Electrical wiring

Some villas will need to be rewired as part of renovation.

Original details and modifications 

Paraffin and gas lighting

The first villas were lit with candles and paraffin lamps.

In the 1870s, production of coal gas occurred in most large and many small towns. (By 1880, New Plymouth had reticulated gas supply, as did Durie Hill, Wanganui – a new suburb in 1904.) 

Gas lighting was used in a number of early villas in the major centres where there was a town supply of coal gas – hence the need for ceiling roses to provide sufficient ventilation to remove the combustion byproducts.

Electricity – early wiring

In 1888 Reefton was the first town in New Zealand to have a public electricity supply, from a 20kW hydroelectric power station on the Inangahua River. Property owners paid £1 to have the power connected (the equivalent of around $64 today) and then £3 a year for each light they had. 

Electricity gradually became available in towns and cities from about 1900 onwards, often supplied from coal-fired power plants. By the 1910s, locally generated electricity was in widespread use. 

Once it became available, new villas were wired for electricity, and earlier ones had the wiring added as an early renovation as owners were quick to install electric lighting. Other appliances followed more slowly.

The earliest wiring was cloth-wrapped rubber insulated, set into ½” (12 mm) metal pipe conduit.

Conduit was fixed into the back of timber block fixed to the internal lining. Houses had a very small number of electrical outlets.

By the 1930s, cloth wrapped wiring (with an earth wire) was used without conduit. It was often used to provide additional outlets so may still be present in conjunction with conduit cabling.

This wiring also deteriorated in time as the rubber insulation perished and became brittle.

Electricity – 1950s-1960s

Early polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheathed wiring (three strands including an earth wire) was introduced about 1950. This also deteriorates over time.

A significant number of villas will have been rewired with thermoplastic-sheathed (TPS) cable, which became available in the 1960s.

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Meter and distribution boards

Meter and distribution boards are likely to have had some bakelite fittings, be wall-mounted with a timber surround, and have surface-mounted ceramic fuses, with many fuses still remaining. In many cases, meters will still be located on the board.

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

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It is likely that most original wiring in villas has been replaced once if not twice already. 

Where old rubber, PVC or TPS wiring remains, it will be prudent to replace it as part of the renovation work. This also allows for additional lighting and power outlets to be added, as there is usually insufficient numbers of both in villas.

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.