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Building regulations explained

Building Regulations are a set of standards for the construction of buildings.  They protect your health, safety and welfare. Local Authority Building Control ensures compliance with these regulations by checking the plans and by physical site inspections. Depending on the type of work, the rules can be extremely complex, and we recommend seeking advice from a buildings control inspector or from your architect. Unlike planning permission, which is consent for what you build, building regulations cover how you build it. Building regulations
Will my project need building regulations approval?
You will need a building regulations application for most major domestic construction projects that are defined as ‘controllable building work.’ For example, extensions and loft conversions or the removal of an internal wall. Also material alterations affecting the structure, such as creating a doorway in a load-bearing wall, and fire safety, such as adding a fire door for a loft conversion. Other examples might include replacing windows, to ensure they meet current regulations under the conservation of fuel and power, relating to energy efficiency.
Some work is not classed as controllable and is therefore exempt. For example:
Temporary buildings – structures that won’t remain erected for more than 28 days Small, detached buildings provided that they:
  • Are less than 30m2 (internal floor area).
  • Do not contain any sleeping accommodation.
  • Are within 1m of any boundary, are built substantially of non-combustible material e.g., brick.
Conservatories if they:
  • Are less than 30m2
  • Are still thermally separated from the main dwelling by external grade doors/windows
  • The roof is more than 75% translucent (glazed)
  • The walls are more than 50% translucent (glazed)
Car ports – if they are open on at least 2 sides
Building work covered by a Competent Persons Scheme
Health and safety on your building project Some controllable work does not require a building regulations application because it can be certified by a registered tradesperson under the competent persons scheme. For example:
  • Electrical work – registered electricians can provide certification provided that they are a verified member of a body e.g. NICEIC or NAPIT.
  • Gas work – Gas Safe registered heating engineers can self-certify their work through Gas Safe Register.
  • Windows – window installers can self-certify their work through schemes such as FENSA.
There are two kinds of Building Regulations Applications 1. Building Notice This is most suited to basic work such as internal wall removal. Your plans are accepted (rather than approved) and a the work assessed solely through site inspections. Therefore, you must be confident that it will comply, or you risk having to correct it. Building notice cannot be used where the proposed extension is within 3 meters of a public sewer. Benefits: can save time as work can start 48 hours after submitting the application.   2. Full plans Full plans When you apply under full plans, you must provide a much greater level of detail including formal plans drawn up by an architect.
  1. approval provides assurance that, provided the plans are followed, the proposals will meet the requirements of the building regulations, reducing the chance of unforeseen changes and costs.
  2. There is a pre-approved scheme under which builders can accurately and fairly price against, allowing quotes to be easily compared.
  3. There are fewer physical site inspections required, so inspection fees are likely to be cheaper
Where works involve public sewers or consultations with the fire department, you must make full plans application.
There are two kinds of building control bodies
  1. Local Authority: local authority building control is bound by regulations that state they cannot make a profit; therefore, the charges accurately reflect the time spent on the project. Local authorities cannot work outside their boundaries, which means you will benefit from specialist local surveyors who have strong local knowledge.
  2. Private approved inspectors: approved inspectors can work anywhere within the UK and are not bound by authority boundaries. They have no enforcement powers, and in the event of non-compliance, will need to refer the application to the local authority.
The process
You must provide at least two days’ notice to Building Control of when you intend to start work. Submit your application using the planning portal or by printing and posting it. It is checked for compliance and to identify any potential issues before a decision is made:
  • Approval: providing the builder follows the approved plans, the proposed scheme should meet the requirements of the building regulations and work can proceed.
  • Conditional Approval: plans have some minor contraventions, or further information is required e.g. satisfactory structural calculations.
  • Refusal: the plans have serious contraventions of the building regulations and require extensive amendments.
Site inspections
Building control inspection The only statutory site inspections are at the commencement and completion of work, but additional physical inspections will be requested at key stages of the project. These are undertaken by qualified and competent surveyors, giving you peace of mind that, as far as can be reasonably ascertained, the work meets the standards required. Each Local Authority will have a slightly different inspection framework, but it is important that they are called out when requested or you risk work needing to be exposed. Inspections likely to be required for a single-storey extension:
  • Commencement of the work
  • Foundation excavations
  • Foul drainage
  • Damp-proof course
  • Ground floor make-up
  • RSJ/Steels including fire boarding
  • Roof structure
  • Insulation
  • Storm drainage
  • Completion
It’s important to agree with your builder at an early stage of the project who will be responsible for requesting site inspections. Talk to your builder
Sometimes, there may be elements of the project that do not comply with the regulations, and usually, Building Control will try to work with builders and homeowners to achieve the best outcome and compliance.
Our job is not to pull apart work brick by brick and find problems, but to build strong working relationships with local contractors and to ensure the end product meets the standards so that the structure can be enjoyed for years to come. -Building Controller.
The local authority will endeavour to rectify issues informally with discussions. However, there are formal enforcement mechanisms to ensure that non-compliant works are rectified.
My application was approved – can I still make changes?
Building Regulations consent is adaptable (unlike planning permission), and you can make changes, and add or omit items later. If you decide to amend the internal layout you probably won’t need to go through it all again. However, it is worth checking with your building control officer before implementing them, to minimise the risk of unforeseen implications.
Who is responsible for compliance?
It might surprise you to know that the homeowner is ultimately responsible for complying with building regulations. However, most people will be relying on their builder, who should – in theory – have a thorough knowledge of the standards and regulations. But legislation is constantly changing and not everyone will keep up to date. It is always recommended that you appoint an agent or architect to guide you through the process and provide you with a set of compliant working drawings. For more detailed information we recommend reading this comprehensive homeowner’s guide to building regulations from the Local Authority Building Control (LABC).   The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, does not constitute professional advice and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any company or organisation. Readers should always seek professional advice before undertaking any action based on the information contained in this article. The author makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, or suitability of the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in the article for any purpose. 

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