A Mosgiel man burned down a state house because he was haunted by the memory of finding his aunt dead there five months earlier, a court has heard.

Tena Wayne Crichton (30) appeared at the Dunedin District Court yesterday after previously admitting a charge of arson.

While the three-bedroom Perth St Housing New Zealand home had a "book value" of $176,000, the court heard its market value was well in excess of $250,000.

That was before Crichton burned it down.The 100sqm weatherboard home was occupied by a woman the defendant referred to as his auntie.

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On May 31 last year, Crichton found the woman dead in the bathroom and his counsel Andrew Dawson said it set in motion an unfortunate chain of events.

About the same time, the man had suffered two other bereavements and the loss hit him hard.

Dawson said Crichton suffered flashbacks every time he used a bathroom and turned to alcohol and other substances as a result.

In September, the defendant was kicked out of the Perth St house and the locks were changed while the decorators began renovations.

On October 30, Crichton went to a stag-do, during which they travelled around the local area on a bus.

"He drank a really obscene amount of alcohol that day," Dawson said.

Finally they reached the Crofters Arms Hotel.

"Suffering from the grief of his auntie's death, the defendant expressed to his peers his hatred towards this previous dwelling. The defendant left the hotel, communicating to his associates an intention to 'smash it up'," a summary of facts said.

But it went further than that.

At 1.53am the following morning, Crichton kicked in the back door and walked through the property, smashing holes in the walls.

He then ripped down some curtains, bundled up plastic sheeting and piled other debris in the kitchen.

Crichton set the heap alight and as the flames took hold he threw on pots of paint that had been left inside by the decorators.

As the flames spread, the defendant ran from the scene.

Dawson said it was unrealistic to think Crichton could cover the six-figure bill.

Judge Kevin Phillips imposed reparation of $8461, which the defendant could gradually pay off once he was released from prison.

He jailed Crichton for two years and three months.