Renovating homes built during the 1970s

New living styles, new materials and new modular construction methods – houses built during the 1970's took the architectural styles of previous decades to cities and towns across the country.

Contemporary house

Fantastic wallpapers, crazy colour combinations and textured carpets come to mind when thinking about 1970s homes. Most of these will have long been updated, but the typical features of the houses as such remain. Styles include 'colonial', 'ranch', 'Mediterranean' and 'contemporary'. Many were built by developers as speculative houses. They were typically small and plain, rectangular or L-shaped, comprising of three good sized bedrooms with fitted wardrobes, one bathroom with separate toilet and laundry, an open plan kitchen/living room and a separate living room. Metal roofs, aluminum joinery, timber cladding and concrete floor slabs were commonly used.

Design and layout

The original design and layout of a 1970s home may not have incorporated an organised indoor/outdoor flow, which is desirable for homeowners today. For most of these houses, improving the indoor/outdoor flow with house extensions or ripped down walls is a good way to create more space and let in more light. Other popular upgrades will focus on improving comfort and energy efficiency, adding space, updating layout and orientation, upgrading services, and replacing outdated fixtures and finishes. This renovation of a three bedroom 1970s house in Hoon Hay, Christchurch, resulted in more space for a growing family.
Any new building work must comply with the Building Code and may involve consideration of compliance with current Resource Management Act constraints for side yards and site coverage. Where existing load bearing walls are removed, the basement is excavated or another floor is added, a specific engineering design may be required.

connected indoor lounge and outdoor dining area

Common problems and remedies

1970s houses were typically built rectangular or L-shaped consisting of three good-sized bedrooms, following the trends and needs of that time. Homeowners of a house from that era today may encounter some issues associated with factors such as the passing of time and the building approach back then.

Structural considerations

Most 1970s houses are likely to be weathertight and structurally sound, with large eaves that give good weather protection, airtight windows and ventilated subfloors. However, some design and structural issues may need consideration as part of a renovation. In particular, some houses may require strengthening. Check to see if load bearing walls have been removed, if bracing is adequate, and if there is other evidence of structural problems such as floors slumping.

Ensuring weather resistance

Weathertightness can be an issue if cladding has been poorly maintained, is damaged or deteriorated, or around windows, especially when no flashing has been used. When renovating, pay special attention to ventilation to ensure that internal moisture does not become a problem.

Insulation and safety

Few houses built in the early 1970s were insulated, and where insulation was installed it is unlikely to meet modern requirements. Insulation may be required as part of a renovation project, and in any case will provide comfort and health benefits. Fire safety should also be considered.


While wiring is likely to remain in good condition, many 1970s houses will not have enough power and light outlets. That’s why many choose to install more power sockets and light sources, an action that requires a high level of safety considerations

kitchen with many light sources

Water systems

Low pressure hot water systems may need to be upgraded to mains pressure. Pipes and fittings such as mixers may need replacement to cope with the higher pressure. Any copper pipes will probably not need replacement but plastic pipes may - have them checked and watch for any signs of leaks.

Moist and damage

Some piled foundations may lack adequate earthquake bracing. Check for unevenness, moisture and other signs of damage or deterioration. Original floors and wall cladding may remain in good condition, but should be checked for borer, rot, moisture damage or other signs of deterioration.

The exterior

Original windows are unlikely to be double-glazed. Frames may be in poor condition and in need of window replacement. Metal elements such as roofing, fixings and flashings may have corroded, which can affect structural performance. Original roofs may need maintenance or replacement. Consider the condition of the cladding, whether there are signs of water entry, and whether drainage is adequate. A total reclad of this 1970s home in Ashhurst, Manawatu, achieved leak-free walls and a modern aesthetic.

recladded house with a white exterior and new black window frames

Health risks


Cement with asbestos was in use in the 1970s and 1980s for wall and roof claddings, flooring and textured ceilings. It’s no longer used as it becomes a health hazard when old materials containing it are being removed or break down, allowing the fine particles to become airborne and breathed in.
As a general rule of thumb, sheets that are pre-1988, or have a corrugated profile for roofing or a dimpled back surface on wall cladding sheets, are likely to contain asbestos fibres and need to be removed by specialists.


The material was used in house construction in external and internal paintwork, flashings, valley gutters and nail heads. The use of white lead in paint was banned in 1979 but some special-purpose paints still contained red lead. It is not possible to identify lead-based paint from its appearance, but if a building is over 25 years old, assume that it has been painted with lead-based paint.

Boric acid treatment

During the 1970s, boric treatment was used to protect against insect attack for interior use and for exterior painted timber such as trims, fascias and weatherboards. Copper chromium arsenic treatment may be found in decks, piles, fencing and poles. These chemicals may be hazardous to people, so care must be taken when working with treated timbers.

See what our customers say about us

Refresh Renovations does all types of renovations around New Zealand, big and small. Check out some reviews from our satisfied customers:

“Thanks so much for your help – it’s really reassuring when a company doesn’t try to oversell their capacity. I have already recommended a friend of mine to go with Refresh Renovations® for her bathroom remodel. Many thanks” - And Pasley

Another happy customer:

“1st class work, nothing was too much trouble to change. Friendly, polite and would recommend to anyone doing a renovation to contact Refresh Renovations” - Phil and Jeanette
bedroom with a feature wall and sliding doors for indoor outdoor flow

Renovate Magazine Logo

This article by Kelly Moran featured on page 106 of Issue 003 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.

Get in touch with Refresh® to discuss your home renovation project

If you would like to discuss options to renovate your 1970s home, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your project. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.

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