Choosing tradies and builders
Getting the right person for the job.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
You may also:
Landlords cannot do any electricity work themselves unless they hold the relevant practicing licences, as they do not qualify for an owner-builder exemption.
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.
If you haven’t gone full service, and are driving the search for your tradespeople, there are things to think about before starting:
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:
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.
When you meet, check off (mentally, or take notes) whether they have these key attributes:
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:
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).
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.
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.
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:
The Registered Master Builders Association (RMBA): To qualify for membership, builders must have either:
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.