Is it a waste of money to certify build works on our ‘dream home’?

Is the new BCAR system simply 'self-certification' by another name?

In the past, with one-off houses, typically there were areas of non-compliance.

In the past, with one-off houses, typically there were areas of non-compliance.

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I recently received planning permission to demolish an old house and build what I call my "dream home". My husband and I have worked hard to be able to take on this huge financial commitment. I decided to “opt in” to the BCAR system, so that I will have the reassurance that someone is monitoring the building work. I have a great builder who came highly recommended. My sister says that I’m wasting my money, as the BCAR system is simply “self-certification” and of no actual benefit. Can you clarify if the new BCAR system is simply “self-certification” by another name?

The introduction of S.I. No. 9/2014 – Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, typically referred to as BCAR, came into force in March 2014. This introduced a new system of Building Control, where certificates and undertakings are required before commencement from the designer, an Assigned Certifier (AC) and the builder. An additional certificate of compliance with the Building Regulations would also be provided on completion from the AC and the builder. Failure to comply is an offence, with significant financial penalties.

What was not made clear, and still causes some confusion in the industry, is the fact that the system no longer operates on the basis of “self-certification”. An AC is a statutory appointee under the regulations. This person has a duty of care and can be personally liable should a case of negligence arise. Anyone taking on the role of Assigned Certifier will be well aware of their obligations as clearly set out in the detailed code of practice covering the inspection and certification of works produced by the Department of Environment & Local Government. Only three professionals are acceptable as assigned certifiers under the regulations; they are registered architects, building surveyors and chartered engineers. These professionals are governed by strict professional codes of conduct and will carry professional indemnity insurance.

In advance of the building work starting on site, the AC will develop an inspection plan with the designer, builder and any other person who has had an input in terms of the design, for example, Building Energy Rating consultant or heating and electrical consultants. The purpose of the inspection plan is to clearly map out the key milestones to be monitored during construction. At each of these important stages such as foundations, radon barrier, completion of waste water treatment systems, an inspection will be carried out to ensure compliance with the regulations. The overall objective is to achieve better building construction.

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Finished product

On completion of the project a certificate of compliance is produced jointly by the AC and the builder. The certificate confirms that the planned inspection regime has been implemented and that the finished product meets the required building regulations. The above procedures and appointments are designed to remove risk of non-compliance. In the era of “self-certification”, the builder was left to his own devices. The chain of command for ensuring that a compliant design was actually implemented on site was broken. In an industry that was working at full capacity, the flow of information between designers, builders and their sub-contractors was poor. This led ultimately to a litany of poorly finished and non-compliant buildings.

The new system of control is entirely different. Now there is an AC in a pivotal role, ensuring and ultimately certifying compliance. In its barest form, this means that there is a clear line of responsibility unlike the disappointing regime of the past, where homeowners were left without recourse. BCAR is not “self-certification” by a different name.

In your case, you are building a new house. Building Control (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2015 (SI 365 of 2015), allows an “opt out” of the regulations for you. However, this is a substantial investment on your part. If you can put measures in place which will ensure that the finished product is fully compliant, this will reinforce the value of your property.

Issues

In the past, with one-off houses, typically there were areas of non-compliance. These generally come to light when a property was either being sold or was being re-mortgaged. In my experience, these can be issues ranging from non-compliant glass, non-compliant escape windows, incomplete or undersized septic tanks, missing access ramps for less-abled, non-compliant staircases and poor levels of insulation. These issues affect market value. It is not unreasonable to assume that houses built today without the oversight of BCAR, will have similar issues of non-compliance to those of the past.

The appointment of an AC gives the comfort of oversight and the assurance of certification of the completed product. The costs associated with this comfort, assurance and certification is not only money well spent but is a protection of your investment. Many lending institutions now insist on the appointment of an Assigned Certifier and this reinforces the view that the finished product offers a better prospect in terms of both protection of investment and title. My view is that this peace of mind should not be signed away lightly.

Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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