1. Home
  2.  / Working With Character Homes

Working With Character Homes

A large portion of New Zealand’s housing stock could be considered as character homes.


1 May 2021

Though the definition can vary, a character home is typically pre-1940s, with architectural traits that give it a particular feel. Think villas and bungalows: hardwood floors, covered verandas, lacework, taller ceilings, ornamental interior plasterwork, porcelain, weatherboard cladding, timber joinery and so on.

Typically a character home isn’t a heritage home, meaning there aren’t any covenants specifying what can and can’t be done to the property outside of regular council regulations. This leaves property owners the freedom to renovate and improve as they wish.

This style of housing, while beautiful, needs a careful approach to care, maintenance and renovation to preserve character and enhance living quality.

Here are four key aspects to consider when working with character homes.

1 Weathertightness

Top of list should be ensuring there is no water ingress. This involves ensuring the roof is in good condition, guttering is clear and functioning properly, cladding is dry and in good condition, and there is no water pooling around or under the home.

2 Structure

It’s common forolder timber floor structures to have a small amount of deviation in floor level. Walls also can be expected to settle a little out of plumb. This is typical of older buildings. Provided the building is dry and in a good state of repair, it’s unlikely that these are signs of anything serious on their own. If there is any rot however, this needs to be dealt with, and in some cases this can be extensive. Under floors, around
windows and doors, and around the bottoms of exterior walls are common locations where rot may exist. Buildings which have been through earthquakes or are built in high wind zones should be checked for their overall integrity.

3 Toxic Materials

Many character homes were built with asbestos-containing products. From roofing to flooring, ornamental plaster to plumbing, asbestos was used in a wide variety of products through to the mid-1980s. Use of lead-containing products is also a problem in older buildings, especially in plumbing and paint.

4 Character Preservation

Not all builders are experienced in working with character buildings, and this can be a problem when undertaking moderate sized renovations without an architect or designer. Material selection is key,
and renovations will often require specific materials sourced from building material recyclers.

BRANZ has an excellent resource at renovate.org.nz detailing the many factors to consider when working with character homes in New Zealand.

Builderscrack.co.nz can connect you with tradespeople skilled at working on all aspects of New Zealand character homes.

Related Articles