The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is starting rapid damage assessments of every house in Christchurch, including Lyttelton, and aims to have it all done in eight weeks - starting Friday 11 March.
EQC says up to 180,000 homes will be given a 15 to 30-minute inspection by assessors who are qualified builders.
Chief executive Ian Simpson says starting on Friday, the 540 estimators will carry out the assessments, and divide properties into categories of damage.
He says there will be houses that require urgent action to make them weathertight and habitable and others with severe structural damage that may need to be rebuilt.
Mr Simpson says houses with superficial structural damage and cosmetic damage will be given a full inspection over the next six months.
He says full assessments of the worst-hit homes could take up to five hours each, and should be completed within four months.
Properties requiring emergency repairs to be weathertight, secure or sanitary will be the first priority.
Every house 'needs' inspection
Mr Simpson says the commission needs to inspect every house in the earthquake zone because it can't rely on homeowners to accurately assess the damage.
He says it also needs to inspect every house because it can't wait for homeowners who have left the city to return.
Mr Simpson says people failed to report damage to their properties after September's quake because they didn't want to cause a fuss, while others claimed their houses were uninhabitable when they had only superficial damage.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says the new system will give people some certainty about their homes in a quicker timeframe.
Mr Brownlee says people don't have to have lodged an EQC claim before the rapid assessment is done, because the assessment teams will look at all houses.
Occupants don't have to be home, either, for the rapid assessment. A form will be left to let them know which category their house falls into.
The teams are starting in the suburbs most affected by the earthquake - Avondale, Wainoni, Bexley, Aranui, Avonside, North Linwood, Bromley, Mount Pleasant and Redcliffs - and progressively move out from there. Affected parts of Selwyn and Waimakariri will be covered too.
EQC expects to have completed the initial rapid assessments for every house in metropolitan Christchurch, including Lyttelton, within eight weeks.