Peace of mind
Every year, tens of thousands of New Zealanders are injured in their homes. Many of those injuries are serious and a number of people die or are permanently disabled. Many of the injuries are preventable.
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.
Vehicles and parking safely
When positioning your garage and driveway, consider safety and visibility. New Zealand has a high incidence of children being hit by vehicles in driveways. To prevent this you should consider fencing the driveway off to keep children and pets away from cars.
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. Think about different times of the day, when traffic might be heavier.
Security from intruders
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.
In particular, you should be able to see who is coming to the front door – either through windows or a peephole in the door.
- Consider installing an alarm system (but install one with low power consumption).
- Security notices, alarm system stickers and ‘beware of the dog’ notices may also deter burglars.
- Use 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.
- Don’t leave ladders or other scalable equipment around the outside of the house.
- Use security stays to prevent entry through open windows on the ground floor, especially if your home is on a main pedestrian route.
For more tips on keeping your home secure, the New Zealand Police website has information on how you can protect your property and vehicles
Fencing for more than privacy
Fencing is important for privacy and safety. It also influences the way your home is perceived from the street.
When you’re deciding on how high a fence should be, consider the trade-off between security and privacy. High boundary fences that block the view from the street have twice the risk of burglary. Once the burglar is over the fence, they can go about their activity unobserved. 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.
Dog owners should consider their pet’s security as well – a fenced backyard will keep them away from the attention of passers-by and reduce stress and nuisance barking.
Safety barriers for pools and spas
The Building Act requires residential swimming pools able to contain a depth of water of 400 mm or more to have barriers that will restrict access by young children. You will need a building consent to install a barrier. Acceptable Solution F9/AS1 gives details about barrier construction and about gates, doors, and windows giving access to the pool area.
The barrier requirement also applies to small heated pools, such as spa pools. However, where the water surface area is 5m2 or less the Building Code will allow a safety cover where the side walls of the pool are at least 760mm high and cannot be climbed. A safety cover must have signage indicating its child safety features. Acceptable Solution F9/AS2 provides details about spa pool covers but, for a new spa pool, assurance should be sought from the supplier that the cover complies. A spa pool with a complying cover does not require a building consent.
This is important to keep your children and visiting children safe. Your council can take enforcement action if your pool does not comply.
Restricting access to residential pools on MBIE's Building Performance website has more information.
Preventing accidents around the home
More people are injured at home than anywhere else in New Zealand, according to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). You can reduce the risk of injury by making your home safer for you and your family.
Trips and falls
ACC says the biggest cause of injury is slips, trips and falls.
If you are designing a new home, the design will need to comply with Building Code requirements for access, safety from falling and hazardous building materials. These include access ways, stairs, handrails, barriers and safety glazing.
Your designer will work through these aspects during the building consent process.
If you have an existing home there are things you can do to help prevent injuries including:
- having non-slip surfaces on any area that might get wet (for example, kitchen, laundry and bathroom floor)
- having clear, uncluttered routes from room to room (influenced by your home's design and how you place furniture)
- having electrical plugs placed so that power cords won't extend across areas where you'll walk
- ensuring all areas of your home are adequately lit, with light switches at entrances to all rooms
- clearly visible outdoor steps and path edges, day and night (for example, solar-powered lights along pathways, painted strips on step edges and light-coloured plants to distinguish path edges at night).
Unless you are doing a major refurbishment it is usually not practical to change the pitch of a built-in staircase or change the riser and tread dimensions. But there some things that can be done to make them safer including:
- ensuring they are well-lit
- they have handrails and barriers (new or altered ones must meet minimum building code requirements)
- they have light switches at the top and bottom
- have secure gates (if you have young children).
Hot water cylinders should be set to 60oC to inhibit growth of harmful bacteria such as legionella. However, to avoid scalding you should have a fail-safe mixing valve on bath and shower taps to reduce the temperature to 55oC.
Instant hot water systems should be set to 55oC or less.
In kitchens, ensure:
- access to the oven and cooktop is clear (nothing in the way)
- flammable items are kept well away from gas hobs
- hot dishes and pots can be placed on a heatproof surface immediately beside the stove and cooktop
- people working in the kitchen have room to move and won't bump into each other.
Poison and hazardous household items
Use safe, lockable or high cupboard storage for medicines and other poisons, out of reach of children.
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. Also ensure that any plugs in wet areas (bathrooms) have a residual current device (RCD) installed, or that an RCD is fitted on the fuse box (compulsory on new homes since 2003).
Provide adequate power points and circuits to eliminate the need for multi-plugs. Plugging too many appliances into one electrical circuit can cause an overload, which is a common cause of house fires. It also reduces the need for cords to trail across walkways, where they can be tripped over. Exterior RCD protected power points are useful and reduce the risk of electrocution when using corded power tools outside.
Most electrical work has to be carried out by a licensed electrical worker.
Guidance on getting electrical work done is available on the Worksafe website.
Any new glass installed in your home will have to comply with the Building Code. Safety glass will be required in some areas.
Glazing has more information.
You should be able to open bathrooms, toilets and other rooms with lockable doors 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.
Fire safety for homeowners and renters
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.
Since July 2016, all rental homes have been required to have working smoke alarms. New alarms need to be photoelectric, with long-life batteries, or hard wired to the electrical system.
Smoke alarm requirements for rental properties changed on 1 July 2016, which is covered on MBIE’s Tenancy Services website.
All homes should also have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and any other area where fires might start. Check the expiry dates printed on them so you know when to replace them by.
New homes and renovations
The Building Code requires people to design and build in ways that promote fire safety.
The Building Code's provisions cover:
- preventing fires – including proper installation of gas and woodburning 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, which may determine your minimum boundary distances, or whether a fire-rated wall is required. These vary depending on the type of building (including whether it is detached or attached) and what it's used for. You'll need a designer or architect to ensure your plans comply.
Residential sprinkler systems are available for homes. They use standard piping and are installed by plumbers. They can add 1-2 per cent to the cost of building but in the event of a fire save lives and significantly reduce the damage caused by the fire.
Installing home sprinkler systems guidance is available on the the Fire and Emergency New Zealand website.
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
- locate heaters where it is easy to keep furnishings and curtains at least a metre away
- 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.
You might like to consider installing hard-wired smoke alarms when you are designing your new home.