FERGUS MERRIMAN outlines causes for confusion in relation to building control regulations.
The new Building Control Act has been with us for just over a year now and the majority of registered practitioners appear to be working along with it, albeit pragmatically, and are dealing with the somewhat unwieldy centralised and prescriptive process. Unregistered practitioners are still coming to terms with having to reorganise their business models and, in many cases, ‘buddy up’ with registered agents in order to lodge commencement notices and continue serving their clients.
Among the public, self-builders, tradespersons and, to some extent, contractors, confusion abounds due to a number of little-considered drivers. During the past lean years the technical requirements of the building regulations have changed dramatically. In 2008, Part L – Conservation of Fuel and Energy – Dwellings was tightened by some 40% and again in 2011 by a further 60%, both of which impart critical considerations for build methods and standards across the entire method of construction, where past practices such as cavity closing are no longer appropriate.
The confusion arises because the trigger for adoption of the standard required is the planning date, so an approval gained in 2007 and granted an extension of time could still be commenced today based on the original standards. This means that three houses built together with grants in 2007, 2010 and 2014 will each will be constructed according to three sets of widely varied technical standards.
Some professionals, owners, builders and tradespersons used to utilising old or anecdotal practices are caught between these conflicting requirements and this is made worse by the conflicts within the technical guidance documents themselves, particularly between parts F (ventilation) and L (energy), but also part A (structure), where Eurocodes introduced are not reflected, and B (fire), where old standards referred have been withdrawn. The Department is working towards a new suite of co-ordinated documents to overcome these anomalies and we might expect these soon.
Another confusion stems from the Department’s acceptable construction details or ACDs, which show a plethora of unachievable details such as sufficient insulation width in a 100mm cavity. Again, the Department is working towards resolving these problems and we might expect that old tried and tested building methods will be removed as being unsuitable to achieve compliance.
Yet another problem is the insurance industry, which has not, as yet, come to terms with the new control regime, and which bases premia on historical data of failure with little or no consideration of the methodology and controls of the new system. The words ‘traditional construction’ bear little relevance to the majority of new builds, so clients are further confused if not alarmed by higher than average premiums imposed when they reveal the complexities of compliant construction and services to their insurers.
Clearly it will be some considerable time before the Government’s aspirations of a fully compliant industry will be in place; in the meanwhile, it’s “work in progress”!
Fergus Merriman MSCSI MRICS
Fergus is a Chartered Building Surveyor, and owner of Merriman Solutions, Glendree, Feakle, Co. Clare.