An Introduction to Building Regulations

Building Regulations are as important to a property developer as Planning Permission is.  For all new-build, newly-converted and renovated buildings, the building works carried out have to comply with Building ‘Regs’ by law.


According to the UK Government Planning Portal, if you want to:

  1. Put up a new building
  2. Extend or alter an existing one
  3. Provide services and/or fittings in a building such as washing and sanitary facilities, hot water cylinders, foul water and rainwater drainage, replacement windows, and fuel burning appliances of any type.

…the work must be compliant with current (that is, current at the time of work being carried out) Building Regulations.  They must also not make other fabric, services and fittings less compliant than they were before – or dangerous.

Building Regulations will very likely also apply if you intend to change the use of a property, for example a shop being converted into a residential dwelling.  Although a property in its original use might have been building regs’ compliant, the proposed new use may have different requirements.

To summarise, any work that involves the following, falls under the term ‘Building Work’ and will therefore be subject to Building Regulations:

  1. The erection or extension of a building
  2. The installation or extension of a service or fitting which is controlled under the regulations
  3. An alteration project involving work which will temporarily or permanently affect the ongoing compliance of the building, service or fitting with the requirements relating to structure, fire, or access to and use of buildings
  4. The insertion of insulation into a cavity wall
  5. The underpinning of the foundations of a building
  6. Work affecting the thermal elements, energy status or energy performance of a building.

Before commencing work you should refer to Regulation 3 of the Building Regulations for the full meaning of ‘building work’ or, if you are unsure, seek advice.

Speaking from experience, Building Regulations are not the easiest publications to work through.  They are changed very often and tend to be quite ambiguous in many aspects.  A link to the 2010 Building Reg’s is here.

If you are planning on using a builder to carry out renovation or development for you, then the responsibility to comply with Building Regs is on him.  However, I advise you make all possible enquiries to check that not only are your builders indemnified by insurance, they know their way round the regulations too.  Once the work is finished, it is likely to be very difficult to get the builders back to rectify any non-compliant work.

If you are carrying out the building work yourself, then you must be familiar with the regulations to ensure that the workload is planned correctly, the materials are compliant and the standard of workmanship is also high (yes, this is enforced as well).  If you are not familiar with the regulations, then it is very advisable that you recruit the services of an appropriate professional consultant such as a Building Surveyor, Architect or Structural Engineer (as appropriate to the work that is being carried out).

Building Regulations are enforced by the Building Control Service.  This can be provided by either the Local Authority Building Control Service, or an Approved Inspector’s Building Control Service (they should be registered with the Construction Industry Council (CIC)).  The Approved Inspectors though are less likely to be able to work on plans for new-build houses, flats or private-rented property.  They are better suited (for insurance reasons) to working with extensions and additions to properties.

If the work is substantial, a ‘Full Plans Application’ is made to the Local Authority.  It involves the submittal of detailed plans and material specifications of the intended work.  The plans should be drawn up by an architect or designer (this might be a bit expensive).  The point of this approach to obtaining approval is that any ‘glaring’ problems can be rectified before the project starts and it becomes even more expensive to remedy.

The cost for the Full Plans Application application is collected in 2 lots.  The first payment (the plan charge) accompanies the plans when they are submitted.  The invoice for the second payment (the inspection charge) is sent after the work has begun.  This charge is to pay for inspection(s) that will be carried out on the site during the build.  Once the design problems are resolved, an approval notice will be issued.  Work must then commence within 3 years from the date the plans were deposited.  When the build is complete and is judged compliant with the Regulations, a certificate is issued to confirm this.

The alternative route to Building Regulations compliance is based upon smaller scale projects such as property extensions, alterations etc.  It’s known as ‘Building Notice’ procedure.  This cannot be used for buildings that have to be compliant with Fire Precautions/Regulations, or work that will be carried out near or over rain water or foul drains.  The building notice approach does not provide for the plans to be scrutinised prior to build.  This means that in the inspection phase, any non-compliant work will need to be removed or made-good.

The disadvantage of the Building Notice approach is that a certificate is not issued to confirm Building Reg’s compliance.  If the work you are carrying out on the property is funded by borrowing, the lender might very well require the certificate of compliancy.

Note that Building Regulations are only applicable at the time the work is carried out.  Once a property has been issued a compliance certificate, no updating is required unless other legislation requires it.

For help in understanding the Building Regulations, there is an explanatory leaflet that answers many questions.  The link can be found here.


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