Site evaluation

New Zealand has unique and often extreme weather patterns. We have comparatively high average wind speeds, and some areas have high rainfall. Wind-driven rain puts the exteriors of our buildings under considerable load. Buildings must be specifically designed to take into account the physical surroundings and local climate of a site. A building that is inappropriate for the site is more likely to be a weathertightness failure. A growing number of sites should not be built on at all because of the increasing hazards presented by flooding and sea level rise.


High wind speeds are relatively common, and wind can drive rain through a building’s exterior cladding.

Environmental conditions will influence building design..

Environmental conditions will influence building design.

New Zealand is divided into two wind regions. Almost the whole country is designated ‘A’ except those parts of the North and South Islands adjacent to Cook Strait, which are ‘W’.

In addition to identifying the appropriate wind region, the site’s wind direction, speed and frequency should be established. This information will  influence overall design, roof and wall cladding selection and detailing, building entry locations, and window size, placement and detailing. 

BRANZ Maps is a free-access online tool that provides information on the wind region and wind zone for any given address in New Zealand.

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The topography of land surrounding a specific building site must be considered by the designer. 

Topography has a significant effect on wind speed and direction, with the presence of mountains creating higher wind areas as well as low wind locations in the lee. Wind increases in speed when it is:

  • forced to divert around or over something in its path
  • squeezed through a narrow gap 
  • compressed by landforms such as the sides of valleys and high ground

There will be more wind close to a large expanse of open area such as parks, beaches or farmland. 

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Annual rainfall over most of New Zealand is around 600–1600 mm per year. Some areas of Central and Southern Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago receive less than this. The West Coast of the South Island and the highest mountain peaks in the North Island can receive from around 2000 mm to over 6000 mm of rain per year, with over 8000 mm falling in the Southern Alps.

Wind can drive rain in many directions, including upwards, and with significant force. Building exteriors need to be designed and built to ensure that rainwater is drained or deflected off exterior surfaces and deflected away from critical junctions or openings. 

Climate change is bringing more extreme weather events. New houses, with an expected life of over 50 years, must be designed to cope with these.

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Flood hazards and rising sea levels

Homeowners and designers must consider climate change hazards likely to affect a site in coming decades. These may involve rising sea levels for coastal property or more frequent floods for low-lying areas. Many local authorities are mapping areas at risk of flooding or under threat from sea level rise. These maps are often accessible through council websites. You can also find information from sources such as NZ SeaRise, which has released location-specific sea-level rise projections for every 2 km of the coast.

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Temperature and sunshine

New Zealand temperatures are moderate, and we do not have massive variations in temperature within seasons, although reasonably high (35°C in summer) and low
(-10°C in winter) extremes are possible.

Failure of the cladding..
Failure of the cladding.

The average annual sunshine hours for New Zealand are relatively high at around 2000 hours, and this is associated with generally very high levels of UV rays. This has a significant impact on the stability and durability of claddings, particularly on the north and west faces of buildings, where surface temperatures can easily reach 50°C and may get to 70°C on dark-coloured finishes. Deterioration caused by UV light can affect sealants, paints and finishes that are a critical to weathertight performance.

Changes in temperature affect the thermal movement of the materials, and this movement needs to be allowed for in construction detailing, particularly with movement control joints, fixings, sealants and material laps. Designers need to give consideration to:

  • the specification of materials that are affected by temperature
  • the effect of colour on performance.

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In some areas of the country, building design and construction needs to take account of snow. Snow can build up on roofs and against exterior walls, and can remain in these locations for long periods of time. Claddings need to accommodate this and the increased potential for water entry from melting snow.

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Our long, narrow islands and coastline means many areas are subject to marine influences. No part of New Zealand is more than 130 km from the sea. Salt has a corrosive effect that will damage metals and surface finishes. BRANZ testing has found that winds sweeping over the ocean can carry salt particles more than 20 kilometres inland.

In areas of the country subject to geothermal activity, sulphur can corrode metal building materials.

Exposure to industrial or agricultural chemicals can also increase the risk of corrosion.

On sites subject to higher risks of corrosion, appropriate materials must be selected.

Updated: 25 October 2023