Article: Speak Easy

Why Building  Standards Are  Being Given Away with Michael BoturWhy Building Standards Are Being Given Away with Michael Botur

Builders have plenty of reason to get frustrated around building rules and standards. The rules can be loopy; the standards can be expensive or complicated to follow (even the NZ Standard building contract, NZS 3902:2004 is 56 pages long).

In 2016, the government listened to submissions around ridiculous building rules that needed to change. In what was officially known as the Rules Reduction Report but was more commonly called the Loopy Rules Report, the following examples of ludicrous loopiness were acknowledged by the government:

• The owners of a bus depot structure that has no walls were forced to install four
exit signs, just in case people can’t find their way out if there is a fire.

• An owner of a rural property had to spend $30,000 putting in a driveway and
watertank to meet fire requirements. The tank was at the back of the house. When
the house caught fire, the fire chief would not drive his truck past the house to the
tank in case it caught fire too.

• A council advised a farmer it was going to classify his land as a significant natural
area under the Resource Management Act. This would limit his ability to use the
land in certain ways, including turning his car lights on at night in case it disrupted
the flight of petrel birds. The council acknowledged the birds never landed, swam,
nested or mated there. It was simply on their flight path.

In December 2017, Building and construction Minister Jenny Salesa announced moves to make building rules easier to access and understand.
Her method: setting up an online search engine, Building CodeHub, which helps people locate the latest building rules and guidance information for designing and constructing buildings. Salesa described Building CodeHub as the definitive source of up-to-date rules. There has also been the release of Codewords, which directly communicates Building Code updates to those who need to comply.

Salesa’s ministry said of Codehub, softly and without confrontation, that by “sponsoring five commonly used building standards and a handbook, we hope to see improved compliance with the Building Code, and even more importantly, safer homes and buildings.”

The MBIE sponsored some of the most commonly-used standards, making them freely available to all users. The purpose?

“We anticipate that providing free access to these standards will make it easier for consumers to […] apply best practice methods when undertaking home building projects.”

Ah, there we have it: so your Average Joe builder isn’t keeping up with the standards, like me with my dodgy treehouse. Let’s pretend I didn’t mention my non-compliant treehouse.

Anyway, the sponsored standards are:
• Design for access and mobility, which covers solutions for making facilities
accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
• The Housing, alterations and small buildings contract standard - a plain English
standard building contract.
• Thermal insulation standard for housing and small buildings - helps establish the
levels of thermal insulation for houses and small buildings.
• Interconnected smoke alarms for houses – you can now read, for free, the standard
on the placement and audibility of smoke alarms.
• Safety barriers and fences around swimming pools, spas and hot tubs – tells you
about barriers for residential pools including ways to assess their strength.
• Handbook on Timber-framed buildings - figures and tables to help design and
construct timber-framed buildings up to three storeys high.

If you’ve never before seen on paper what it takes to comply, head to to get yours for free. Otherwise these things can cost hundreds of dollars.

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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