Decoding building controls

New Zealand's System for building controls is set out in legislation and regulations that determine how building work can be done and who can do it and ensures that checks and balances are in place.

The building control system is performance-based. This means the focus of the system is on how a building must perform in its intended use rather than describing how it must be designed and constructed.

In practice, there are many ways of meeting the performance requirements. The advantage of a performance-based Building Code is the flexibility it allows for development and innovation in building design, technology and systems.

The three core elements of the New Zealand framework for building controls are:

  1. the Building Act 2004
  2. building regulations
  3. the Building Code

Building Act 2004

The Building Act governs the building sector in New Zealand. It sets the rules for construction, alteration, demolition and maintenance of new and existing buildings, including the process for building consents.

The purpose of the Building Act is to ensure:

  • people can use buildings safely and without endangering their health
  • buildings have attributes that contribute appropriately to the health, physical independence and wellbeing of people who use them
  • people who use a building can escape from the building if it is on fire
  • buildings are designed, constructed and able to be used in ways that promote sustainable development.

Other laws also apply to building projects. These include those relating to health and safety, council bylaws, the Resource Management Act 1991 (resource consents) and laws specifying that certain plumbing, gas and electrical work must be carried out by qualified professionals.

Building regulations

Several building regulations sit under the Building Act and provide details of particular building controls. Examples include prescribed forms, lists of specified systems, definitions of ‘change of use’ and ‘moderate earthquake’ and rates for levies and fees.

Building Code

The Building Act requires that all building work must comply with the Building Code. It sets the minimum performance criteria that all building work must meet, even if the work does not require building consent.

Technically part of a building regulation (contained within Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations 1992), the Building Code covers structural stability, access, moisture control, durability, services and facilities, and energy efficiency.