for a full-service architect, they’ll likely have a firm hand in this process, especially around selecting the builder. That builder will likely have their preferred subcontractors, so you may not have to play a central part in selecting tradespeople.
Still try to stay engaged in the selection process, though. These people are coming into your home and you will be paying for – and living with – the results of their work.
Before you start the search
If you haven’t gone full service, and are driving the search for your tradespeople, there are things to think about before starting:
- Check whether your project means you must employ a licensed building practitioner – is there structural work to be done, or work that affects your house’s weathertightness?
- Decide what kind of contract you want for your builder. Do you want them to supply all the labour and materials themselves, or will you supply the materials and/or labour?
- What kind of quote do you want? Fixed price? Hourly rate? Just an estimate if it’s a smaller job?
- What’s your timeline? Do you need your project to start or be finished by a certain date, or can you wait until the builder you want can fit you in?
Selecting your builder
Start looking as early as you can. Builders are very busy and are often booked months, if not years, ahead.
Here are some ways to start your search:
- Ask friends and family who’ve done a renovation or a build for recommendations.
- If you have seen a local house get recently renovated to a style you like, find out who did it – they’ll usually have a company sign nailed to the worksite while they’re there.
- Search online to find reputable builders or building companies – remember to read reviews.
- Try trade organisations, such as:
Once you’ve made a list, start setting up appointments to meet. This is so they can look at your project plans and building site, and you can get a sense of what they’d be like to work with.
Meeting prospective builders
When you meet, check off (mentally, or take notes) whether they have these key attributes:
- Skill: Do they have the right skills for your project, especially if you need someone with a particular speciality, such as building on steep slopes, or excavating under your house to add a basement.
- Experience: How long have they been working in the industry?
- Knowledge: Are they up to date with all the changes to code and compliance requirements?
- Honesty and integrity: Are you confident they will do what they say, hit the agreed deadlines, and stay in communication with you through any tough times?
- Confidence in their work: Will they stand behind their workmanship? Do they seem to take pride in what they do, or does it seem like it’s “just a job”?
- Patience: Will they stay calm and focused if things get tricky?
- Sympathy: Will they understand and respect your budget – and any concerns you have?
Really ask yourself: “Do I like this person? Do I think I can work with them during a messy, stressful, draining time?” Even if your architect is managing the build, you will be around a lot, especially if you decide to live at home as work continues. You need to like, trust and respect them.
Also ask for:
- Examples of their work – If you haven’t already seen what they can do.
- Their practitioner’s licence – It’s likely aspects of your build will require the work of a licensed building practitioner, so ask to see their licence and make sure it’s current.
- Membership of a trade organisation – Are members of the New Zealand Certified Builders Association (NZCB) or Registered Master Builders Federation?
- Guarantees – What can they offer as a guarantee if something goes wrong on your build?
- Insurance – What insurance cover do they have for any damage caused during the work? Ask to see proof.
- Payment – Do they want to be paid at the end of job or as it progresses? The Construction Contracts Act 2002 has a process for deciding payments as part of a construction contract.
- Availability – When could they fit you into their building schedule? Can they meet your preferred deadline or timeline?
After those meetings, make a shortlist of your preferred builders and let them know you’ll be sending out tender documents once they’re ready for their consideration (see pX for more about the tendering process).
Builders’ qualifications and memberships
Anyone can pick up a hammer and call themselves a builder. Many older builders have learned on the job and have years and years of experience, probably starting with an apprenticeship.
Contracting a licensed builder gives you certain legal and financial protections, and peace of mind that your builder most likely has the skills and experience your project needs.
Like a designer, being a member of a trade organisation will also give you some reassurance that the builder is in contact with their industry and peers. These organisations also set expectations for their members’ behaviour and quality of workmanship.
Building practitioner’s licence
A licensed practitioner has shown they have the skills, knowledge and experience to meet government-backed national standards. Also, only licensed building practitioners can do certain tasks.
Trade organisation membership
There are two main trade organisations for builders:
The New Zealand Certified Builders Association: The NZCB only accepts people who hold a recognised trade qualification equivalent to or better than National Trade Certificate in Carpentry Level 4.
CBANZ members must:
- only quote for a project if they have the time to take it on
- have enough insurance cover for the contract
- provide a 10-year Homefirst Builders Guarantee
- arrange a date to return to deal with any defects that may have arisen during the first few months of you living in the home.
The Registered Master Builders Association (RMBA): To qualify for membership, builders must have either:
- a minimum of six years’ building experience – including the completion of a carpentry apprenticeship or a relevant tertiary building-related qualification – and have at least three continuous years as a builder in a business on their own account, and/or in the day-to-day management of a building business.
- a minimum of eight years’ continuous building experience made up of at least five years as a builder contractor in a business on their own account, and/or in the day-to-day management of a building business, whether they have completed any formal examinations or not.
The association has a code of conduct its members must follow. The organisation offers a third-party written guarantee – with some conditions – on all new homes and renovations. This offers cover for:
- loss of deposit
- non-completion of work
- materials, workmanship and structural matters.
To become a Registered Master Builder, the builder or building company must prove they are financially responsible, can run a business and offer work examples. Once registered, they are inspected several times a year by the RMBA mobile service team.
Selecting other tradies
If your builder is your main contractor, and you have a full contract or some managed labour-only contracts, they will generally choose the additional tradespeople and subcontractors for your project.
Having the main contractor selecting and wrangling subcontractors generally makes coordination easier. With the builder in charge, subbies are more likely to turn up when required, instead of being busy on other jobs.
On top of that, the builder’s probably used these people before and trusts their work. If they’d messed up in the past, they wouldn’t be invited back.
That said, there are some tasks you may contract separately. For example, you might engage a roofer directly if you want your house reroofed during a renovation.
Always use a licensed electrician that’s registered by the Electrical Workers Registration Board (EWRB). Ask to see their practising licence and check it’s current.
- For any completed renovation work, the electrician must issue you a Certificate of Compliance (CoC), a copy of which is also sent to the EWRB. This certificate means the work has been carried out to electrical and safety standards. Note: A CoC isn’t needed for basic maintenance work, such as replacing sockets and light fittings.
Plumbers and drainlayers
All plumbing or drainage work must be carried out by a licensed or certifying plumber or drain layer (except for minor work – such as installing washing machines or dishwashers, changing washers, taps and ball valves).
This means they need to be licensed by the New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board (PGDB).
- Either the plumber, or the company they work for, must hold a licence – ask to see their authorisation card. If the person doing the job doesn’t have the appropriate licence, a registered person must supervise their work.
Any work to connect gas fittings and gas appliances must be done or supervised by a licensed or certifying gasfitter.
This includes all new installations and any work to extend, replace or alter installations or pipework.
Incorrectly fitted gas appliances can be fatal, so, obviously, DIY is not allowed.
- Like plumbers, gasfitters are licensed by the New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, and like above, trainees and those not licensed can only do the work so long as they are supervised by a licensed person.
- Once the appliance and installation work has been inspected, tested and certified as satisfactory, your gasfitter will issue you a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate.
Certificates of compliance or safety
You will be given a copy of this certificate, with other copies kept at the electrician or gasfitting company, and the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board. Keep your copy safe as you may need it to prove the work’s safety and compliance during an insurance claim or when selling the house.
If you do not have a certificate for earlier work (done before 1993), contact the gasfitter or company who carried out the work (if you know), or search the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board website. Getting another copy requires filling out a form and paying a small fee.
Sharing your house with tradies
Even if you move out for the bulk of the renovation, there’s a very high chance tradespeople will still be coming and going when you’re back home. Sometimes for some time …
That’s why it’s important to agree ground rules with your builder and contractors – especially if you’re living in the home during the build.
- Establish their usual hours of work so you can be around when needed, while keeping out of the way to avoid the dust, noise and general busyness.
- Talk about what’s acceptable to you – and your neighbours – in terms of loud music and smoking.
- Establish who will tidy up at the end of the day – it should be them, but you might do it to save on labour.
- Make sure they can keep the house secure and weathertight if sections need opening up.
- Agree where vehicles and heavy equipment can be left so you have clear access to the driveway and house. If there’s only street parking, try to agree how many vehicles may be onsite as not to upset your neighbours.
- Agree where rubbish is to go and how it is to be disposed of, and how often.
- Establish ways they can keep you informed when the power, water or appliances will be out of action – and when they’ll be back on.
You have responsibilities too, as your house is now their worksite. Remember, the easier and more pleasant you make it for them to work, the faster and happier they’re likely to work. That’s good for you, your budget and hitting your completion date.
- Establish a friendly, but professional, rapport so they know the lines of communication with you are open.
- Try to be as tolerant as possible – don’t make unreasonable or unworkable demands about start times or noise levels.
- Most tradies are good about cleaning up as much as possible at the end of the workday, but you will need to tolerate some mess.
- Keep their worksite clear of your stuff – it can get in their way, slow them down, and create a slip, trip and fall risk.
- Check in but don’t hover – keep your conversations and updates short.
- Create somewhere comfortable (with shade and shelter) that they can have lunch and snacks.
- Keep pets away from the work area so they don’t get in the way, and won’t be harmed or frightened.