Electricity and gas

Electricity was widely used for lighting, water heating, and to operate appliances such as electric stoves. Some houses will need rewiring.


By the late 1940s, electric power was widely available.

The use of electric appliances began to steadily grow. In 1945, 30% of ranges were electric, 38% used solid fuel and 24% gas (the rest used other means or combination of methods). By the late 1960s, over 80% of stoves were electric.

In 1956, 54% of New Zealand households had the sole or shared use of a refrigerator, and roughly the same proportion had a washing machine. By the end of the 1960s, over 90% of households had refrigerators and washing machines.

The completion of several new power stations in the late 1950s (such as Roxburgh and Waikato River power stations) meant that New Zealand had a reliable and affordable source of electricity that was supplied to almost all houses (except those in very remote locations), so electricity also started to become more widely used for space heating.

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Lighting within 1940s and 1950s houses was basic, with generally a single ceiling mounted room light switched from the doorway into the room. Lights were provided to porches. Changes from the late 1950s saw:

  • availability of a wider range of light fittings and batten holders
  • introduction of polycarbonate switch plates and socket units
  • introduction of fluorescent strip lighting, often installed as task lighting in kitchens, mounted under an over head cupboard or a single or double ceiling mounted tube(s)
  • use of wall mounted light fittings.

While original light fittings should still be working, items such as ceiling roses become brittle with age and heat therefore it is likely that many light fittings will have been replaced.

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Power outlets

Small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric kettles, and irons, had also become common, so houses were built with more power outlets than previously. Power outlets had typically been one per room. Towards the end of the period appliance were becoming larger, for example the combination fridge/freezer and new appliances such as dishwashers and under-sink water heaters.

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Electric heating

Electric heating was considered modern and was popular for its convenient and flexible heating. Its main disadvantage during the 1940s and 1950s was a sometimes unreliable electricity supply, however this was overcome in the 1960s.
See heating for more detail on typical heating sources.

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Electrical wiring

A black rubber-sheathed cabling, called TRS (tough rubber sheath) cabling was used from around the mid 1930s until the late 1950s and early 1960s when more durable TPS (tough plastic sheath or thermoplastic sheath) wiring became available. The sheathing of TRS cabling deteriorates over time so any remaining original cabling should be replaced.

Where TPS cable was originally installed or used to rewire a house, the wiring is likely to be safe and the main issue is likely to be that there are insufficient electrical power outlets for current requirements. However, all original wiring in houses built during this period should have the condition of the wiring checked by an electrician.

Original meter and distribution boards were wall-mounted with a timber surround, and generally located in the hallway near the front door. They were fitted with surface-mounted ceramic fuses and could also have bakelite fittings. If the board is original, it is also likely that the fuses are original and the meter will be included on the board. If the board is original, consideration should be given to replacing it with a new exterior meter board and internal distribution board. (Some power companies offer subsidies to relocate meter boards to outside as it facilitates their reading the meters).

The condition of the board is often a good indicator of the condition of the wiring in the house generally. For example, where there are new meter and distribution boards, it is likely that the house has been in part or fully rewired. Rewiring provides the opportunity to install additional lighting and power outlets.

Rewiring of a house and replacement of the distribution board must be carried out by a licensed electrical worker, who should also certify their work by supplying a Certificate of Compliance. You can check that an electrical worker is licensed on the Electrical Workers Register.

Miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) were introduced in the 1970s and should still be in sound condition.

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Coal gas had been widely available since the beginning of the 20th century. Where reticulated gas was available, it was used for space heating, water heating and cooking, but from the 1930s it was challenged by electricity, which was perceived to be safer and easier to use.

The discovery of natural gas in the Kapuni gas field in 1959 meant that by the end of the 1960s, reticulated natural gas was available in some parts of the North Island.