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Airwave squawks and industry reservations have cast a pall over new building regulations.

Last month I was driving along listening to Whine Line, I mean Live Line on RTE Radio 1.
Anyway, a large party of members of the public, building contractors, architectural technicians, worriers and even a DIY retailer were storming across the airways deriding The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013 (BCAR or SI.9) which were approaching at lightening speed the first Saturday of March.

There were valid concerns expressed to Joe Duffy about the sheaf of certificates now mandatory for a standard build — these were joined by some oddly placed moaning about the raising of standards, and some completely inexplicable legend that members of the public would soon not be able to buy materials for a self-build. Confusion hung heavy over the legislation. By the programme’s end I was confused too, having previously been relieved something had been done to stop the shanty-style efforts committed on hapless clients by rogue builders and legal, self-inflicted disasters committed by home-owners.

Past performance
Let’s go back through the mists of time to 2000 and imagine some brave pioneer family putting up a house with full planning permission in a County Cork field. Now, at that time, the Building Regulations would allow you to hire a team of individuals with qualifications of your choosing, to put up a quite complex house, (like mine), if you were working outside the mortgage system.

The only checks carried out beyond the blessed approval of planning would be a percolation test to ensure the septic system would work and the signing off on the foundation which in many instances amounted to a qualified engineer staring into the trenches and pressing a letter into the contractor’s hand. The Fire Certificate had to be furnished to the local authority on completion by a RECI registered electrician. Quite honestly I was always baffled at how loosy-goosy the process was compared to the rigours of the UK system.

Where compliance certs are required when an extant building is put on the market, or when re-financing, the inspection is largely a visual one. Without a supervising builder/ architect or seasoned project manager many self-builders were flying blind on trust in a shifting gang of strangers working contract-free.

What’s changed?
The recent amendments seek to tighten up this situation, demanding that developers and private home builders demonstrate compliance with the design and the building regulations from the start to the end of the work. It starts with the commencement notice and reaches right through the build to a series of certificates that must be signed off on by an ‘assigned certifier’.

Despite the increased costs that the BCAR will add more to a build or extension dependent on planning permission, these building controls are standard practice in most other developed countries.

You can’t legislate for the nebulous area of ‘quality’ but the amendment will make a statutory stamp on the following adventures and this can only be a good thing in terms of technical excellence and fire safety.

How does it work?
Despite the March 1 start date, the new system is still in a frustrating state of development, but in short, a ‘design certifier’ for the plans and ‘assigned certifier’ for the build itself are elected from a small pool of qualified individuals. This individual must sign off on the building start to finish at pre-ordained stages on an inspection plan to ensure it complies with building regulations.

A competent builder must also be elected for the project and named on the paperwork. This does not mean that a suitable member of the public cannot act as their own contractor if they have the relevant experience. Individuals who can act as assigned certifiers include architects registered with the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI), a chartered building surveyor, or a chartered engineer. Strangely, architectural technicians, a group who would seem most qualified for the job, are not currently included as potential certifiers.

The local Building Control Authority (BCA) must receive a pre-construction document outlining not just the commencement of the build or extension but a whole range of design and technical detail, including the name of the assigned certifier, and their undertaking to inspect the works and co-ordinate with others to do so in regular stages. The all important Certificate of Completion, signed off by the builder and assigned certifier must show that the work has been completed to regulation standards with ‘reasonable skill and care’. Until the BCA office at the local authority receives this final document, the house or extension cannot be used or occupied.

What’s is BCAR 2014 going to cost me?
It has been claimed that the cost of the new building controls could add as much as 13%-15% to a typical ‘self-build’ budget. Paul McNally of the firm PMNA, on the RIAI website, concludes that ‘the estimated additional workload to the architect acting as Assigned Certifier, for a 200 square metre dwelling is 100 additional hours approximately’. This will, in McNally’s estimation, require a charge for this service in the region of €4,000 to €5,000 plus VAT. This takes the percentage to the less terrifying point of around 2.5% plus VAT of say a €200,000 budget. Where an architect or other qualified certifier was already to be on board, this figure mildly inflates the already expected fees due to a project manager, but remember the design itself that goes with the commencement notice must be certified too. The RIAI in their guidelines recommend that the role of assigned certifier is made separate from that of architect. www.riai.ie.

Buried out of sight in a budget, these new building controls might be said to offer no benefit to the consumer whatsoever. However, this presumes the best case scenario in a self-build — one overseen by a skilled set of eyes monitoring every aspect of the works for build compliance, and safety. Surely, knowing that the house or extension is built to code, should be our first priority, and it’s something you can stand over when selling your property in the future. Non-compliance to the BCAR could result in the pulling down of a building or at the very least, fines and a lengthy delay in a sale. We just don’t know those details yet.

Cowboy trap or just red tape?
Where the legislation can be seen to really shake up the whole area of self-building, is in it’s stipulation of a ‘competent builder’.

This will influence the future of self-builders, a range of small firms, individuals and trades who had flown under the radar before March 1 2014, carrying out extensions, renovations and in some cases entire builds, without putting their name to paper with the Building Control Authority or any branch of the local authority.

The assigned certifier has to stand over this building, and he or she may only be willing to work with certain builders that they completely trust, (and that may not be you if you nominate yourself as contractor and/or want to go direct-labour). The certifier is legally vulnerable in the case of a claim, (and it’s why the RIAI are opposed at present).

Things are tightening up right down to root level, and the direction of flow is that of a registration process through the Contractors’ Industry Federation of Ireland (www.cifi.ie) for contractors and trades in Ireland in 2015.

This would be the obvious stopping off point for those putting their name to paperwork for the BAC, and would over time bring everyone into the VAT net, something avoided in the past in the traditional ‘direct labour’ system that was often cash-in-hand. Obviously, genius tradesmen and idiot cowboys will suffer equally here.

Ultimately, depending on what you believe in the rumours raging through the industry, the BCAR will either decimate the number of self-builds or stand as a brave new era of standards and safety.

It’s certainly a shrewd move in terms of generating government revenue. If you need finer detail of the BCAR 2014, www.localgov.ie lays out the groundwork clearly. The Irish Association of Self Builder’s have some interesting features and feedback at www.iaosb.com

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

All you need to know about new building regulations
Irish Examiner, 30th of March 2014