Building Regulations – What You Need to Know
The Building Regulations — created under The— are about how you carry out to your home, whether or not is required. With a few exemptions — most and porches, for example — everything that affects the health and safety of the people living inside the house needs to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations. The Regulations are also concerned with energy conservation and with means of escape in the event of fire, and cover access for the disabled.
Since 1985, the Regulations have given only general requirements. All they have to say on ventilation, for example, is that ‘there shall be adequate means of ventilation provided for people in the building’. How this is interpreted in practice is up to the Building Control Officer concerned. You can choose any method you like for meeting the general requirement, but he is much more likely to be convinced that it meets the Building Regulations if you follow the specific advice contained in the Approved Documents (one for each part of the Regulations) — see below. These give examples of how you prove that the building will comply with the Regulations.
The Regulations may seem restrictive at times, but because the UK has some of the highest standards of controls on building development in the world, you are unlikely to buy a house which is fundamentally dangerous to live in, unless it has been illegally developed or neglected for a significant length of time. In the latter case the symptoms should be obvious — look for faded paint, wornboards, large damp patches on walls or floors, missing tiles and perhaps a scary-looking fuse box from the middle of the last century. In the case of illegal developments, the problems are not always so easy to detect. It could be that you first find out about one when a floor caves in, or you are stuck in a fire in the with no way out.
Note that the majority of Building Regulations are not retrospective, so you can generally replace like with like. This does not apply to things which affect energy use — so replacement windows, for example, have to meet the requirements of the latest Regulations, not the ones that were in force when the windows were first put in.
The 13 ‘Approved Documents’ for the Building Regulations in England and Wales (17 in Scotland) are published by the government, although some have been produced by private organisations.
Your builder must comply with the Building Regulations, and if he does not, this may be taken as evidence that he has not built in a workmanlike manner. Additionally, he may be in breach of an implied legal obligation to use reasonable care and skill or to under-take the work in a workmanlike manner, depending on whether it is a complete new build/conversion or a home improvement. The builder is under an implied duty in law not to complete the work in a way which contravenes the Building Regulations.
Building Regulations are enforced by your local authority’s Building Regulations Department, sometimes called the Building Control Department, and generally known in the trade as Building Control. Building Control sounds more Orwellian, which is appropriate because as well as calling in at critical stages such as foundation laying, steel supports being concealed and, always, the drains going in, Building Control may also visit the site unannounced to inspect safety standards. In some areas, Building Control Officers are known as Building Inspectors, but they do the same job.
allows for building control to be exercised by an independent Approved Inspector, but the vast majority of work is still handled by local authority Building Control Officers.
Applying for Building Regulations approval
In England and Wales there are two ways to apply for the approval of Building Control:
- you give the council a Building Notice with a relatively rudimentary drawing and outline of the works. No formal approval is given, though more information may later be requested
- you submit your full plans for inspection and receive written confirmation of the council’s decision.
Although the full plans route takes longer, this method is preferable, because any requested alterations are definitely best dealt with at this stage. The full plans method also has the advantage of ensuring that Building Control feel fully informed, and so might be inclined to make fewer site visits. You also have the reassurance of approval in writing — always useful when you come to sell the house.
Whichever route you follow — Building Notice or full plans —you can start work two clear days after depositing your application and giving a ‘commencement notice’. You will need to notify the council as you reach certain stages in the work.
How far you can develop your house
Your permitted development rights are:
- for most houses, 15 per cent of the volume (up to a maximum of 115 cu m) or 70 cu m (whichever is greater)
- for terraced houses and those in Conservation Areas or areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads a lower limit applies —10 per cent of the volume (up to a maximum of 115 cu m) or 50 cu m (whichever is greater).
Volume is measured externally and calculated against the size of the house when it was first built, or as it stood on 1 July 1948, if it was built before then. These are ‘once-and-for-all’ allowances, so it could easily be that your house’s allowance has already been used up. Your local authority should have details of the original size of the building.
In Scotland, a building warrant from Building Control is required. This is similar to the ‘full plans’ route in England and Wales.