Exterior Design

Last updated: 9 August 2023

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Design your home in harmony with your site to reduce building costs and protect your investment.

Designing for more than good looks

Exterior design includes your home's size and shape, how it fits into the surrounding neighbourhood and streetscape, and the impact it has on its site.

While home design is a matter of personal taste, there are practical benefits from designing a home or renovation that:

  • is in harmony with your neighbourhood
  • minimises its impact on your site's landforms
  • makes the most of solar access and other natural features.

Planning requirements

Your local council's district plan will contain regulations covering the height, form, distance from boundaries and other features of any building in your area.

The regulations might be flexible, or in the case of a heritage area, for example – they might be quite specific.

If you're planning a new home or renovation, check the district plan or talk with your designer or council planners about any special requirements. Some councils offer pre-application meetings for advice and assessment of your proposed design.

TIP - Special conditions

To ensure you know about any special rules or requirements for building on rural properties, as well as what services are available, contact your local council.

If you are planning on building in a new subdivision the developer may have put in place additional rules and requirements, which you will have to abide by in addition to any council rules and requirements. Make sure you understand the developer covenant to know what you can and cannot do on your section.

Fitting in with your neighbourhood

Neighbourhoods can have a distinct character, especially if everyone designs or renovates in a way that is sympathetic to their surroundings and preserves any character. This may enhance property value and can help preserve good relations with your neighbours.

Consider your home's:

  • shape, especially its roof
  • size and height in relation to neighbouring homes
  • cladding materials
  • cladding and roofing colours
  • window styles.

Also consider the impact of any proposed new home or renovation on neighbouring properties and whether you will need to apply for resource consent. Will your planned building block someone else's views or sun? Will it interfere with privacy? Will it change the character of the neighbourhood? These may cause neighbours to object to your resource consent if one is required.

Screens, vegetation and window design can all be used to protect neighbours' privacy without blocking your views.

For security reasons, and to make your home appear welcoming, make sure your front entrance is clearly visible from the street. This means avoiding high fences around your front yard.

Your home will appear friendlier if the house, not the garage, dominates the front facade.

TIP - Making changes

If you're thinking about changing your front fence or garage, check with your council. They may have rules, especially if your house is in a heritage area or is affected by a district plan rule.

Site impact

Home size

A smaller home is likely to have less impact on a site, and costs less to build and less to run in the future. Choosing an appropriate size for your home is the most important step in controlling the economic and environmental cost. Good design is the key to making the most use of the space.

House size will need to be balanced against your family's needs for comfortable living space, both now and as your family size and needs change in the future.

Designing an adaptable home has more information.

Footprints and foundations

How big does your home's footprint need to be? A multi-level home has less impact on its site than a single-level home of the same floor area. A multi-level home will also be easier to keep warm (because it has less floor and roof surface through which to lose heat). However, it may not suit if you have small children, mobility restrictions, or you plan to live there when you retire.

On a sloping site, a pole house or one with pile footings will minimise earthworks. Some hill sites may be highly visible, in which case setting the house back into the slope (rather than using poles) may reduce the visual impact.

Some people choose to build into a slope to create an earth-sheltered home and maximise the usable area of their section. This is particularly practical if the bank is to the south.

Earthworks and excavations

Consider retaining a slope instead of excavating it away – you may benefit through better views and better access to the sun.

Large earthworks need resource consent. But regardless of the size of the earthworks, measures need to be taken to prevent soil loss and erosion. Most councils have written guidelines on erosion and sediment control – ask them for information about your area.


Can you build around existing vegetation, such as significant native trees or areas of bush? Retaining vegetation protects your site from erosion and flooding, as well as potentially adding to its visual appeal. Check the district plan or ask the council.

If you have large trees on the site, check whether they are protected with your local council – if they are you will need special permission to work on or near them, or remove them.

Reducing runoff

The more of your site that is covered with buildings, concrete and other hard surfaces, the more runoff there will be. Runoff can be particularly problematic in heavy rain.

Runoff can be reduced by:

  • keeping your home and its footprint compact
  • retaining vegetation
  • using driveway and lawn pavers (such as permeable concrete block grids or recycled plastic soil trays) and paths made of grass, shell, gravel or timber decking instead of concrete or impermeable paving stones.

Flood risk

Check the Land Information Memorandum for your site from your local council. It should contain information about floods and any other hazards that the local council knows about.

Working with site landforms and waterways has more information.

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: