Phill Skill explains what building regulations are and how we comply with them.
Interview with Phill Skill
Phill Skill was Head of Planning at Stroud District Council for over 10 years and also featured in the BBC documentary series The Planners. Now he is the Lead Business Consultant at Stroud District Council as well as a member of the board at Gloucestershire Building Control Partnership.
Safety is at the heart of building regulations
Building regulations deal with the physical structure of a building and are there to make the occupants as safe as possible.
For example, it deals with foundations, wall structure, floors and drainage as well as what happens in the case of a fire.
As the homeowner, you are responsible if something goes wrong
The onus of the building regulations is on the house owner, not the builder.
Therefore it is a good idea to draw up a contract with your builder which will indemnify you in the case of issues.
Phill says: “It’s not getting seventy-five percent and we’ll let you build it, it’s getting a hundred percent and we’ll let you build it.”
The regulations themselves are simple to understand
Looking at a copy of the building regulations (in England and Wales; Scotland is similar) the sections with a green background are the actual regulations. These lay out what is expected in broad brush statements.
Phill paraphases: “Staircases should be built so you don’t fall down them.”
Approved documents explain how to comply
Phill continues: “For instance, stairs, it will tell you how high each step should be and how deep each step should be, what angle the stair should be.”
In England, there are two ways to get approved
While the Scottish system is different, in England approval can be granted upfront by submitting drawings to your local authority or it can be back-loaded by getting a building notice.
i) Submitting drawings
By submitting drawings prepared by a draftsperson or architect, the council will check them over and make sure they are compliant. If they are not, they will write to you and ask you to make changes.
While it may take a few weeks to get your approval notice the main advantage is that you iron out any issues before you get to site.
ii) Building notices
No plans or drawings are required with this method so it is quicker, but there will be more inspections on site.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is that you don't have a contract between you and the builder. So, you don’t actually know what the builder’s going to build because you haven’t given him any drawings!
Also if the building inspector asks you change something you’ll have to make those changes on site and at your own cost.
Phill says: “I would never recommend to anyone that they build a house under the building notice method. They really should have their drawings sorted.”
Work can be approved by either the council or an approved inspector
An approved inspector is an independent person who verifies you are building in accordance with building regulations and they’re regulated by the Construction Industry Council (which is a QUANGO of government).
Phill says: “A lot of approved inspectors work on a risk assessment, a bit like an insurance company. They will assess your job, your competencies, how many buildings you’ve built and then tailor their inspection regime to that. So, if you are a self-builder, doing it yourself, it’s going to cost you a lot of money because they’re going to have to come out more often. With the local authority, it’s effectively a fixed fee regardless of whether you’re Barratt’s or you’re Joe Bloggs.”
Phill's main advice is that you get what you pay for. Shop around and understand what you're going to get for your money.
A good building inspector should provide constructive input
A good building inspector will be somebody who tries to educate you as you’re going along. A bad building inspector will be somebody who just turns up, says ‘that’s wrong’ and walk away. While a building inspector is only there to check what you've done, they should offer you alternatives.
Site work should not be held up because of an inspection
The building inspector is not a clerk of works and therefore is not there all of the time.
Legally, if the building inspector has been informed that you’ve got to a particular stage, you only have to wait for 24 hours before proceeding.
Phill explains: “If they don’t turn up, you can continue because you gave them the opportunity to visit. Councils will always visit because that’s our policy and that’s how we get insured. As I said earlier, approved inspectors may take a more risk-based approach.”
Inspections fall into 8 stages
The majority of the checks are to do with the groundworks.
- Commencement (preparing the files)
- Foundations inspection (to check ground conditions; often combined with the commencement stage)
- Foundations laid
- Oversight (to check the insulation and any re-inforcement has gone in)
- Damp-proof course level
- Drainage (to check pipes are lined and level)
- Occupation prior to completion (e.g. drainage check at the end of the project)
Builders/architects should have a good grasp of building regulations
There are about fifteen approved documents ranging from foundations through to fire and electrics. The government has a process of only changing three of them at any one point. As the rate of change is relatively slow too, it should not be too difficult for experienced architects and builders to keep up.
If there is a major change to any building regulations, it would be publicised in their trade magazines and they could also ask a building inspector.
Products change much more quickly
One of the biggest challenges a building inspector faces is keeping up with new products.
For example, insulation can become more effective and therefore less might be needed in the construction (so it's not just a case of checking the thickness of the insulation!).
The completion certificate is not a warranty
The most important document in this process is the completion certificate.
This is not a warranty but states that, to the best of the inspector's ability, the building is complete and compliant.
Your completion certificate will be required when you sell your home
Solicitors will want to see your completion certificate in order to convey your house.
Phill says: “That’s great for the profession because you have to have that completion certificate. And you cannot sell a property without it.”
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