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Building Regulations: An Introduction

people in hard hats looking at plans
(Image credit: getty images)

Building Regulations (Building Warrant in Scotland) cover the structural aspects of a build project, by reference to the regulations themselves.

Where planning permission may be more subjective, Building Regulations are largely objective. An application for Building Regulations either conforms to those regulations and is approved, or fails to conform and is rejected.

However, there is room for pragmatism and inspectors do have the power to negotiate a relaxation in certain circumstances.

What Are the Building Regulations?

The Regulations are very detailed, and can be read in full on the Communities and Local Government website. In brief, your project will have to comply with these documents:

  • Part A – Structure
    Part B – Fire Safety
    Part C – Contamination and damp
    Part D – Toxicity
    Part E – Sound
    Part F – Ventilation
    Part G – Hygiene
    Part H – Drainage
    Part J – Fuel
    Part K – On-site Safety
    Part L – Conservation of Fuel and Power
    Part M – Access
    Part N – Glazing
    Part P – Electrics

The Building Regulations are profiled in Approved Documents, which are updated fairly regularly.

Your designer/builder will need to be aware of the Regulations and any changes to them. You will need to appoint a building control inspector, who will ensure that your project meets the Building Regulations.

When is Approval Required?

You will require Building Regulations approval if you intend to carry out any new structural work or alterations to your home.

Additionally, work involving these areas also requires approval, although in some of these cases, competent persons can self-certify their works for compliance:

  • drainage
  • heat-producing appliances
  • cavity wall insulation
  • electrics.

When is Approval not Required?

You do not need Building Regulations approval for most minor works, particularly where like-for-like replacements are used. Certain small buildings, such as conservatories not containing sleeping accommodation, are also exempt. Check with your local authority for a full list.

If in doubt, check with the local authority before starting work.

Who Grants Building Regulations Approval?

You can choose to use:

  • a local authority inspector from your local council and run through Local Authority Building Control (LABC)
  • an approved inspector from a government-approved private building inspection company. Around 20% of all approvals are now handled privately, without recourse to the local authority

This is the case for new builds, as well as alterations, extensions and loft conversions.

Approved inspectors are registered with the Construction Industry Council. They must re-register every five years to maintain high standards.

A building inspector appointed through LABC and an approved inspector will carry out the same duties for a self-builder. They will check plans for compliance when a full plans application is made, and carry out site inspections when requested to check work on site at various stages. 

However, only an inspector from your local authority has powers of enforcement. An approved inspector must hand the project over to the local authority if there are problems with the project that cannot be resolved informally.

How Much Does it Cost?

An application has to be accompanied by the relevant fees covering both the application and the eventual inspections.

Most local authorities offer fee calculators on their websites. Their fees will depend on several factors including the type of work involved, size of the project and number of visits required. Private companies will negotiate their fees directly with you.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, once an application is lodged, work can commence on site within 48 hours — that is not possible in Scotland, however.

Choice of Full Plans or Building Notice Application

Before any work can begin, you need to decide whether to make a Full Plans application or submit a Building Notice.

With a Building Notice, it is possible to carry out the work without prior approval, but the responsibility of ensuring the work fully complies is entirely with the builder.

If you choose a Full Plans application, you will know from the start that the working drawings have been checked and approved by the building inspector and that the plans fully comply with all of the Building Regulations.

A Full Plans application would need to include a set of plans that demonstrate to the building inspector that what is being proposed conforms fully to the regulations.

The other advantage of this route is that the approved drawings will show everything the builder will need to know in order to provide a fixed quotation.

The Inspection Process

Although work on a new build or extension may proceed before any formal approval, nothing can proceed beyond the inspection stages without the approval of the inspector. Those inspection stages are:

  • excavations for foundations
  • foundation concrete
  • oversite
  • damp-proof course
  • foul water drains trenches open
  • surface water drains trenches open
  • occupation prior to completion (second fix)
  • completion.

Completion Certificate

When the building is completed to the satisfaction of the inspector, a Completion Certificate will be issued. This is a vital document that must be retained alongside the written planning permission for use if you ever want to sell.

It is also required in order to release final funds from lenders, obtain the warranty certification and in order to reclaim VAT (if applicable).

The completion certificate will not be available until all your certificates have been passed to the building control officer and a final site inspection has passed.

The relevant certificates vary from one project to another but usually include:

  • electrical safety
  • SAP rating
  • air pressure test
  • boiler installation and hot water services
  • water efficiency calculations
  • security
  • fuel storage
  • remediation of contaminated land
  • chimneys and open flued appliances.