How to Build a House :


Building your own house is an exciting but daunting prospect.

Some people want to be as hands on as possible, project managing the build and taking on as many tasks that they can do themselves such as painting, landscaping and fencing. Others prefer to leave it to the professionals and opt for a 'turnkey' approach, where they pick a plan from a catalogue and wait until the keys are handed over on move-in day. Most of you will intend to be somewhere on this spectrum according to your skills, time available and interest.

Regardless, it helps to have an overview of knowledge on how your house is built. This can help you with making important design decisions at the start, knowing when it is too late to make costly changes, and also ensure that you know the project is staying on track. The following is an overview of the standard building process. Note that some steps may occur concurrently or in slightly different order depending on the build technique.


The Building Process

Step 1) Find a Section

Your first step on your house building journey will be to purchase a section. Alternatively you can purchase a 'house and land' package where you may have some input over the final building design. You will also have to organise finance at this stage. It is a good idea to get pre-approval for the projected cost of your build. Some banks will lend up to 90% of the cost of the section + build cost. Read more on tips to consider when purchasing a section here.

 buy section, buy to build, house and land package, build nz

Step 2) Find a Designer / Plans Drawn up for Building Consent

You have a few choices here. You can either:

- use an Architect

- use an Architectural Designer,

- or use a Design and Build Company


Your choice will depend on the type of home you want to build, your budget, and how much input you want into the design. If you use an Architect or Architectural Designer you can create custom plans for your site and then get these plans priced by a builder. When you choose a Design and Build company, or Group-Home company, you are also choosing your builder, so more research will need to be undertaken.

Design and Build companies will have already drawn-up plans you can use, just make sure they suit your section well, i.e. take advantage of sunshine and views. Many of these companies will let you customise the plans for an extra cost, or even have your own plans drawn up from concept ideas. Some Design and Build companies can also price your concept ideas before you commit to a contract.

Once you have found a designer, you will work with them to come up with a final plan, which will then be submitted to the local council for building consent.

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Step 3) Find a Builder 

Finding a builder or building company is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the build process. This decision may have already been made at step 2 above if you go with a Design and Build company. As well as qualified, your builder must be a Licensed Building Practitioner to be able to complete restricted building work for Building Consent. (More about Building Regulations here). You may also want to go with a Registered Master Builder or Certified Builder, who have the backing of their association and can offer 10 year guarantees.

Word of Mouth and personal recommendations is the best start. If you’re using the Build me. Directory to research, then you can search for builders in your region and look through all the projects in their gallery. They may have projects that are featured in the NZ Homes section of the Build me. website, and you will be able to read about their clients’ building journey and view photos of completed houses.

You will want to ask your builder some important questions to assess their suitability to working with you. You can read more about this in detail in our free EBook, Building in NZ: An Essential Guide to Building Your Own Home. Then finally, you will have to sign a contract with your builder. This is a mandatory step that came into legislation in January of 2015 to help protect consumers, where all building work over $30,000 must have a building contract in place. Furthermore, your bank will want to see a fixed price contract before they lend you money for the build.

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Step 4) Find Contractors

Many builders will use a select group of subcontractors they already work well with. However, you can select your own tradespeople and product suppliers and get individual quotes. Again, start with recommendations from friends and family or use the Build me. Directory to narrow down your choices.


Step 5) Earthworks and Foundations

The Build Begins! Once you have building consent, earthworks can begin. Using a digger, the crew clears the site and levels it within a day or two. If your site is sloped, then retaining walls and posts will be installed before foundations begin.

If you are having a traditional slab, the crew puts up wooden forms to serve as a template for the foundation and digs the holes and trenches. Footings (structures where the house interfaces with the earth that supports it) are installed. The plumber will install all the pre-plumbing and the electrician will install wires if you have an island bench that needs power. An inspection is carried out before the concrete is poured.

If the slab is a ‘raft’ slab (such as MaxRaft or RibRaft), no footings are required as the slab ‘floats’ on the surface. Specialised subcontractors will usually come in and complete these slabs. 

Once concrete is poured it will need time to cure (a day at least). During this period, there will be no activity on the construction site.

Alternatively if you have a wooden substrate, work will begin as soon as the piles, bearers, joists and wooden flooring is installed.


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Plumbing pipes protruding from a newly poured slab.

Step 6) Framing and Walls

In traditional framing, the frames are usually ordered pre-built and will arrive on site after the concrete is poured. The builders then stand up the frames and secure them. Steel frames are also an option. Time frame - 1 week.

Panel framing is also becoming popular. Prefabricated panels such as Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPS) or Triboard are installed instead of wooden framing. This can shorten construction time due to no need for extra insulation (with SIPS) and no Gib (with Triboard).

Other wall construction methods are concrete block, concrete form work, and earth houses of straw bale or mud brick.

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Wooden frames

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Triboard wall panels


Step 7) Trusses, Fascia and Roofing

Once the frames are up, the trusses will arrive prefabricated. Trusses are the framing for the roof. The trusses are usually loaded on to the roof by a Hi-ab and then secured in place.
Facia will then be installed around the edges of the roof. 
After this, the roofing crew will then cover the trusses in roofing netting, roofing paper, batons and finally the roofing material. After roofing, spouting and downpipes will be put on, and ridge caps. Time frame - 1-2 weeks

 trusses, how to build house nz, building nz


Step 8) Pre-Wire and Pre-Plumb

The plumbing plan is generally fixed by this stage of the build, however the electrical plan can have changes made on the day. Walk around the house with the electrician and request any additional switches or sockets you might need. Time frame - 1 week

The electrical and plumbing contractors start running pipes and wires through the interior walls, ceilings and floors. Sewer lines and vents, as well as water supply lines for each fixture, are installed. Bathtubs and one-piece shower/tub units can be put into place. Ductwork is installed for the heating and ventilation.

The electrician then installs receptacles for outlets, lights and switches and runs wires from the breaker panel to each receptacle. Wiring for telephones, cable TV and music systems is also included in this work.


Step 9) Building Wrap and Weather Tightness

While the subcontractors are getting things done inside, the building crew will make the building weathertight by wrapping the building in building wrap. You can request higher spec building wrap or even airtight solutions for superior weather tightness, heat efficiency and durability.


Step 10) Windows

All windows must be double glazed as per building regulations and the standard frame is aluminium. You can up-spec your windows for greater energy efficiency. Options for this include Argon coating, Low - E glazing (where the windows are sprayed with fine metallic particles to keep the heat in) or Thermally Broken joinery. Wooden Joinery and PVC Joinery are alternative options to aluminium. They are more efficient than aluminium joinery but also cost more.

Windows must be installed carefully to ensure weather tightness. Special tape is applied around the window openings and once the windows and doors are installed, flashings are put over the top of them. When your windows and doors are installed, your home will start to feel like a ‘real home’. But there is still a long way to go.


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Roof on, building wrap on, windows in.

Step 11) Cladding

Depending on your cladding type, the installation of cladding can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Popular options include:

- Iron - corrugate, 5-rib or tray

- Plaster

- Wood - cedar, larch, vertical, horizontal, weatherboards Shadowclad board and baton

- Stone masonry or bricks

- Mud plaster/earth building

- James Hardies products - Titan or Linear (concrete weatherboard)


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Linear weatherboards cladding, build nz, building guide own home

Linear weatherboards - read more about this home in our NZHomes article.


Step 12) Install Insulation

Insulation plays a key role in creating a comfortable indoor climate while significantly improving a home’s energy efficiency. One of the most important qualities of insulation is its thermal performance or R-value, which indicates how well the material resists heat transfer. 

The most common types of insulation used in new homes are fiberglass, glass wool, sheeps wool and polyester blends. Blanket insulation, which comes in batts or rolls, is typical in new-home construction. 

Batts are installed as tightly as possible to ensure no heat loss through gaps. Some companies specialise in insulation installation. This is a job you could do yourself if you want to save costs, but it isn’t very pleasant if you are using fibreglass batts.

If you are building with SIPS panels, the insulation is already included in the wall framing. For Triboard or Metropanel walls, 70mm polystyrene is installed on the outside of the building between batons. Strawbale homes use whole bales of straw between frames, which are then coated in mud and lime.


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Fibreglass insulation (Pinkbatts) , plus a MaxRaft insulated concrete slab


Step 13) Wall Linings

Most houses are lined in plasterboard such as Gib. You can also line with wood for a feature wall. Triboard walls and some SIPS panels come pre-finished and only need painting.
Gib is installed with special screw patterns to brace the house and keep it structurally sound. Inspections are required both pre and post lining of the walls.


Step 14) Gib Stopping and Painting

Gib Stopping is where all of the screw holes in the plasterboard and gaps in the walls are filled and sanded in preparation for painting. This will take a minimum of 2 weeks. Painting will take 2 weeks minimum. This is another area that you could do yourself, however a quality finish is harder than you think, which is why most people will use professional painters. When your painter is almost finished, go over every wall to find any areas that may have imperfections. There are always touch ups to be done, and they are best done now rather than noticing them later.


Step 15) Skirting and Architraves

Most skirting and architraves are white, however, you may want to consider using a wood feature if that is the look you are going for.
The skirting and architraves will cover all the joins between the
walls and floors, and walls and windows. This will usually take a few days.


Step 16) Tiling and Flooring

There are many options for flooring and it’s better to decide on these early on. Popular choices include:

Tiles - mostly for bathrooms, but can also suit kitchens.

Wooden flooring - real or engineered wooden flooring. Laminate flooring - looks like real wooden flooring.

Polished concrete - you can select from a variety of finishes, good thermal mass.

Lino - modern lino finishes can come looking like tiles or concrete.

Carpet - wool, nylon or a combination. (This will be done very last though).

 wooden flooring, install , build nz, building home

Step 17) Bathrooms and Kitchens

You will need to contract a kitchen designer for your kitchen, this can usually be done in-house at kitchen supply stores. Sketch up your ideas first, but be open to their professional input as there is an art to creating a kitchen that is functional and efficient. You need to design your kitchen before building commences, as the plumber and electrician will need to prepare the wiring and plumbing for the dishwasher, oven and sink.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the finishing touches to your home. Your builder can install the kitchen, or you can appoint a kitchen joiner to do the work. The builder and plumber will install the bathroom units.

 bathroom, tiled, double vanity, free standing bath

Step 18) Plumbing and Electrical Fit-Off

While your builders are putting the finishing touches on the building, the plumber and electrician will install lights and fixtures. This usually begins once the painting is complete and will be one of the last things to finish. This is a process that usually takes 2-3 weeks.


Step 19) Carpet and Curtains

When choosing your curtains, consider your carpet, flooring and even kitchen joinery. An interior designer can advise you on selecting complementary products.

You can choose between a standard underlay or a thicker underlay for more insulation and softness.

Carpet is installed by a carpet layer who rolls out the underlay and carpet and secures it to pre-nailed wooden batons. Once the carpet is installed, all doors can be fitted-off in place. The curtains will be one of the last things to install.



Step 20) Landscaping and Driveway

You will need to get some specialised help for turning your site from a building site into a home. Make sure you know in advance whether this is included in the fixed price building contract. The lawn will need to be levelled using a laser level so as to avoid any pooling of rain. Any previous grass is better to be stripped right off and then, after the levelling, you can sow grass seed, get a ‘spray on lawn’, or even lay ready-rolled lawn.

Most driveways are boxed up with mesh and poured with concrete. You can choose between brushed or exposed concrete, or even asphalt. For a cheaper option you can simply compact your driveway and cover in gravel.

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Now that your house is complete you (or your builder) can apply for Code of Compliance with the local council. All Restricted Building Work needs to be signed off by the relevant Licensed Building Practitioners. A drainage plan and electrical certification will also need to be produced. Have a final walk around with your building contractor to ensure you are happy with everything.


How long will it take to build a house?

This depends on the complexity and size of your house, and also on whether a dedicated crew will be working on your house for the entire build time. Project management skills will also effect timing. At the very quickest, a small pre-fabricated panel house could take 8-10 weeks to build, with a medium size build taking 3-4months. Traditional homes will take 4 months minimum, but usually around 6 months. Architectural builds, large houses or builds on difficult building sites (sloped, engineered) will take 6 - 9 months to build, or perhaps even a year.



Now that you have an overview of the building process, you will be better informed to know what to expect while building your house. 


This article is a shortened excerpt from our free EBook, Building in NZ: An Essential Guide to Building Your Own Home. Sign up now to receive your copy.