Building standards ensure you follow minimum standards for design, construction and renovations in your project – here's what you need to know as a homeowner.
Image: This East Sussex house by Penton Architects is insulated beyond building regulations standard and is triple glazed throughout
Building regulations ensure that your self-build or renovation is safe and comfortable to live in. They exist alongside planning permission or permitted development rights and it is absolutely essential to ensure your project complies with them. Local authority building control (LABC) teams or independent approved inspectors assist you in achieving compliance by giving feedback on your plans and making site inspections.
How it works
The regulations industry underwent a major shake-up in the 1980s. This was partly as a result of public-sector industrial action, which led to long waits for building projects to be handled. As a result, as well as LABC teams, there are now at least 100 registered independent approved inspectors in England and Wales. An independent inspector is not subcontracted to your local council, and can handle your project from start to finish.
In Scotland, building regulations are called building standards, and are still administered and enforced by local authorities only.
Engaging an independent inspector may cost a little more than using the council – LABC fees cost between one and two per cent of the overall cost of a build – but they can be much more involved and hands-on with your project than a typically overstretched LABC inspector.
However, only LABC has powers of enforcement. An independent inspector must hand the project over to the council department if there are problems that can’t be resolved informally.
The popularity of big, openplan spaces makes it of greater importance to work with someone who is able to come on board at an early stage.
‘Modern houses now have clear spans that were typical of commercial spaces 30 years ago,’ says chartered structural engineer John Staves, managing director of Michael Aubrey Partnership and vice-president of the Institution of Structural Engineers. ‘The engineering solution, which must be in accordance with regulations, requires greater consideration from earlier on in the process.’
Acting in your interest
Competent person schemes allow some trades, such as window fitters, gas installers and electricians, to apply for building regulations for their work on your behalf. A competent person can deal with any inspection and sign-off and will issue you with the relevant certificates.
Why you must comply
If you do not conform to building regulations, the work will not be legal. You could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to £5,000. Crucially, the project may not be safe and could cause health problems, injury or death. It may also not meet energy efficiency standards. Should the work prove to be faulty, your local authority could insist you put it right.
If the project has not been notified to a building control body or carried out by a competent person scheme-registered installer, the local authority will have no record that the work complies. Having official records will be important when you come to sell your home as you will be asked to provide evidence of compliance.
Your buyer’s mortgage company will want to see the certificate of building regulations completion. But if any paperwork is missing, it is possible to buy indemnity insurance. This is designed to protect the new homeowner – and subsequent owners – against legal action if the local authority was to serve a building regulation enforcement notice. Sometimes the seller pays, sometimes the buyer, or the cost – which will vary depending on the scale of the work undertaken – is split between both parties. A conveyancing solicitor will be able to find a suitable provider.