The Government recently announced it would scrap consents for low-risk building projects from August to free up the construction sector for higher value work. We’ve spoken to some of our NZCB builders about the changes and what they mean for your next project.

From August this year, single-storey detached buildings up to 30 square metres, such as sleep-outs, sheds and greenhouses, carports, awnings, water storage bladders and other structures will no longer require a Council-approved building consent.

So are these changes a good thing? NZCB Regional President for Mid/South Canterbury Area Dan Gallagher, of Gallagher Trade Building Ltd, thinks so. “These changes are good and should save the homeowner a little bit of money,” he says.

Though that doesn’t mean your next DIY doesn’t come with a few warnings from our builders, too. NZCB Vice Chairperson Mike Craig, of Mike Craig Builders Limited, says anything you build still has to be compliant. “Carports, sleepouts, awnings and verandas must be code compliant, as well as taking into account rules around boundary build distance and height, among other things.”

NZCB President Canterbury Richard Poff, of RTP Builders, says that’s where things might get tricky. “You have to understand your city’s planning rules – that’s things like percentage site coverage, distance from boundaries, recession planes and more. There’s also the general homeowner’s ability to understand/comply with the Building Code, plus any amendments as they come out,” he says.

Your local duty planners at council can help ensure your plans meet council rules, but the complexities don’t stop there.

Richard adds that there are a number of other things you’ll need to do to keep up to code with your builds. “You need to keep good records of what you have built for the next owner.  Materials used, method of construction, maintenance schedule, etc.  A carport is reasonably transparent in its composition, but a 30m2 shed or sleepout can hide lots of things.  I have found lots of interesting ‘stuff’ over the years.  There would be few in our membership who haven’t.”

Richard says your choice of materials is also key. “If you don’t work in the building industry, you’re no doubt relying on merchants to give you accurate advice regarding materials and their suitability.  Over the last summer my local big chain hardware store was selling fence posts cut into 600mm and 800mm lengths, labelled as ‘great for building decks’.  They continued to sell them even after I told them that they did not comply with the building code.  Fence posts are H4 and deck piles have to be H5, same as a house pile.”

All that sounds scary, and the consequences can be (especially for insurance), but Mike has plenty of tips for what to look out for as you start your project – even if it ends up just being your local New Zealand Certified Builder instead.

“Carports, awnings and verandas must be built by a licensed building practitioner (LBP) or supervised by one,” he says. “If you’re not using an LBP or supervised, you will need building consent for your structure to be owner-built.”

If your structure requires concrete floors, Mike says you will need input from a builder and potentially an engineer to be code compliant, as these are “very hard and expensive to fix if there is a failure”.

“You can build carport poles or post construction with concrete floor without engineering, but timber floors on piles will need to be built to code.”

He adds that structures on soft ground with pile construction are less of a risk, and may not need engineering input depending on the project. And he recommends using a LBP for haysheds, but as they’re low-risk, he says kitsets are also a totally fine option and work for many farmers.

He also offers advice that “outdoor fires are another thing that must be built by a LBP or supervised, as if they are not built correctly they can topple and injure if there’s an earthquake or bad foundations.”

Richard also recommends professional input for installing solar panels, as you need to consider the additional weight they put on your existing structure.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably realised that banging up a shed isn’t as simple as the ads will have you think, so this is where you’ll find your nearest New Zealand Certified Builders. Because sometimes, even if you don’t need a consent, your peace of mind is worth more.