Common problems and remedies

A wide range of problems and issues affecting design and structure – in particular, to do with weathertightness and moisture – will need to be considered as part of any art deco house renovation.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, new standards were introduced for building construction and performance. These changes coincided with improved builder training, and in part were a response to the 1931 Napier earthquake.

Although these new standards improved performance in many areas (for example, seismic performance), the design features of art deco and Spanish mission style houses – in particular, the flat roofs and parapets, and the general lack of understanding of weatherproofing – means that these houses are likely to have suffered from water ingress and associated deterioration.

On the other hand, the use of native timbers and good underfloor clearance and ventilation means that some elements of 1930s houses may have endured relatively well despite their weathertightness problems.

Before undertaking renovation work to address issues such as unsuitable layout, before enlarging or adding space, replacing outdated fixtures or simply carrying out cosmetic work such as painting and papering, the state of the existing building should be carefully reviewed.

Design and layout

Issues concerning the original design and layout and subsequent unsympathetic or poorly carried out alterations to consider may include:

  • orientation of living spaces to the sun
  • indoor/outdoor flow
  • the relationship of internal spaces to one another, such as bathroom and toilet being remote from sleeping spaces
  • the number and location of power outlets and light fittings
  • garaging provisions
  • compliance with current Resource Management Act constraints, for example, side yards and site coverage.

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Other problems and remedies

Structural weakness

Structural problems in art deco houses include undersized framing, deterioration due to moisture, and problems with foundations and subfloor. Read more.

Moisture and weathertightness

Weathertightness is a significant problems for art deco houses because of their flat roofs and parapet walls. Read more.

Matching new to existing

With any art deco house renovation, there will be areas – such as framing sizes, mouldings, and roof profiles – where original features need to be replaced or new construction must merge with existing. Read more.


Art deco houses were built without insulation, and typically still lack it. Adding insulation can be difficult. Read more.


Borer is unsightly and can sometimes affect a house’s structure. Read more.


Rot is common when moisture is present, and can cause significant structural damage. Read more.


Mould is common when moisture is present, and can be harmful to health. Read more.

Health risks

Asbestos and lead can cause serious health problems and may be present in art deco houses.

Fire safety

Fire safety was not generally a consideration when art deco houses were being built. Read more.

Foundations and subfloors

Problems with foundations and subfloors may include:

Piles and pile connections should be checked. As part of any renovation, the house may need to be repiled or levelled. Read more.


Floors in art deco houses should be checked for borer and other damage, and will benefit from underfloor insulation. Read more.

Roofing and cladding

Roofs and parapets are a major area of problems with art deco houses, largely because of water ingress. Read more.

Internal walls and ceilings

Common problems include walls that are out of square, moisture damage to plaster ceilings, and the need to incorporate new insulation. Read more.

Windows and doors

Common problems include poor thermal performance, jamming and sticking, and deterioration or corrosion of the frame. Read more.


Common issues include the need replace old wiring, and the need to deal with leaks and low water pressure. Read more.