Consumers will have greater confidence in the competence of builders and the quality of new homes under a package of measures unveiled by the Government last month.
Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson says the industry needs a better way of getting the job done right first time.
“We want builders to be able to get on with the job, and we want to give consumers the confidence that who they hire will do a good job.”
The Minister released two significant and connected initiatives:
• the terms of reference for a review of the Building Act 2004, which is designed to cut red tape in the building consenting process, and
• changes to the licensed building practitioners scheme which aims to raise skill levels among tradespeople.
“I believe the changes we are proposing will have big benefits for all those involved in building, including consumers, tradespeople and councils,” Mr Williamson says.
“We have a stifling consent process that adds cost and time to many building processes. That ultimately ends up hurting consumers and frustrating builders. We also need to raise the standards of the building profession.
“So we are planning a new approach where only licensed builders will be able to carry out specific work critical to the construction and weathertightness of a house and small and medium-sized apartment buildings.
“The consenting process will be cheaper and faster. Consumers and councils will have more confidence in the competence of builders and tradespeople. We can achieve all of this while enhancing quality.
Licensing of building practitioners
“Good builders will have nothing to fear from these changes as we are giving them a chance to become licensed and show they are up for the job.
“The assessment process means competent builders and tradespeople with a good track record can have their skills and knowledge formally recognised, whether they are trade-qualified or not.
“An industry-trained assessor makes a recommendation to grant licensing based on examples of projects the applicant has worked on and discussions with the applicant and their referees.
“And for those with a good track record and who are trade qualified it is proposed to make getting licensed more straightforward by making the assessment process faster and cheaper.
“Consumers will want to hire licensed building practitioners. And because councils know they can do the job, the burden of consenting requirements can be softened.
“I believe the savings will be significant. For a simple three bedroom home — about half of all houses built in New Zealand — we estimate the new approach could reduce costly council inspections from 12 to 15 down to four.
“This could shave up to four weeks off the construction time. All up, it could save about $2500 a week in financing costs for an average home, or about $112 million for New Zealand a year.
“These are gains worth striving for as a house is the most important asset New Zealanders own. They place considerable faith in their builder to deliver a quality job. Under this system builders will be accountable. They will have to stand by their work or risk losing their licence.”
Restricted building work
At the core of the changes are defined areas of work — “restricted building work” — which licensed builders must carry out or supervise.
“These are the elements that are critical to the integrity of a house or apartment building, so it is proper that we ensure they are built in a way that gives consumers the greatest confidence,” Mr Williamson says.
Restricted building work on stand-alone houses and small-to-medium sized apartments will apply to the design and construction of:
• the primary structure — foundations and framing — to ensure the building can withstand vertical and horizontal loads, and
• external moisture management systems (eg, the roof and cladding), to ensure it is weathertight.
It will also apply to the design of active fire safety systems in small-to-medium sized apartments.
“Restricted building work will apply from 1 March 2012. This is a realistic time frame to ensure a sufficient number of building practitioners become licensed.
Exemption for DIY work
“However, in introducing these restrictions we cannot deny New Zealanders their long-cherished right to build or renovate their own home if they wish.
“So, they will be able to claim an exemption from restricted building work requirements if they declare to their local council that they are a DIYer and meet certain conditions.
“We need to impose some limits to stop unlicensed builders passing themselves off as DIYers.”
DIYers will still be able to do most of the work they do now, such as renovating a kitchen/bathroom, putting in a door or window, or building a low deck. Any work that does not require a building consent is excluded.
“It is important that they, like licensed builders, are accountable for critical work on their homes so if something goes wrong in the future, a new owner can trace them to remedy the problem.
“There will be a consultation process on the Building Act to help us identify quick wins and the more complex issues that will require more changes.
We are also consulting on ways to streamline the licensed building practitioners scheme to make it easier and cheaper for qualified tradespeople to apply.
“By 2012 I am confident we will have reshaped the building industry in a way that ensures more quality homes are built at reasonable cost, consumers are well informed and tradespeople are competent and accountable.”