Housing in New Zealand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Suburban housing in Dunedin

Housing in New Zealand was traditionally based on the quarter-acre block, detached suburban home, but many historical exceptions and alternative modern trends exist. New Zealand has largely followed international designs. From the time of organised European colonisation in the mid-19th century there has been a general chronological development in the types of homes built in New Zealand, and examples of each generation are still commonly occupied.[1][2]

Types of dwellings[edit]

Suburban housing, Devonport, Auckland
Semi-detached houses after an earthquake, Christchurch
Art-deco apartments, Symonds Street, Auckland

Traditionally, residential sections were quarter acre[3] (roughly 1000 sq m), but typical section sizes have been getting much smaller since the middle of the 1900s.[4] After a series of controversies over slum-like housing-conditions of the urban poor, from 1936 the then Labour government developed State housing – suburban housing built by the government and rented to poorer families. This housing stock was generally very well built and remains a feature in most cities, although now often privately owned.[5] Urban areas, where about 86% of New Zealand residents live,[6] are becoming more dense,[7] but remain very sparsely settled by international standards.[8] Many old office-blocks and church-buildings have been converted to apartments in New Zealand's major centres.[9][10]

Holiday and mobile homes[edit]

Bach or crib (holiday home), Tasman District, South Island

Small, often very modest holiday homes or beach houses, called a "baches" (pronounced "batches") in most of the country, but "cribs" in the south of the South Island,[11] are used by tourists on a temporary basis as holiday accommodation. These are typically purpose-built houses or huts near a coast or a lake, but can also serve as a base for hunting or fishing in local rivers.[12] They have a reputation for rustic, minimalist and mismatched internal design and furniture. However, large expensive holiday-homes are also (though less commonly) called baches.

Tents, camper-vans and caravans are also common, however, New Zealand lacks the large trailer parks of some similar countries, like Australia and South Africa.

A movement to build tiny homes has emerged.[13]

New Zealand also has a large set of wilderness huts, but staying in them for more than three days at a time is discouraged.[14]


Many New Zealanders live permanently in structures which were not designed as homes; the government classifies these people as homeless. Difficulties exist in measuring homelessness statistically, and New Zealand does not typically record the phenomenon with the same accuracy as other statistics. The 2013 census produced an estimate that 1% of people in New Zealand live in "severe housing deprivation" – an increase from previous years.[15]    

In May 2018 the government allocated $100 million to address homelessness over the following four years.[16]

House design[edit]

When records began in 1974, new homes in New Zealand had an average floor area of 120 m2 (1,290 sq ft). Average new home sizes rose to peak at 200 m2 (2,150 sq ft) in 2010, before falling to 158 m2 (1,700 sq ft) in 2019.[17]

In 1966 the New Zealand Encyclopedia recognised seven basic designs of New Zealand houses.[18]

13th to early-19th century: Adapting a tropical culture to a temperate climate[edit]

Māori Chief Tahau in whare mid 1870s

At first Māori used the building methods that had been developed in tropical Polynesia, altered to fit the more nomadic lifestyle. By the 15th century Classic Māori communities slept in rectangular sleeping houses (wharepuni). The wharepuni were made of timber, rushes, tree ferns and bark, they had a thatched roof and earth floors.[19] These building also had a front porch which was an adaptation to New Zealand's climate and is not found in tropical Polynesia. The effect of European housing methods led to a mix of designs with Māori adopting windows and high roofs.

19th century: Building a better Britain[edit]

Cottage, Sydenham, Christchurch
Villa, Royal Oak, Auckland

Houses from this period are divided into cottages and villas. The first houses built in New Zealand were cottages.[20] Villas were the larger and more expensively built equivalent. The typical villa has the kitchen to the rear of the house and separate from the dining room, as food preparation was meant to occur out of sight.[21]

Early-20th century: American influences and responses[edit]

California Bungalow, Paeroa
Art Deco house, Waterview, Auckland

The 20th century started with big Edwardian houses and neo-Georgian architecture[22] From the late 1910s the Californian bungalow became more popular. the design has a lower pitched roof and ceiling height than the typical New Zealand villa and was therefore easier to heat.[20] This coincided with the popularity of the Hollywood film industry, which incorporated American clothes, furniture, cars and houses.

As a response to American influence and nostalgia for Britain a style of houses were built which conspicuously emulated older English styles. Spanish mission style from the late 1920s with grand triple arches and twisted Baroque columns.[23] Modernism (Art deco) of the 1930 was designed to be functional with smooth surfaces and a flat roof.[24]

The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake showed an absence or low-level of earthquake resilience in buildings. Subsequently, earthquake standards for buildings were introduced in 1935.[24][25]

Late-20th century: Neo-colonial and Mediterranean styles[edit]

State housing had a big influence on the way homes were built in New Zealand from the 1940s to the late 1960s.[26]

The 1970s saw several changes to housing construction. New Zealand's metrication between 1969 and 1976 saw construction move from imperial to metric units. Imperial units still remain in colloquial use; for example, 90 mm × 45 mm (3.5 in × 1.8 in) dimensional timber is still referred to as 'four-by-two'.[27] In 1978, two key building standards were introduced: NZS 3604, specifying design and construction requirements for light timber-framed buildings, and NZS 4218, specifying minimum thermal insulation requirements for houses.[28]

21st century building habits[edit]

In the early 21st Century New Zealanders built in variety of styles that borrowed from a variety of previous influences.[20]

Integration with the environment[edit]

In some conspicuous locations in area of natural beauty it is required by local councils to blend the house design with the surrounding environment.[29]

Passive climate control[edit]

Houses can be built to maximise the heat gained during the day from the sun and retain it overnight.[30]

Natural building material revival[edit]

With increased affluence and environmental concerns a small but growing number of houses are built with semi processed natural materials and traditional building methods.[31][32]


Heating and insulation[edit]

Insulation in ceilings, walls and floor became mandatory for new builds and additions in 1978.[33][34] Glass fibre, polyester, polystyrene, wool and paper are all used for insulation in New Zealand.[35] Home insulation in New Zealand can be heavily subsidised by the government.[35]

According to the 2018 New Zealand census, heat pumps were the most common form of space heating, with 47.3% of households using them as their primary heating appliance. Other common forms of space heating were electric resistance heaters (44.1%) and wood burners (32.3%).[36]

Some local councils are restricting the kind of wood and coal burners that can be used in order to improve air quality.[37]

Water and sewerage[edit]

In 2017 about 80% of New Zealanders were reliant on water purification distribution systems that supplied more than 100 people. Of these 96% met the bacteriological standards for water quality, while 81% met all the relevant standards.[38] The remaining 20% of New Zealanders typically live in rural areas where rain, streams and bores are commonly used as water sources.

Large properties can process or store their sewage on site.[39] Grey water can be reused for purposes other than drinking. This recycling is required by some New Zealand councils.[40]

Construction and regulations[edit]

The Building Act 1991 was replaced by the Building Act 2004,[41][42] this introduced a licensing for building designers, builders and related trades. Councils were required to be subject to regular quality control procedure checks, however, council building inspectors remained unlicensed.[43]

The Building Code sets out the minimum performance standards that buildings must designed and constructed to meet, but itself does not prescribe methods or solutions to meet the Code.[44] Acceptable solutions and verification methods specify construction and testing methods that assure compliance with the Code.[45] For example, constructing buildings to NZS 3604 Timber-framed buildings or NZS 4229 Concrete masonry buildings not requiring specific engineering design is an acceptable solution to comply with structural provisions of the Code.[46]

Alteration regulations[edit]

Most alterations to homes need to be certificated, there are also limits on houses of historical importance.

Illegal building practices[edit]

While all building practices that do not comply with the Building Act are illegal, some are also specifically banned.[47]


Three broad categories are available for suburban house foundations concrete slab, a concrete block basement foundations and an elevated floor with a crawl space.[48] Footing depth varies with soil type and slope, with either a floating polystyrene slab or more rarely piling.

Climate and environmental standards[edit]

Standards are set out in NZS 3604 Timber-framed buildings and NZS 4218 Thermal insulation - Housing and small buildings regarding a building's resistance to wind, earthquake, snow, corrosion, and climate. The following table shows the respective earthquake, snow and climate zones for cities and selected large towns:[49]

City Earthquake Snow Climate
Low (1) N0 Zone 1
New Plymouth
Low (1) N0 Zone 2
Rotorua Medium (2) N0 Zone 2
Taupō Medium (2) N0 Zone 3
Whanganui Medium (2) N1 Zone 2
Palmerston North
High (3) N1 Zone 2
Nelson Medium (2) N3 Zone 3
Blenheim High (3) N3 Zone 3
Greymouth Medium (2) N2 Zone 3
Christchurch Medium (2) N4 Zone 3
Timaru Low (1) N4 Zone 3
Queenstown High (3) N5 Zone 3
Low (1) N5 Zone 3

Earthquake risk and construction[edit]

Earthquake risk zones before and after the Christchurch earthquakes

Earthquakes can occur anywhere in New Zealand, but the risk to building structures is highly regional, with the eastern North Island and western South Island having the highest risk.[50] After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake a major review changed the boundaries and construction rules.[51][52]

Under NZS 3604 and NZS 4229, New Zealand is divided into four earthquake zones, with zone 1 has the lowest earthquake risk while zone 4 having the highest risk. Buildings in zones 2, 3 and 4 have to withstand 1.6 times, twice, and three times the force of zone 1 buildings respectively.[53]

Housing affordability[edit]


In 2017 63% of New Zealanders lived in an owner occupied home, this includes those who have an outstanding mortgage on their property and 33% live in rental properties.[54] This is the lowest rate of home ownership since 1951. This is partly due to the increase in New Zealand house prices which since 1990 have increased faster than any other OECD country.[55]

Housing in New Zealand has been classified as 'severely unaffordable' with a score of 6.5 under the median measure housing affordability measure.[56] Affordability varies depending on location, with major urban centres such as Auckland and Wellington more unaffordable than smaller cities and rural areas.[57]


In mid August 2022, the Human Rights Commission advocated an immediate freeze on rent increases and increasing the accommodation supplement to provide renters with relief in response to the recent cost of living crisis. The Commission had earlier released its People's Inquiry into Student Wellbeing in July 2022 which found that two thirds of tertiary students were unable to cover basic living costs including food, rent and healthcare.[58][59]

Government housing initiatives[edit]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Early Housing in New Zealand — With particular reference to Nelson and Cook Strait Area | NZETC". nzetc.victoria.ac.nz. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  3. ^ See The Half-Gallon Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise
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