The design process

It’s important to understand what the client wants, and consider that alongside other factors such as budget, character, and compliance.

Initial consultations

The initial consultation provides an opportunity to understand what the client wants, and about what is possible. During this consultation, determine the client’s budget, gather information about the existing house – including its condition and what work is required. Then you can arrange a letter of appointment and a design brief. Initial consultation checklist.

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What to consider

As you develop the design brief, there will be many factors to consider.

Existing character

For some owners, retaining existing character will be a priority. Others will want to incorporate modern features and layout into an original home. You can find out more about original features in the villa, bungalow, art deco, 1940s-60s and 1970s sections of this site.

Lifestyle requirements

What do the owners want to achieve in terms of living spaces, comfort, and other factors such as indoor/outdoor flow, sound control, access to a pool or garage, and so on? Do they want to extend the original home or to redevelop within the existing shell?

The existing building

What is possible depends to a significant extent on what’s already there. The existing building may require remedial work – for example, to replace rotten framing – or may require extension or strengthening to achieve what the owner wants. Similarly, new wiring or plumbing may be needed.

Also, original character may have been lost during past renovations. 

See the Initial consultation checklist for more on what to look for in the existing building.

Opportunities for improvement

Renovation provides an opportunity to improve insulation, energy efficiency, and other aspects of building performance – and to carry out essential repairs or catch up on deferred maintenance. Even if the client doesn’t raise these issues, the opportunities should be discussed at an early stage.

Specifying energy and water-efficient fixtures and appliances can provide a welcome reduction in household running costs for a client, particularly where water is metered and charged for separately. This approach also has the benefit of reducing the carbon footprint of a house.

Examples of this approach include:

  • optimising thermal insulation
  • replacing old inefficient space heaters with heat pumps or wood burners/pellet burners that use wood from sustainably managed (replanted) forests
  • replacing an old inefficient water heating system with a heat pump water heater (ideally one using CO2 as a refrigerant)
  • aiming for reduced water consumption, especially through low-flow showerheads and a washing machine with at least a 4-star WELS rating
  • the most thermally-efficient windows the client can afford.

You could make the client aware of the benefits they could gain from the renovated home receiving a particular Homestar rating. A renovated 1960s house in Greenhithe, Auckland, for example, achieved a 10 Homestar rating – the highest possible. Good Homestar ratings can help with selling a property or finding tenants. BRANZ scientists analysed 10 Building Code-compliant house designs from an Auckland development to estimate the additional cost needed to achieve a higher level of Homestar. A 6-Homestar dwelling costs approximately 3% more to construct than a typical Building Code-compliant dwelling, and a 7-Homestar dwelling an extra 4%.

The free BRANZ tool ALF 4.0 can also be useful in assessing potential thermal improvements with planned renovations. Some adjustments are required using the calculator for older homes – these are explained in the online manual.

Consider universal design: the concept that what you design should be accessible to people of all abilities, at any stage of life. This means the house will still work well for its occupants even as they become older or infirm. This can have a huge impact on the occupants’ health and security. For example, around 250 people (mostly elderly) die each year as a result of falls in their home. Good design can reduce trip/slip hazards and ensure safe lighting. The BRANZ website has a toolkit for universal design.

Designing for maintenance

Design and materials decisions can have a significant impact on the life expectancy of a building and its elements and components. Maintenance issues should be considered early, so the renovated building can be effectively and economically maintained. The considerations include:

  • client attitudes to costs and maintenance
  • material and finish costs
  • material and finish performance
  • environmental conditions, internal and external
  • maintenance requirements and associated costs for each of the materials/components selected
  • complexity of design and detailing
  • aesthetics
  • access
  • the expected refurbishment cycles for the building
  • building use and potential changes in use during its life
  • potential changes in available technology.

Budget and feasibility

What is possible given the owner’s budget and the current state of the building? Owners can have unrealistic expectations so it is important to get a clear understanding about what can be achieved. Find out about this, and about estimates, quotes and contingency sums. Read More

Regulation and compliance

Any renovation work will have to comply with the Building Code and with relevant district plan requirements. The district plan might impose restrictions on building height and footprint, and might also require you to retain character and heritage features. See regulation and compliance for more.

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Initial design

Once the initial meetings and scoping have been held, it is the designer’s role to develop outline sketches that meet these requirements. Part of this process is: 

  • development of preliminary plans
  • considering costs/benefits and initial estimates of cost for design options
  • discussing of options and the consequences, implications and benefits of each
  • finalising of the preferred design option, incorporating staging of the project as required.

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The design and construction team

While not always done, it is desirable that the builder be involved in the development of a renovation project. This means that a decision on the building contractor to be used should be made early in the project. 

If the owner is not prepared to commit to a specific builder at the outset, commissioning an experienced renovation builder as an advisor during the development of the design solution is recommended – their time can be paid for on an hourly rate.

It is likely that the input from other professionals will be required during the design phase of the project and also during construction including:

  • registered architect or architectural designer (LBP licensed)
  • structural engineer
  • quantity surveyor
  • a project manager if the designer is not commissioned to supervise and manage the on-site construction – having the owner manage the project is not recommended unless they have specific building project management experience.

Be aware that certain types of work are defined as Restricted Building Work (RBW) and must be carried out or supervised by a licensed building practitioner (LBP). The aim of RBW is to ensure that buildings remain structurally sound and weathertight, and it applies to work including:

  • foundations and structure
  • external cladding (wall and roof)
  • fire safety systems for houses.

You can search the online public register to find an LBP, check that a person is licensed and see if they have been disciplined in the last 3 years. You can also ask to see the photo licence card of a licensed practitioner.

Registered architects and chartered professional engineers are treated as LBPs in the design class. This means that they can design or supervise the design of RBW.

There is an exemption that allows homeowners to do RBW on their own homes, but they need to complete a statutory declaration, and the fact that they have done this work themselves will be noted on council records and be accessible by potential future buyers of the house.

If the house is listed or is of historical significance, a heritage or conservation architect should be involved. Under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act, certain types of work on a building that was built before 1900 require an authority from Heritage New Zealand.