Category: News

Christmas Opening Hours

In order to give our hard working staff a much needed break over the Christmas period, our office’s will be closing early this year at 5.00pm on the 23rd December and will reopen again from 8.00am on the 4th January.

We wish everyone a safe and Merry Christmas an look forward to working with you again in 2021.

PS We have donated to the Charity CRASH instead of sending cards this year. Check out this link for a special Christmas message.

Consumer protection questions.

The role of Building Control is often assumed to cover consumer protection, especially on small domestic projects, where the Building Inspector is often the only professional involved in the project.

In fact Building Control do not offer consumer protection, and are there only to ensure certain minimum statutory rules are adhered to. Its easiest to think of Building Control in terms of the buying a car – Building Control would be the equivalent of an MOT test, rather than a 7 year manufacturer’s warranty. Therefore, you could rightly expect the brakes, seat belts and emissions to be correct, but would have no recourse if the Radio, Sat Nav or paintwork were faulty.

The role of the various parties has been set out in the Future of Building Control report published by the Government

The report states that the building control service will:

  • provide a checking service to help achieve compliance with building standards
  • support and advise customers on how to end up with the result they want, but will not be a substitute for professional design and construction advice
  • help with aspects of quality (workmanship and materials) where these affect compliance with building standards, but not where they do not affect compliance
  • ensure that all building standards which are set in the interests of the wider public good have been complied with at completion.

However the building control service will not:

  • be responsible for compliance – that is the duty of the person carrying out the work. If work is found not to comply with building standards the person responsible could be prosecuted and the owner of the building may be required to put the work right
  • manage every stage of the construction process on-site – that is a matter for the contracts and arrangements between the client and builder
  • address issues such as the finish and aesthetics of the final project where these are not relevant to compliance with building standards – these are a matter for designers, developers, builders and, to some extent, new home warranty providers
  • deal with contractual problems between client and builder – this is a matter of contract law.

Roles and responsibilities of those involved in the building control system:

Building owners (householder, landowner, property owner) – are ultimately responsible for compliance of any building work undertaken, and should understand the aims of the building control system (to meet the needs of current and future users of the building, not just their own expectations).

Construction industry (architects, engineers, designers, surveyors, builders, construction companies, developers, etc) – design and build to meet the required standard, and have a clear understanding of the building control system and its role (eg to notify the building control service at agreed stages).

Approved inspectors – provide an independent third-party check on compliance with Building Regulations through plans checking and inspections; carry out informal enforcement, advise customers at design stage and on-site, collect and act on performance management information. Authorised by the Construction Industry Council on behalf of the Secretary of State. Approved Inspectors can also often offer other services beyond the building control system itself, (such as carrying out fire risk assessments and health and safety services), but may not undertake design or have a financial interest in the project.

When you use an approved inspector, they will take on responsibility for plan checking and inspection of your building work. The procedure requires you and the approved inspector jointly to notify your local authority of your intended building work on what is called an initial notice. Subject to any arrangements you have agreed with your approved inspector, you may start work as soon as the initial notice is accepted by your local authority. Work cannot start for a period of 5 days to enable the local authority time to process the Initial Notice.

Once this notice has been accepted by your local authority the responsibility for plan checking and site inspection will be formally placed on the approved inspector. The approved inspector will tell you what plans and information they need in order to check that the proposed work will comply with the Building Regulations. If you ask for one, the approved inspector will issue a plans certificate which will confirm that the plans of your proposed building work show compliance with the Building Regulations. When the work is complete the approved inspector must issue a final certificate to the local authority to say that the work referred to in the initial notice is complete, and that the inspector has carried out their inspection responsibilities.

If the approved inspector is not satisfied with work in progress on site, and you cannot resolve the disagreement by discussion, the inspector will have to cancel the initial notice by a notice to the local authority. This will terminate the inspectors building control responsibility for your project. In these circumstances the Building Control Service function is likely to have to return to your local authority

Important Hints & Tips

  • Get at least three written, itemised quotes for your building work. Prices can vary enormously, but don’t automatically go for the cheapest quote and ensure your quotes are “like for like” i.e. does one quote allow for all fixtures and fittings to a new bathroom but another builds in a nominal sum of £1,000 with you paying the extra.
  • Use a reputable builder – Check out sites such as Checkatrade, Trust mark or similar or use one who is recommended to you and whose work you can go and look at and whose customers would use again.
  • Have your plans properly drawn up by an experienced architect and ensure that they are submitted to us as early as possible so they can be checked and any problems resolved. That way when a builder is pricing they have an Approved Scheme to price. Spending time and money early on planning and designing your project is money well spent, as defects or changes made at a later stage can be costly in time lost and reworking.
  • Use a contract even if it’s a simple project there are a number of simple homeowner building contracts available to buy off the internet, or if the Builder is a member of FMB you can download this one www.home-extension.co.uk/fmbcontract.pdf

    For larger projects such as a new house insist on an insurance backed warranty. Although no longer a legal requirement there are 6 warranty schemes still in operation that were approved by the CIC under the designated warranty criteria, these being

  • Building Life Plans www.blpinsurance.com
  • Build Zone www.build-zone.com
  • Checkmate www.checkmate.uk.com
  • NHBC www.nhbc.co.uk
  • Premier Guarantee www.premierguarantee.co.uk
  • CRL www.structuralinsurance.com

In addition you can also now choose cover under a non-designated warranty such as the Architects Certificate scheme if you prefer.

  • Professional Consultants Certificate Ltd www.architectscertificate.co.uk
  • Advantage Structural Defects Policy www.ahci.co.uk

Lastly don’t forget you may need other permissions such as Planning, Party Wall Awards, Highways etc. CDM regulations also require that the contractor has at least a basic Health and Safety Plan. Ask to see a copy of the plan and a copy of their insurance policy. Don’t be tempted to employ a Builder that will cut costs by working from a ladder when they should have been using a scaffold; as you could find yourself un-insured or even liable if something goes wrong.

Disclaimer: The information provided through this website is for general information only and does not constitute professional or legal advice. No liability is accepted for reliance on the information contained within this web site. Users should seek the appropriate legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action based upon the materials contained within this web site.

Cold Weather Working

Its that time of year again when we get asked if its OK to concrete or lay bricks during during the cold and snowy weather. As general advice we would not recommend working when temperatures are below 5 degrees and falling unless additional precautions are taken.

Concrete

Cemex have issued some excellent guidance about the need to protect concrete in cold weather. If young concrete is allowed to cool much below freezing point it will be damaged to such an extent that it will be unfit for use. It should also be noted that even if temperatures do not drop below zero the concrete will develop strength much more slowly than during the warmer months.

Brickwork

Setting in mortar usually occurs at temperatures above 4 degrees C. If mortar is used below this temperature it may not set properly and if water is retained in the joint, frost damage can result.

Fortunately there are relatively few periods in the UK when the daytime air temperature remains below 4 degrees C and if it is below freezing it may be impractical to continue with masonry work in any case; not least because the outdoor water supply will freeze.

However, during the winter months all stocks of bricks and blocks should be covered to provide protection against rain, frost and snow. Bricks or blocks that become saturated should not be used until they have dried out and in cold weather they risk damage if they freeze.

Mortar likewise needs protection during very cold weather. If mortar freezes during storage any frozen material must be discarded. Neither should mortar be laid on frozen surfaces. Anti freeze agents for mortar are not recognised in British or European Standards.

As mortar hardens and develops strength more slowly in cold weather, new masonry, or areas under construction, should be covered and protected from the elements. This is likely to require two layers – thermal protection such as hessian or some form of quilting and a waterproof sheet to stop the under layer getting wet.

Protective covers should not be in contact with the face of the wall to avoid ‘sweating’ and consequent staining. The covers should be secure and kept in place until the mortar dries.

Workforce

Also dont forget to look after yourself when working outside in cold weather. In many cases its best to postpone the work until the weather improves to avoid the risk of falls due to slippery surfaces on scaffolding, ladders, and work platforms.

Remember to wrap up warm as the body loses up to 30 times more heat in cold wet weather and about 10 per cent of this is lost through the head. Hooded jackets and coats, which keep the head and body warm and dry, and offer multiple layers of insulation which can be added or removed to suit outdoor conditions. When using a hood or hat ensure that this does not affect the fit of any head protection (hardhat).

Gloves should be worn if working in temperatures below 4C and offer thermal and water-resistant protection as well as good grip and flexibility. Good options include insulated gloves with a coating of nitrile material.

Safety footwear should provide warmth, waterproofing, traction and grip to prevent slips and falls on site. The Health and Safety Executive recommends grooved non-slip rubber or neoprene The thermal lining is waterproof to keep the feet warm while enabling them to breathe to prevent overheating.

Lastly be prepared to take more frequent rest breaks and drink warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks

 

Its our turn to extend.

We are pleased to announce that we will be opening a new office in Loughton, Essex, in November 2020.

This will help to extend our coverage for domestic scale projects out beyond the M25 and into Essex.

We look forward to bringing our award winning services out to a wider audience.

For more info check out our contact page.

 

Lockdown Latest

Following Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday, England will be going back into lockdown on Thursday 5 November.

During his announcement, he reiterated that the construction industry was to remain open, and government ministers has since confirmed that any construction or property support company should continue to operate if it is safe to do so.

Accordingly we can confirm that we will be continuing to operate during the Lockdown period and that site inspections should be booked as normal, using the inspection request page, email or via telephone.  Please rest assured that  we will be following the latest Construction Industry Council Site Operating Procedures to ensure that we keep our clients, our staff and the public as safe as possible.

In the event that you are self isolating, or are experiencing any of the symptoms of coronavirus, we would ask that you cancel any site visits and let us know in writing. We can then request any necessary extensions to statutory deadlines on your behalf to ensure that you do not breach rules on occupation prior to completion.

 

Proposed changes to accessible housing standards

The government have announced a consultation on proposed change to Part M of the Building Regulations, and the requirements for disabled access to new dwellings.

The current standards used in the Building Regulations are set at 3 variable levels, these are –

•M4(1): Visitable dwellings
•M4(2): Accessible and adaptable dwellings
•M4(3): Wheelchair user dwellings

At present requirement M4(1) is the default standard and applies as a mandatory requirement when no higher standard is applied locally. M4(2) and M4(3) are optional requirements for dwellings which local authorities can apply through planning policies.

The Government are looking at how they can best improve these requirements and have set out 5 potential ways forward. The options in the consultation are –

Option 1: Using recently revised planning policy to implement the use of optional technical standards.
Option 2: To mandate the current M4(2) requirement in Building Regulations as a minimum standard for all new homes, with M4(1) applying by exception (e.g a new build flat above a garage).
Option 3: Remove M4(1) altogether, so that all new homes will have to at least have the accessible and adaptable features of an M4(2) home.
Option 4: To mandate the current M4(2) requirement in Building Regulations as a minimum standard for all new homes with M4(1) applying by exception only, a set percentage of M4(3) homes would also need to be applied in all areas.
Option 5: Change the content to create a revised M4(1) minimum standard.

How would this affect your developments?

Well M4(1) only sets minimum standards – covering level access, level thresholds, door and corridor widths, entrance level WCs and accessible heights for controls. A move to M4(2) would require larger circulation spaces and sanitary provision (bathrooms) and features to make homes more easily adaptable over time. M4(3): Sets a standard for wheelchair accessible homes. This requirement can be for either a wheelchair adaptable home or a wheelchair accessible home.

To find out more about the different standards and what this could mean to your development get in touch and stay tuned for a future webinar.

New rules will makes Changing Place Toilets mandatory.

New rules will make “Changing Place Toilets” mandatory

The government have announced changes to Approved Document M: Access to and use of buildings, Volume 2 – Buildings other than dwellings.
It details which new, large buildings, or those subject to a material change of use, commonly used by the public will be mandated to provide changing places.
The changes will take effect on 1 January 2021, with applications received prior to that date which commence within 2 months being exempt. Hopefully no one will look to exploit the exemption, and grants will be available.
The new rules will require 4m x 3m changing places (not standard part M toilets) to be provided to meet the needs of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well as people with other physical disabilities such as spinal injuries, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
These toilets provide a dignified place and the right equipment for a disabled person & their career. Equipment includes a height adjustable adult-sized changing table, a tracking hoist system, adequate space, a peninsular WC with room either side and a safe and clean environment including tear off paper to cover the bench, a large waste bin and a non-slip floor.
The government estimates it will add the toilets to more than 150 new buildings a year and mean that around 250,000 severely Disabled people and their carers can enjoy shops, theatres, sports events, etc that the rest of us take for granted.
Contact us for more details.
covid workspace

Covid Secure Workspace

As businesses now look to return to work you may be thinking of making alterations to your workspace.

When carrying out any proposed alterations it is important to remember that you may require permission to make those alterations from the freeholder. Additionally in most cases Building Regulations require that you apply for consent in advance for any alterations.

The Building Regulations define a material alteration as 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; and also the energy efficiency of the building.

We have teamed up with our friends at Sagal Group and produed a guide to some of the key challenges in altering your workspace, to make sure that you don’t fall foul of the regulations.

The first thing to remember is that you must make an application in advance of carrying out the work and submit drawings of the existing and proposed layouts for assessment. Using the Local Authority Inspectors typically takes 5-8 weeks for a decision so if you are in a hurry you can use an Approved Inspector to speed up the process, as they can check the plans within 5-10 working days and in some cases you could even make a start a week after appointing them.

In most cases the key issues you will face relate to Fire Safety, Toilets and Disabled Access so we will quickly pick up on those issues in this guide, but always speak to the Building Inspector to make sure on your specific scheme.

Fire Safety

Changing the layout of the workspace will almost certaintly affect the means of escape in case of fire. This could simply be things like holding open or automating a fire door to improve circulation without the need to touch handles. You might be considering removing or installing partitions which mean that escape signs, emergency lighting or fire alarms also need to be moved.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider at this stage is the effect on escape distances of changing the layout of desks or operating a one way system for the stairs etc. Most workspaces will be designed on the principal of 2 directional escape. As a result you are allowed to be 45m away from a fire exit, if you reduce this to a single direction then the maximum distance reduces down to just 18m. Creating a one way system can significantly increase this distance.

When complete also remember to update your fire risk assessment and ensure that you still have the correct number of fire wardens and first aiders.

Toilets

In order to maintain safe distancing you may need to reduce the number of toilets or restrict access to them. The regulations set out the minimum number of toilets for the proposed occupancy and simply reducing the number of toilets in proportion to the number of workers doesn’t always result in sufficient numbers.

The guidance for toilet provision is set out in the table below.

Female toilets

Number of persons at work Number of WCs Number of washbasins
1 to 5 1 1
6 to 15 2 2
16 to 30 3 3
31 to 45 4 4
46 to 60 5 5
61 to 75 6 6
76 to 90 7 7
91 to 100 8 8

Above 100 persons require: 8, plus 1 WC and washbasin for every unit or fraction of a unit of 25 persons.

Male toilets

Every male toilet should have at least one WC. Considerations should be give to the provision of privacy screens between urinals.

Number of persons at work Number of WCs Number of urinals Number of washbasins
1 to 15 1 1 1
16 to 30 2 1 2
31 to 45 2 2 2
46 to 60 3 2 3
61 to 75 3 3 3
76 to 90 4 3 4
91 to 100 4 4 4

Above 100 persons require: 4, plus 1 WC, urinal and washbasin for every unit or fraction of a unit of 50 persons.

We have also created a complete guide to office and workplace washrooms.

Accessibility

When altering the workspace don’t forget that you must still ensure that the revised layouts are accessible to all, and that you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities. The use of a one way system using a lift up and a stair down for example could be discriminatory against a wheelchair user.

Installing a wrap around or continuous perspex screen at receptions could discriminate against people with hearing impairment unless you install an induction loop, and would still need a lower section for a wheelchair user. Also bear in mind that the use of temporary signage could be an issue for the visually impaired and that braille creates another surface that would need cleaning.

Child at window

Child Safety Week

For #childsafetyweek here’s a reminder that Approved Document K (England) provides recommendations for the minimum height of windows (800mm) above floor level and guarding for windows where they fall below these levels.

Architectural trends are for deeper windows or french windows with low level cills into their designs. The cills to these windows can provide platforms to aid climbability by children.

As such, the recommendations for guarding height to windows may not be appropriate to afford the required protection and to ensure the safety of the occupants and hence achieve compliance with the functional requirements.

According to Childata, 50% of four year old children can step up 410mm, and 3% can step up 550mm. Any cill height lower than 600mm may therefore be considered readily climbable by children. The same source shows only 5% of four year old children are taller than 1200mm so most would be fairly stable standing on an upstand if a minimum guard height of 700mm were to be maintained.

Worth remembering when you are sat designing this week.

For more info download the BCA Guidance notes or ring and speak with one of our technical staff.

 

Airspace Development

New rules for blocks over 11m will affect Airspace development.

The Government have today (26th May 2020) published new guidance that will require Sprinklers and Way finding signage in blocks of flats over 11m in height.

Critically this will also apply to airspace development where stories are added to an existing block.

The new rules require that blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level  should be fitted with a sprinkler system throughout the building. Sprinklers should be provided within the individual flats, they do not need to be provided in the common areas such as stairs, corridors or landings when these areas are fire sterile.

Applicants and building control bodies are reminded of the need to consider these new provisions in relation to extensions as required by Regulation 4(1).

New accommodation, formed by building work, should meet the relevant requirements having considered the guidance in the approved document. This means ensuring that the standard of fire protection for the occupants of the new accommodation is as would be provided for a new building under the approved document.

In the majority of cases, therefore, sprinkler protection and wayfinding signage will be necessary in any newly formed accommodation that falls above the new 11m trigger height.

It may also be necessary to consider additional protection for the existing parts of the building where needed to ensure that the extension is compliant with the applicable requirements of Schedule 1.

Equally, it will be necessary to satisfy regulation 4(3) by ensuring that the level of fire protection in the building as a whole is made no worse.

 

The 2019 edition will continue to apply where a building notice or an initial notice has been given to, or full plans deposited with, a local authority before 26 November 2020 and either the building work to which it relates:
a. has started before that day; or
b. is started before 29 January 2021.

The changes focus on the following fire safety provisions in blocks of flats:

a. Sprinklers:A reduction in the trigger height from 30m to 11m.
b. Wayfinding signage for the fire service: A new recommendation for floor identification and flat indication signage within blocks of flats with storeys over 11m

The full guidance can be found here