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Two projects, two very different situations.
Both will exceed building regulations, but the journey to get there will be markedly different.
We’ve been engaged to help with a retrofit project which will be a whole house renovation, training pilot and funding pilot in an area that desperately needs a boost in all three. The owner is keen to improve the property to best of our ability and to the highest possible efficiency standard, which will probably be Enerphit.
But over the last few weeks someone else has tried to start the work that we were supposed to be doing (some confusion between stakeholders), unfortunately the people who’d done the work definitely weren’t bothered about building regs. They hadn’t consulted a structural engineer or anyone else for that matter and it looked like they’d got some second hand steels and shoved them into the house as quick as they could. No calcs, no padstones, no thought. It was all a bit dodgy. After some frantic calls and a couple of visits with a structural engineer we got the problem sorted and will be remediating the remedial work; after which we can start the actual work.
Which is a contrast to another project we’re involved with. The Homeowners have a set budget and want to do the best they can with it. They’re happy with our fabric first approach and are again very keen to do the best they can within the budget they have set.
We’re using materials and processes that aren’t common, yet.
Because of the work we do and how we approach it, we often use methods and materials that aren’t commonly specified, but we use them because we know that they suit the property more or suit the situation more than standard specifications.
We talked to the client and altered the spec which was given to them by the architect, because we’re sure that using natural materials on a traditional building is a better approach than insulated plasterboard.
But the situation brought up another issue. Who would be the principal designer?
You may not know but building regs were amended last October to tighten up procedures around higher risk buildings. In the wake of the Grenfell disaster regulations have changed to ensure the design and construction phases of a construction project are more aligned and the potential for problems are minimised. But these changes don’t affect domestic work.
It’s long been known that many small domestic projects don’t have an architect involved during the construction phase, and often building work happens without an architect at all. Building regulations account for this, and stipulate that the builder automatically assumes the role of principal contractor and principal designer in these situations. No architect needed.
So it was a shock when our client was being told by the architect that they must appoint someone and if they didn’t use the architect (for a hefty fee) then they must confirm in writing who would be the principal designer. They said that building control wouldn’t sign off the work if there wasn’t a principal designer appointed.
They were understandably worried. I was a little worried, I didn’t fully understand the changes and started to think that an architect should be engaged for every project going forwards. Which isn’t a bad idea, but it would increase the cost of every single job.
After a conversation with a different architect and a deeper look at the build regulation we realised the although the process has changed, it hasn’t really affected domestic work, we can continue as we were. The builder automatically becomes the principal contractor and the principal designer when they’re appointed to do the work.
If you read facebook posts in groups about building you might think that building regulations are the pinnacle of building quality. The target to aim for. But it’s worth remembering that building regulations are the minimum standard. If the work you’re doing doesn’t meet building regulations, your work isn’t legal. Its not the pinnacle, it’s a minimum standard.
Not only is it a minimum standard, but it’s a minimum that will be illegal in a few years time. Lets be honest, building regs are only going in one direction (or at least we should hope that they will continue to improve the quality of the built environment).
Builders and architects have a duty to meet building regulations, but in reality we have a duty to our clients as well. To inform them of the best way of doing something, not just the bare minimum. If you’re not advising your clients to go as far as they can, you’re doing them a disservice.
We take time to explain our approach to our clients and only work with those that are on board. We believe that clear communication of the benefits of retrofit and fabric first is a key part of our process. It’s the way to ensure least problems down the line, and the best way to do retrofit properly.