We’re planning to extend – what happens if we ‘opt out’ of building regulations?

Homeowners should familiarise themselves with the potential cost that may occur when choosing to opt out

If non-compliance is identified, this would be considered a “blot on title” and may inhibit the sale or reduce the value of the property

If non-compliance is identified, this would be considered a “blot on title” and may inhibit the sale or reduce the value of the property

 

My husband and I will be commencing some renovation work which includes extending the kitchen by 20sq m. We believe it isn’t mandatory to go the building control amendment regulations* [BCAR] route and we don’t think it will make a huge difference other than add an additional €2,000 to the cost. What are the benefits if we don’t tick “opting out” of BCAR when submitting our commencement notice to the local county council?

Home owners should weigh up the consequences of their decision to opt out of BCAR, which is the statutory certification process. The reasonable cost associated with engaging the services of a registered professional for design, inspection and certification of the works however is a key consideration.

It is worth bearing in mind that a reasonable investment in the design, inspection and certification of the work will pay dividend in terms of the delivery of a quality-compliant building. Homeowners should familiarise themselves with the potential cost or other implications that may occur as a result of choosing the opt-out option.

In my opinion, all builders need guidance. Even the most skilled builders will seek professional opinion on how to achieve compliance with the regulations. In the event of opt-out, in my experience, builders are typically left to their own devices. This can lead to a situation where the finished product is non-compliant. This is not usually as a result of incompetence or negligence on the behalf of the builder, but as a result of a lack of direction and inspection of works as they progress. Builders, if left to design solutions themselves, will repeat details that they have used on previous jobs. Regrettably, all buildings are not the same and different approaches or methods need to be implemented on an individual basis in order to achieve compliance.

Take insulation standards, for example; each dwelling needs to be assessed individually to establish the type and thickness of insulation that should be used. The chosen solution will depend on the form of construction, extent of glazed areas, orientation of the house rating to be achieved and the like. Regrettably, this is usually where errors are made, when builders blindly follow specifications from a previous job. The consequences can be a completed building, which is non-compliant. This can be costly to correct.

If we are guided by the past, and look at the issues that arose when there was a different approach in terms of compliance, it is not unreasonable to expect that issues of non-compliance found in buildings prior to the introduction of BCAR will exist in buildings where the opt-out option has been chosen. In the event that these buildings are offered for sale, then these issues are likely to come to light following a pre-acquisition survey. If non-compliance is identified, this would be considered a “blot on title” and may inhibit the sale or reduce the value of the property.

Building regulations set out to ensure buildings are “safe”. The regulations seek to remove issues that may cause a life safety risk. The opt-in option is therefore worthwhile as it will ensure that you can demonstrate your finished building complies fully with the regulations.

Correction of non-compliance issues can also be costly. Typical issues I have seen with simple extensions of the type you propose are generally as follows:

- Incorrect connection of drains where existing surface water and foul water drains are interconnected/cross contaminated.

- Incorrect pitch on roofs where tiles are laid to an incorrect pitch, with resultant water ingress.

- Roof lights fitted to incorrect pitch and not in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines with subsequent water ingress.

- Incorrect insulation used.

- Poorly supported masonry where internal and external walls have been removed to facilitate the extension.

- Improper construction over existing drains.

- Poorly constructed roofs, lack of triangulation and under-sizing of roof timbers.

- Incomplete works where walls have poor accessibility at boundary walls.

- Use of boundary walls to form external walls to extensions.

- Encroachment onto neighbouring properties.

Certain small extensions are exempt from the requirement to register on the BCMS system /BCAR but you need to be sure that the proposed extension is considered in the context of cumulative floor area and take account of any previous extensions. Your local building surveyor will be able to guide you in this regard. As I have said, each home owner needs to weigh up the costs of professional advice against the potential for non-compliant completed buildings. Non-compliance will affect market value and therefore, in my opinion, the option to opt out should come with a strong health warning and should be avoided.

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

*Full information on BCAR and the building control management system can be found in the SCSI consumer guide at www.scsi.ie/documents/get_lob?id=13&field=file

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