What are building regulations?
The building regulations, developed by the government, are a set of minimum standards for the design, construction and alteration of buildings. These regulations set out standards for:
- Health, safety, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency and sustainability of buildings
- Rules which prevent misuse, abuse or contamination of water supplies
- Specific standards to ensure the building can be accessed by disabled people.
Building regulations are different to planning permission: you may require one or the other, both or neither, for your building project.
When is building regulations approval needed?
You must obtain building regulations approval for:
- The construction of new buildings
- Structural alterations to existing buildings such as removing a load-bearing wall
- Some extensions to existing buildings
- Installation of new fittings or services to an existing building such as a central heating system
- Making a material change to a building such as converting a house into flats
- Installation of replacement glazing for windows (unless done by a FENSA registered company)
- Rewiring or modification of electrical installations (unless done by a member of a Competent Person Self-Certification Scheme)
A good website to check to see if building regulations would have been required is http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/permission/house. If you are still not sure whether your project needs approval or not, it’s best to contact the building control body at your local council. You can also submit your plans here to obtain clarification.
Other common domestic projects for which you will usually need building regulations approval include:
- Converting a garage into living space
- Building a garage attached to your house
- Installing a biomass heater such as a woodburner
- Building, removing or making an opening in an internal load-bearing wall
- Changing your heating system from one type to another, or installing a central heating system for the first time
- Installing a new boiler
- Installing additional radiators
- Replacing a fuse box
- Installing a new bathroom or kitchen for the first time – i.e. where there wasn’t one before
- Changing or moving the plumbing in a bathroom
- Altering the electrics near a bath or shower
- Loft/attic conversions
- Basement/cellar conversions
- Filling cavity walls with insulation (although this usually involves just serving a building notice)
- Re-rendering or re-cladding more than 25% of your external walls
- Garden decking that covers (when added to outbuildings and other extensions) more than 50% of your garden and is more than 30cm above the ground
- Making structural alterations to an existing roof, changing theroofing material or repairing/recovering more than 25% of it
- Installing roof skylights
- Installing solar panels on your roof
What are ‘exempt projects’ where building regulations approval is not usually needed?
Building regulations will apply if the work involves installing an additional fitting or fittings but not if you just replace them – so if you move the location, they may apply if additional fittings are used.
You may not need building regulations approval for these common projects:
- Refitting a new kitchen or bathroom with new units/cabinets
- Replacing your bath, sink, toilet or shower with like-for-like items in the same location
- Replacing broken/tired windowframes or door frames (but not the glazing units), where they’re the same size as the existing windows or door frames, and installed by a member of the Competent Persons Register
- Replacing fascias or soffits boards
- Building a single storey shed, summerhouseor greenhouse that covers less than 15m2 floor space
- Building a porch at ground level with a floor space of less than 30m2, providing the original entrance door remains in place
- Building a carport of less than 15m2 floor space, that’s open on at least two sides
- Building a detached garage, providing it covers a floor space of less than 15m2, or less than 30m2 and is either situated more than 1m from a boundary or made of non-combustible materials
- A new driveway or patio area, except where the levels are changed to build new steps
- Installing satellite, TV or radio antenna
However, if you’re still unsure of whether you need building regulations approval, it’s best to either check with the building control body of your local council, or use a tradesperson who is a member of the Competent Persons Register.
What is the Competent Person Self-Certification Scheme and what does it mean for you and your builder/tradesperson?
If your project is covered by building regulations, then you don’t have to apply for it yourself if the tradesperson doing the project is registered with a competent person scheme. This means that they can self-certify that the work they’re doing complies with the relevant building regulations – instead of submitting a notice or using an approved inspector. Depending on the work, the installer may then notify the Council who will issue a Completion Certificate or Certificate of Compliance, depending on the work, directly to the home owner.
You can find a competent person or check that your chosen tradesperson is a member on the Competent Persons Register.
If you use a tradesperson/builder who is not a member of the scheme (and your project is covered by building regulations: i.e., not otherwise exempt), then you will need to decide which of you is taking responsibility for ensuring that the work complies with building regulations, and which one of you will obtain the relevant approval.
Are there any types of buildings that are exempt from building regulations?
There are different parts of the building regulations, each relating to a different subject from fire safety and ventilation to drainage and the passage of sound, and many things in between. Each part is designated by a letter, and judged against the standards set out in the relevant approved document for each part. If the work meets these specified standards, building regulations approval will be granted.
There are a number of types of buildings that are exempt from some parts of the building regulations (but not necessarily all of them).
You can find out more about what each part of the building regulations covers, and the approved documents that cover each part at the government’s Planning Portal.
Which buildings are exempt from parts A-K, M, N and Q of the building regulations?
Parts A-K, M, N and Q of the building regulations relate largely to the safety of the buildings and its materials – everything from structural integrity, fire safety and resistance to contaminants, to sanitations, drainage and glazing. You can read the ‘approved document’ for each part here.
The types of buildings that are exempt from these parts include ancient monuments, those making and storing explosives, buildings not frequented by people, greenhouses and agricultural buildings, temporary and ancillary buildings, small detached buildings like sheds with a floor space less than 30m2, ground floor extensions with floor space of less than 30m2.
However, some of these building are only exempt if they satisfy the conditions in other parts of the building regulations, so it’s always best to check with your local planning officer.
Which buildings are exempt from part L of the building regulations?
Part L of the building regulations concerns the conservation of fuel and power. This means that there will be certain standards to meet for ventilation, window and door size, and efficiency for heating, lighting and hot water storage. Some classes of buildings are exempt from this, including ground level extensions such as conservatories, porches or carports that are open on two sides.
Which buildings are exempt from part P of the building regulations?
Some classes of buildings are exempt from part P (which concerns electrical safety) of the building regulations – these are usually ancillary and temporary buildings, agricultural buildings, those not frequented by people, and buildings controlled under other legislation such as ancient monuments.
Who is responsible for granting building regulations approval?
Your local authority is responsible for handling building regulations applications and arranging inspection of any work carried out. If they find that the work doesn’t comply with the relevant building regulations,
Where can I apply for building regulations approval?
If you’re not using a tradesperson who’s a member of a competent person scheme, then it is likely you will apply yourself, to the building control body of your local authority (the council). You can either liaise directly with the council first for informal advice, use the national portal Submit-A-Plan or use the Planning Portal to submit online or offline applications to any council in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
You can also use a private approved inspector to handle the process for you. You can find a register of them on the Construction Industry Council website here.
What are the consequences of not having building regulations approval?
Aside from the obvious consequence of safety, if work doesn’t comply with building regulations there are two main legal actions that can be taken against you and/or the person who carried out the work:
- The local authority can prosecutethe person or company who carried out the work (which may be you or a builder/tradesperson) under sections 35 and 35A of the Building Act 1984– resulting in unlimited fines. Prosecution is possible for up to two years after the offending work is completed.
- The local authority can issue you (the building owner) with an enforcement notice, under section 36 of the Building Act 1984, to either remove or rectify the contravening work. If you don’t comply, the local authority can apply to do the work itself and make you pay for it. Enforcement in this way is possible only for 12 months since the date the defective works were completed.
What if there is no building regulations approval for alterations on a house that you’re buying or selling?
If you are buying or selling property, any alterations made to it which have not had building regulations approval may come to light. This is a fairly common occurrence and can be handled in a couple of ways:
The seller can apply to the local authority for retrospective building regulations approval; this is called a regularisation certificate. The alterations may of course meet with the relevant standards but the owners didn’t apply for consent in advance of the work being carried out.
This process will delay the property transaction as a building control officer has to inspect the property. It may cause even more delays as work might have to be carried out to bring the property up to the standard required. The inspector will judge the works on the current standards and not those which were in force at the time the works were carried out.
Retrospective building regulations approval is usually needed for alterations that have been carried out within the last 12 months, but there is a second option for alterations over 12 months old. You can only get retrospective approval from the building control body of the local authority – not from a private approved inspector.
Also, you can’t obtain regularisation in this way for work carried out before 11 November 1985.
Where alterations have been made some time ago, possibly by previous owners, the seller or buyer can take out insurance against the risk of enforcement by the local authority.
The policy will usually only cover the financial consequences of a successful enforcement action by the local authority regarding a breach of building regulations in respect of the work. The financial consequences could mean a fine for the person who carried out the work – which could be you or the tradesperson, and/or the costs of rectifying or removing the offending work. The insurance policy only covers the cost of complying with a successful enforcement however and it will not cover the actual defective works themselves as an insurance policy cannot guarantee either the works or workmanship. A fine can be levied against the person or company who carried out the work for up to two years after the work was completed.
Once you have such an insurance policy, you can’t then apply to the local authority for retrospective building regulations approval as the policy will be invalidated. You also can’t contact the local authority about the works or advise any third party that the policy is in place.
The best option for each individual case will depend on the type of alteration carried out and how recently it was done. If, during your property transaction, it’s found that there is neither building regulations approval nor an indemnity policy in place, then our conveyancing team will need to refer these omissions to your mortgage lender for their approval (depending on the circumstances and the lender). Our property experts will be happy to discuss this with you should it arise during your transaction.
How can Graysons help?
If you’re planning on making alterations to your home that may require building regulations approval, it’s always best to check with your local planning officer before arranging any work. Our conveyancing team can guide you through the process of buying or selling a property and help you to deal with any of the legal complications that arise from building regulations.
If you are moving home and want an estimate on how much it will cost, our instant conveyancing estimate page can be accessed here, 24 hours a day.
Don’t forget that Graysons is accredited with the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme, so you can rest assured that our expertise and quality of service is second to none.