Safety and security
Good design and healthy building materials can enhance the safety and security of your household.
Every year, tens of thousands of New Zealanders are injured in their own homes. Many of those injuries are serious According to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), 12 people die every week as a result of accidents in the home.
Slips, trips and falls are among the most common hazards. Other injuries result from fires, poisoning, scalding from hot water and being struck by cars.
Some hazards can be dealt with simply by being careful - for example, by ensuring ladders are secure before you use them. But safety and security are also influenced by the design and construction of your home. When you're buying, building or renovating, it's worth thinking about how you can protect yourself and your family.
In positioning your garage and driveway, consider safety and visibility. New Zealand has a high incidence of children being hit by vehicles in driveways.
You'll also need to consider how visible your car will be to other motorists and how much you can see, when you pull onto the street.
Keep your home locked
To reduce the likelihood of your home being burgled:
- make sure doors, windows, and other entry and exit points from your house have good quality, effective catches and locks (note: for fire safety reasons, make sure locks can be opened from the inside without a key)
- use these locks at night, if you're out in the garden or if you're away from the home
- don't leave a door key hidden outside - burglars know all the places to look.
Lighting and visibility
Burglars will target areas where they're not visible. They'll be deterred if you install sensor lights around main access paths and entrances to your home.
They'll also be deterred if your home is designed and landscaped so that all areas of the property are visible either from the street or from inside your home. Pathways should be clearly visible.
Entryways, in particular, should be clearly visible from inside the home - either through windows or a peephole in the door.
- Consider installing an alarm system (but install one with low power consumption).
- Make sure your entryways are visible from inside your home so you know who's at the door before you open it. Consider installing a peephole in your front door.
- Security notices and beware of the dog notices may also deter burglars.
- Consider using shatter-resistant glass or film so burglars can't easily break vulnerable windows.
- Avoid trees, carports and other structures that can be used as 'ladders' to get to upper-level windows and doors.
Fencing is important for privacy and safety. It also influences the way your home is perceived from the street.
If you have a high front fence, you'll have more privacy but your home will seem cut off from the street. It will seem less friendly and it will be less visible - which means it may be a more tempting target for burglars.
A fenced rear yard can provide a safe play area for children, help to contain pets, and provide your home and its outdoor living areas with privacy from neighbours. It may be required if you own a dog.
However, burglars can also get in through the back of your property, so when you decide on how high a fence should be. It's worth considering the tradeoff between security and privacy.
Fencing of pools and spas
All swimming pools and spas must be fenced to keep unsupervised children out. This is important to keep your children and neighbouring children safe. You can also be fined for failing to comply.
The ConsumerBuild website has further details on requirements for fencing of swimming pools.
Preventing accidents around the home
In 2009, over 630,000 New Zealanders were injured in their homes - 621 of those died.
Trips and falls
According to ACC, the biggest cause of injury is slips, trips and falls. You can help to prevent injuries by:
- using non-slip surfaces on any area that might get wet such as your kitchen, laundry and bathroom floor
- ensuring there are clear, uncluttered routes from room to room - this is influenced by your home's design and how you place furniture
- ensuring electrical plugs are placed so that power cords won't extend across areas where you'll walk
- ensuring that all areas of your home are adequately lit and that there are light switches at all entrances to each room
- ensuring stairs have handrails, aren't too steep, are well-lit, have light switches at the top and bottom, and - if you have small children - have secure gates
- ensuring that any outdoor steps, and the edges of paths, are clearly visible - options include using solar-powered lights along pathways, having painted strips on the edges of steps and using light-coloured plants to distinguish the edges of paths at night-time.
The ConsumerBuild website has a page on designing for safety for all areas inside and outside the home.
Hot water cylinders should be set to at 60oC to inhibit growth of harmful bacteria such as legionella. However, a fail-safe mixing valve should be used on bath and shower taps to reduce the temperature to 55oC to avoid scalding.
Instant hot water systems should be set to 55oC or less.
In kitchens, ensure:
- there's unobstructed access to the oven/cooktop
- there's a heatproof bench immediately beside the stove/cooktop where hot dishes and pots can be placed
- there's enough room that people working in the kitchen won't bump into each other.
Use safe, lockable storage for medicines and other poisons.
To reduce the risk of electric shock, electrical plugs have to be a safe distance from wet areas such as showers, baths and basins. Your architect, designer or electrician will be able to help with this.
Provide adequate power points and circuits. This eliminates the need for multi-plugs which can overload circuitry. It also reduces the need for cords to trail across walkways, where they can be tripped over or cause an electric shock.
Most electrical work has to be carried out by a professional. See the ConsumerBuild website's advice about legal restrictions on DIY electrical work for more.
Any new glass installed in your home will have to comply with the Building Code. Safety glass will be required in some areas. See Glazing for more.
Bathrooms, toilets and other rooms with lockable doors should be openable from the outside in case of emergency. Toilets should have doors that open outwards or have hinges on the outside, so they can easily be removed. An inward-opening door can be harder to open if the person inside needs medical attention.
During 2009/10, the NZ Fire Service attended nearly 4,000 fires. More than 210 people were injured in these fires and 19 people died.
All homes should have smoke alarms installed, and these should be regularly checked to make sure their batteries are charged and they're operating correctly. If you're building or renovating, these will be mandatory.
All homes should also have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and any other area where fires might start.
New homes and renovations
The Building Code contains provisions aimed at ensuring that buildings are designed and built in ways that promote fire safety.
The Code's provisions cover:
- preventing fires - including proper installation of gas appliances
- preventing spread of fire
- providing escape routes
- structural stability if there is a fire.
If you're designing a new home or renovation, you'll need to comply with the Code's fire safety provisions. These vary depending on the type of building and what it's used for. You'll need a designer or architect to ensure your plans comply.
Basic tips for designing a new home or renovation include:
- using fire-resistant materials, linings and finishes, especially in kitchens and any other areas where fires might be more likely to start
- using furnishings and floor coverings with fire retardant properties
- when designing your home, consider access for firefighters to the site and to all parts of the home
- using double glazing - it reduces the chances of windows imploding in a severe fire
- providing space away from your home where any flammable materials such as petrol or firewood can be stored
- ensuring all rooms have fire exits - either doors or windows that can be easily opened and provide access to a safe outdoor area.
From Smarter Homes
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From other sites
ACC has a Home Safety webpage with specific advice about bathrooms, kitchens, living areas, bedrooms, home offices and outdoor areas, safety for children and for older people. You can also download a guide, Safety in the Home: A Guide to Reducing Injuries Through Home Design, Building and Maintenance.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Building and Housing website has information about Building Code requirements, including those relating to safety.
Local authorities also have information about fencing of swimming pools and about building regulations. See ConsumerBuild's Council finder page to find your local authority. Links to council website can be found on the Local Government website.