What are building regulations and how are they relevant to our project?
So after the elation of having our planning permission granted, reality hit with the next step – Building Control. But what exactly is building control, and why do we need to go through the rigmarole of “building regs”, whatever they might be? I’ve spent countless hours trawling the internet for the information in this post and it would have been really helpful if it had all been in one place so I decided to gather it all here. It’s not the most enthralling of topics, but if you’re having building work done at home then this is the stuff you need to know.
Building regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health for people in or about those buildings. They also include requirements to ensure that fuel and power is conserved and facilities are provided for people, including those with disabilities, to access and move around inside buildings.
For building works like our extension and internal reconfiguration, building regulations approval is needed in addition to planning permission.
The works themselves must meet the relevant technical requirements in the building regulations and they must not make other fabric, services and fittings less compliant than they were before – or dangerous.
My understanding of all this in practical terms was as follows. We get some detailed technical drawings done which demonstrate how we plan to comply with the regulations. We then send it all in to our council’s building control department, they ok it and hey presto we can start building. But it turns out (like most things) its not as simple as that.
Building Control Drawings
The first step in the process is transforming the original planning drawings into detailed building control-compliant plans. These need to include specific information regarding
- Part A: Structural safety
- Part B: Fire safety
- Part C: Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture
- Part D: Toxic substances
- Part E: Resistance to sound
- Part F: Ventilation
- Part G: Sanitation, hot water and water efficiency
- Part H: Drainage and waste disposal
- Part J: Heating and appliances
- Part K: Protection from falling, collision and impact
- Part L: Conservation of fuel and power
- Part M: Access to and use of buildings
- Part N: Glazing safety
- Part P: Electrical safety
- Part Q: Security
PHEW. My first port of call was to contact the architect who’d been consulting on our planing application. He wasn’t able to even look at our project for a month such was his workload. I’m chomping at the bit to get started so began thinking about alternative options. The architect had suggested getting in touch with a firm in our village who might be able to work on it sooner. I left a message with them and didn’t hear anything back. I found an online company recommended who could produce basic regs plans for a reasonable fee. It all looked pretty legit but I wan’t sure if they’d be enough. I was starting to feel at sea. Meanwhile there was a big decision to be made regarding whether to use a private building control firm or the local authority service.
Private Building Control vs. LABC
I didn’t even know this was a choice to be made. I naïvely assumed we just submitted our building regulations application to the council and paid a nominal fee as we had for our planning application. It soon became clear that it wasn’t that straightforward. The architect had mentioned he generally used such-and-such private firm and recommended we did too.
But what are these private building control firms and why do I need to use one?
In 1984 the Construction Industry Council (CIC) was created to enable building control to be privatised. Today the CIC, regulates private building control and approves inspectors who are qualified to provide building control services in the UK.
The first company to gain CIC approval was the NHBC in the 1990s. There are now more than 150 companies nationwide who can offer Building Control services for residential or commercial properties.
The alternative is to engage the services of the LABC, the Local Authority Building Control. Their website states that they:
Represent all local authority building control teams in England and Wales. Our network of 3,000 professional surveyors provide fast, impartial advice and services on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis to home and property owners, architects, plan drawers, developers, building contractors and other professionals to ensure buildings are safe, healthy and efficient to meet the standards set by the building regulations.
How do you choose?
I asked around and people seem to have very firm views whether its best to use a private firm or the LABC. First, I asked a client of our consultant architect, a trusted friend who is currently having an extension built and has worked in local council legal departments and a seasoned property developer friend. All of these people including our consultant architect said they’d recommend using a private firm. Their rationale was as follows:
Reasons to instruct a private building control practice:
- They are working on behalf of you, so your interests are paramount
- Will work around your/your builder’s preferred schedules
- Their continued business depends on recommendation and reputation
- Property developers operating in different areas can use the same inspector across their projects
- They are often established by experts in their field who know their regions planning departments inside out
- LABC can be stretched and less efficient
- LABC inspectors can be inexperienced and/or inflexible, insisting on adhering rigidly to the guidelines with little regard for context or individual project parameters (or “jobsworths” as one individual stated)
- They can be less pernickety
- They can act in an advisory capacity
I contacted the local firm who’d been repeatedly recommended to me for a quote. For plan checking and site inspections it was going to be £1080. That initially struck me as quite chunky but then as a consulting professional myself I appreciate it’s not wildly expensive.
I then had a chat with a builder friend who operates within our borough council’s area. He said he prefers to use the LABC as he’s always had a good relationship with the Charnwood team. He sees no real reason not to. I called our LABC for a quote and the senior inspector there was really friendly and helpful. I outlined my concerns based on the reservations I’d heard and he put my mind at rest. He assured me that the inspector who would be working in our area is extremely experienced and reliable. I looked him up and it turned out he’s run a building firm himself. He also assured me that I could call any time and they’d be happy to advise on any issue. He then quoted £500 fee and I was starting to run out of reasons to use a private firm.
Deciding to use the LABC
That afternoon I had a meeting with the builder we’re hoping to use. I asked him whether he prefers to work with private inspectors or the LABC. He said he’d experienced both and if given the choice he’d prefer LABC without hesitation. He said the inspector we’d be having is a really decent guy. He has worked with him on many occasions and his personal phone number in his contacts. He said he’s really accommodating; for example will come to site first thing in the morning so he doesn’t interrupt the work. The builder has also worked on projects with the private firm I’d had quote and he didn’t have anything bad to say about them. But he didn’t see the point of spending so much more when the LABC inspector was more than adequate. That was enough for me. Not only was it going to cost us half the fee, two builders whose opinions I trust had confirmed it.
So should everyone use their LABC inspector?
Not necessarily. For me the main appeal of using a private firm was to bypass the potential pitfalls of the pot-luck nature of a randomly allocated LABC inspector. Once it became evident that our LABC inspector was a safe bet, that advantage was moot. For anyone having to make this choice themselves I would suggest investigating their LABC option and if that throws up reservations then consider using a private firm. I get the impression architects and developers prefer the private firm route as they can work more collaboratively with them to achieve their professional ends, and the fee is less of an issue. I suspect that’s why the homeowners I’ve spoken to have a similar preference, as the professionals they’ve been guided by have pressed upon them this mindset and convinced them the fee is worth it.
We still need building control drawings though…
While going through the process of deciding on a building inspector, I’ve also been considering my options regarding the drafting of our regs drawings. A germ of an idea to do them myself had started to form. I had asked the head of our local LABC for recommendations as to who might be able to help us. He called back after reviewing my drawings and said he thought I’d be perfectly capable of doing them, he said all they needed was a bit more specific technical detail and, in his words, “dot the Is and cross the Ts” and he’d be happy to have them submitted. When I met with the builder, the structural engineer he brought was surprised when I said I wasn’t actually an architect and said he’d be able to work with me to ensure the drawings were compliant. I think our consultant architect might have a kitten when he finds out I’m planning to do them but he ought to have faith.
My Dad had reservations as he feels current regulations are outside of his capabilities. Understandably he’s concerned that there are many potential pitfalls and it’s a LOT of responsibility for a novice. He’s looking at it from a pre-internet standpoint though. I directed him to this article detailing how a similar novice drew up his own using downloads from buildingregs4plans.co.uk. Ian who wrote that article had the benefit of professional expertise as a building surveyor. But not only do I have that in the form of my Dad, I don’t have the added complication of getting to grips with unfamiliar software or drafting plans for the first time. I told my Dad what the LABC man and structural engineer had said and he started to come around to my way of thinking. I’m under no illusion that it’s not a huge challenge I’m taking on. Fundamentally though, I think that it will help me gain a thorough understanding of how our extension is being built. I’ll then be a more knowledgeable and effective project manager when the plans become a building site. And save us a shedload of cash in architects fees. My sister couldn’t have put it better when she said
I’ve always felt given the time and lack of distractions I could figure out how to do most things competently
And that’s precisely how I feel. I believe in hiring professionals to do a professional job when its something way outside of my remit. Time is better spent earning more working within my own profession than would be saved by taking on a job in a DIY manner. But when we’re talking about a task whereby the professional’s hourly fee exceeds my own yet it’s something I feel I could turn my hand to, then I’m going to give it a crack. Here goes…