Upping the earthquake ante

Take note investors – new earthquake upgrade laws have come into force this week and they put a new set of compliance deadlines in place.

Monday, July 3rd 2017, 1:45PM

by Miriam Bell

Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith

The new law requires the identification and upgrade of earthquake prone buildings and lays out standard time frames for their strengthening or demolition.

Time frames differ depending on the region of the country, with New Zealand divided into three earthquake risk categories.

In high risk areas, like Wellington, buildings have to be assessed within five years and upgraded within 15 years.

In medium risk areas, like Hamilton or Nelson, the time frame is 10 and 25 years respectively, while in low risk areas, like Auckland, it is 15 and 35 years.

Schools, hospitals and emergency buildings, like fire stations, will have to be assessed and upgraded in half the time.

Upgrading of unreinforced masonry facades and parapets in high traffic areas also has to be completed in a shorter space of time.

But the regime does have the flexibility to allow 10 years to be added to the timetable for registered heritage buildings and to exempt buildings with low risk and low usage.

Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith said the new law was an ambitious new policy to better manage earthquake risks from buildings.

While few seismically active countries require upgrades of existing buildings, earthquakes are New Zealand’s biggest natural hazard risk and the greatest danger comes from building failures, he said.

“We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life from quakes but, just as modern cars are safer in an accident, modern buildings are safer in a quake.

“These new laws involve an uncomfortable and inevitable trade-off between safety and cost but will save hundreds of lives in future quakes when fully implemented.”

Smith said the government has established an assistance fund to help private heritage building owners upgrade.

“I am also exploring options for Government assistance in multi-unit complexes where some parties may struggle to raise the finance for their share of strengthening costs.

“Officials are considering whether we could extend other Government housing guarantee products schemes to assist in these circumstances.”

The new law also includes engineering guidelines aimed at ensuring greater uniformity of assessment.

Structural Engineering Society spokesperson Paul Campbell said that having a better framework and tools for assessing buildings will help improve New Zealand’s building stock and increase its seismic resilience.

It also means a more consistent approach to the management of earthquake-prone buildings, he said.

"The new legislation will encourage discussion between owners and engineers on how owners can proactively manage and improve buildings."

Read more:

Govt deadline for earthquake risk masonry repair 

Risky masonry streets identified 

Remove barriers to earthquake proofing 

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