Two Acts to follow closely
Every building project must comply with the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and the Building Act 2004 (the Building Act).
These laws define the situations in which you need a resource consent and/or a building consent; and what you need to do to get them.
The process for getting your consents will be easier if you know how the RMA and the Building Act affect your project, and what you need to do to have your consents approved.
This guide will take you through key questions to consider and refers you to other sources of advice.
The Resource Management Act 1991
The RMA protects land and the environment.
Just because you own a piece of land doesn’t mean you can do what you want on it or with it. The RMA recognises that our neighbours and others in our communities can be affected by our ideas for using land and other resources – just as we can be affected by the plans of others.
By protecting the environment, the RMA also ensures we consider the interests of the community and future generations of Kiwis.
Under the RMA, regional councils prepare regional plans that focus on the management of our air, water, land and soil.
City or district councils prepare district plans that focus on managing aspects of subdivision and land use that can affect the environment, such as the height, appearance and location of buildings and signs, and the noise, glare and odour associated with the activities that take place in and around buildings.
Every district or regional plan is different and reflects the desires and aspirations of the local community.
What is a resource consent?
The plans councils prepare set out which activities will require a resource consent.
A resource consent is a formal approval for such things as the use or subdivision of land, the taking of water, the discharge of contaminants in water, soil or air or the use or occupation of coastal space.
It’s not just new buildings that may require resource consent. New use of an existing building may also require a resource consent.
Just as council plans vary, the need for resource consents varies from one area to another.
If the activity you want to carry out isn’t clearly identified as either a permitted or prohibited activity in the plan, then you must obtain a resource consent.
If you need certainty, councils can issue certificates of compliance for permitted activities confirming that the activity is lawfully established.
The Ministry for the Environment has a series of 14 booklets called An Everyday Guide to the RMA.
Getting in on the Act explains the purpose of the Act, and provides some examples of how it works.
You can find copies at your local council, or on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.
The Building Act 2004
The Building Act covers the construction, alteration, demolition and maintenance of new and existing buildings throughout New Zealand.
It sets standards and procedures for people involved in building work (including licensing of building practitioners) to ensure buildings are safe, healthy, and built right first time.
It covers how work can be done, who can do it, and when it needs to be consented and inspected.
The Building Act as it relates to buildings is implemented by local district and city councils.
Under the Act, the Building Code defines the minimum standards buildings must meet.
In contrast to the plans prepared under the RMA, the Building Code provides a common set of minimum rules for the whole of New Zealand.
What is a building consent?
A building consent is a formal approval granted by your local council under the Building Act that allows a person to carry out building work.
Building work includes work in connection with the construction, alteration, demolition or removal of a building. A council will issue a building consent only when it is satisfied the proposed building work will meet the requirements of the Building Code.
You cannot carry out any building work unless you have a building consent.
There are a few minor exceptions to this set out in Schedule 1 of the Building Act. For example, decks under 1m in height; and retaining walls less than 1.5m high that do not support any surcharge or any additional load such as vehicles on a road.
All building work must meet the minimum requirements of the Building Code even if no building consent is required.
Note: Before you start detailed planning, spend time on shaping your ideas, gathering information and talking to the right people early to save time and money for years to come.
In a world of leaky homes and draughty colonial renovations, eco-design has entered the mainstream of housing construction.
But the process can be daunting for first-time green home-builders.
Eco-design adviser Sarah Fleet says a well-designed home is usually cosier and healthier.
‘‘A smart house design that optimises the use of the sun through orientation, thermal mass and high levels of insulation can significantly reduce the times during the year you will need to heat or cool the house. This means lower running costs throughout the life of the home,’’ Ms Fleet said.
But it’s crucial that designers and architects are ‘‘on the same page’’ as clients in terms of their aspirations for how the new home will be used.
‘‘I encourage people to design around solar heating – orientating the house and as many windows as possible towards the north, with the kitchen east-facing and living areas west- facing,’’ she said.
‘‘I also encourage people to think about solar mass – how materials can absorb heat during winter days for slow release overnight, and its opposite effect in summer.’’
A sustainable home will minimise its impact on the environment.
This can be achieved by carefully choosing environmentally friendly materials, an appropriate site where the minimum of disruption is required, as well as water and energyefficient appliances.
Ms Fleet suggests homebuilders insulate above building code levels, think about how the home will be heated, invest in good extractor fans in the kitchen and bathrooms, and take into account the embodied energy of materials – a system that tallies the sum of all energy used in the production and deterioration of a building product over its entire lifespan.
As the sustainable ethic begins to merge with the mainstream of construction, downsizing should also become a priority.
‘‘The main thing is modesty – people overlook how small things can be and make them a lot bigger than they need to, ‘‘ says architectural designer Joseph Nicholls, of the Sustainability Trust.
‘‘Consider living more efficiently in a smaller house that is more compact.’’
Eschewing resourceheavy status symbols and pointless consumption should also be embraced. ‘‘It means letting go of things like swimming pools, tennis courts or an ensuite for your 5-year-old child.’’
How you live in your home also makes a difference. Pumping the heat up while walking around in shorts in winter is not going to help reduce your carbon footprint.
About 17 per cent – of New Zealand’s carbon emissions comes from the construction and operation of buildings, which means the ‘‘embodied energy’’ of building materials and how your home is run are also serious considerations.