Last updated: 30 November 2021
All building work in New Zealand must meet the performance standards of the Building Code, even if it doesn't require a consent.
The Building Code sets clear expectations of the standards buildings should meet. It covers aspects such as structural stability, durability, protection from fire, access, moisture control, services and facilities, and energy efficiency.
The Building Code states how a building must perform in its intended use rather than describing how the building must be designed and constructed. In other words, it is a performance-based Building Code.
Building Regulatory framework
Legislation and regulations
All building work in New Zealand must meet certain requirements. They are set out in legislation and regulations that determine how work can be done, who can do it, and ensure the system has checks and consumer protection in place.
The building regulatory system sets out a framework to promote good quality decisions being made during the building process. The legislation and regulations work together as the building regulatory system:
- Building Act 2004 – the primary legislation governing the building and construction industry
- Building Code – contained in Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations 1992, sets the minimum performance standards buildings must meet
- Other Building Regulations – detail particular building controls (eg prescribed forms, list of specified systems, definitions of 'change the use' and 'moderate earthquake', levies, fees and infringements).
The Building Act and its regulations work alongside other legislation, including:
- Resource Management Act
- Laws specifying certain plumbing, gas and electrical work must be done by qualified professionals
- Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017
- Council bylaws.
The Building Code regulatory framework is illustrated in Figure 1, below.
Figure 1 shows the Building Code regulatory framework as a triangle with a series of tiers. The top two tiers are mandatory requirements from New Zealand legislation and include the Building Act and the Building Code. The Building Act is at the top of the triangle. It sets out the rules that every building must meet. It is the primary legislation of the building industry, and it ensures people's health, wellbeing, and independence are maintained.
The Building Code is secondary legislation and sits directly below the Building Act. It outlines the minimum requirements for buildings to achieve. The Building Code includes Objectives, Functional requirements and Performance criteria. It's a performance-based system, which means the Code only states how a building must perform, rather than describing how it must be designed and constructed. By focusing on how buildings perform rather than how they are built, designers, architects, and builders can meet the building standards in flexible and innovative ways. A building owner has to achieve the minimum performance criteria set out in the Building Code. To issue a building consent, a building consent authority (usually the council) must accept evidence of compliance with the Building Code.
The next tier in the triangle includes different compliance pathways to comply with the Building Code. These pathways include alternative solutions, verification methods or acceptable solutions. An alternative solution is a flexible option that promotes innovation. It allows the use of an innovative method or material provided it can be shown to comply with the performance requirements of the Code.
Deemed to comply solutions include either verification methods or acceptable solutions. Deemed to comply methods are the easiest ways to ensure a building meets the performance requirements set out in the Building Code.
The Building Act contains other ways to comply with the Building Code.
Cited standards and information
The deemed to comply solutions may include cited standards and information as part of the compliance pathway.
Guidance and information
The bottom two tiers of the triangle consist of guidance and information. MBIE issues guidance under section 175 of the Building Act. This triangle focuses on s.175 guidance in the context of the Building Code. This guidance may help you make decisions on how to comply with the Building Code.
Other information not referenced in acceptable solutions or verification methods may help to show compliance as an alternative solution. This tier of the triangle includes New Zealand or overseas standards, codes of practice and other information provided by the building and construction industry.
Structure of the Building Code
The Building Code consists of three general clauses and 38 technical clauses. Within each technical clause the requirements are explained in three levels:
- Objectives - social objectives from the Building Act
- Functional requirements - functions the building must perform to meet the Objective
- Performance criteria - the performance criteria the building must achieve. By meeting the performance criteria, the Objective and Functional requirement can be achieved.
Clauses are grouped and described by a letter and number, for example:
- B Stability
- B1 Structure
- B2 Durability
The exception is for the Protection from Fire clauses, clauses C1 - C6, which are set out differently.
The Building Code is contained in Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations 1992.
You can get a copy of the Building Code on the New Zealand Legislation website
Online versions of the Building Code, acceptable solutions and verification methods are up to date. Check any printed copies against the online versions to see if they are superseded. Each new version tracks the amendments and lists the changes.
Find acceptable solutions, verification methods, updates and technical guidance by Building Code clause in Building Code compliance.
When reading the Building Code, refer to the A clauses for general classifications. Clause A1 lists seven classified uses for buildings:
- communal non-residential
The categories are used to identify where parts of the Building Code apply (the 'limits on application'). A building with a given classified use may have one or more 'intended uses', this is set out in section 7 of the Act.
A list of all the Building Code Clauses can be found in Building Code compliance.
Limits on application
Alongside the Objective, Functional requirements and Performance Criteria given for each Building Code clause, there is a note of any 'limits on application' (limits on where the clause can be applied).
For example, Functional Requirement D1.2.1 says "Buildings shall be provided with reasonable and adequate access to enable safe and easy movement of people" and the Limits on Application says "Requirement D1.2.1 shall not apply to Ancillary Buildings or Outbuildings".
The Building Act 2004, Building Code, related regulations and also the acceptable solutions and verification methods provide definitions.
Sections 7 – 10 of the Building Act provide for ‘Interpretation’ and are the primary source of definitions. For example, the Act sets out the meaning of “building work” and what constitutes a "building".
View a summary list of definitions in The Building Code handbook.
Development of the Building Code
To ensure the Building Code continues to set appropriate minimum standards for the performance of New Zealand's buildings, we seek to improve it and the acceptable solutions and verification methods that support it.
When we make changes to the Building Code, or to the acceptable solutions and verification methods, we undertake consultation first. You can keep up with any consultations or amendments by signing up for our news and updates.
Read more about maintaining the Building Code.
Role of regulators
MBIE is the over-arching regulator, other agencies have a regulatory or quasi-regulatory role.
MBIE provides overall leadership of the building and construction sector. Our aim is to grow New Zealand for all through safer, healthier and more affordable homes and buildings.
Our work includes managing the system that regulates building work and monitoring its effectiveness. We review the Building Code and produce documents that show how to comply with it. We also monitor the performance of district and city councils. We can investigate complaints and make determinations about disputes on certain building matters.
MBIE works alongside building practitioners, government agencies, other regulators and the construction industry to understand what matters to the sector and to improve the regulatory system.
Building consent authorities
Most city and district councils are building consent authorities (BCA). They may also contract these services out.
BCAs issue building consents, undertake inspections during construction and issue code compliance certificates, certifying that the finished work complies with the Building Code. They also issue notices to fix and compliance schedules.
BCAs charge a fee for these services. The fee depends on the BCA and the amount of work involved, but is generally set for the recovery of reasonable costs. It will be a small proportion of the cost of the whole building project and will provide assurance that the job has been done properly.
District and city councils
Councils have a range of building-related responsibilities over and above those of a BCA.
They keep records about all the properties in their area, issue project information memoranda and certificates of acceptance, monitor compliance schedules and follow up notices to fix. They also have policies for certain buildings that are most vulnerable in an earthquake.
Councils also have powers to address breaches of the Building Act. They can issue infringement notices or, in some circumstances, organise for remedial work to be done.