An update of the latest changes and legislation in the world of building regs...

New department, new minister

The beginning of May saw the demise of the ODPM and its replacement with the Department for Communities and Local Government. So it was out with John Prescott and in with Ruth Kelly. The reshuffle also resulted in a new Building Regulations minister, Angela Smith, who took over from Jim Fitzpatrick and has since made her mark by organising an industry summit meeting on the regulations (see below) and writing a column for Building.

Reforming the regs

In June, following Building’s successful Reform the Regs campaign (see the update on page 8), Building Regulations minister Angela Smith hosted a senior round-table meeting with experts from large and small housebuilding organisations, local government and building control bodies to discuss the need to make regulations easier to understand and increase compliance. Further meetings and announcements are expected over the next year.

Code for Sustainable Homes

After criticism from the industry, the government announced that the Code for Sustainable Homes would be delayed until later in the year in order to increase the energy and water efficiencies guidelines for publicly funded homes (see energy overview, page 14). This is particularly important as the provisions of the code will form the basis for the next wave of improvements to the Building Regulations.

The revised code will set minimum standards of energy and water efficiency for every level of the code, rather than allowing builders to trade different kinds of improvements against each other. The lowest levels of the code will also be raised above the level of mandatory Building Regulations. And to further promote on-site energy generation, new homes that use micro-renewable technology such as wind turbines and solar panels will also gain extra points.

Water efficiency

The DCLG and DEFRA are about to launch a consultation on new water efficiency standards that will apply to all new buildings and existing ones when bathrooms and fittings are replaced. This will be the first time that mandatory water-efficiency standards will have been applied to buildings.

The changes will be brought in by amendments to the Building Regulations, which could result in a new part being drawn up specifically for water efficiency. For new buildings this could involve the “whole house model” approach similar to the Standard Assessment Procedure for energy rating in Part L. This process will set standards for water use per person per day, and allow flexibility in design. For existing buildings the proposed regulations will require the use of more efficient fittings.

Energy performance certificates

Despite the fact that the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive came into force on 4 January this year, the government hasn’t quite got round to enforcing it yet (see energy overview, page 14). The directive requires mandatory energy performance certificates for all buildings when they are constructed, sold or rented out. This will begin in the UK with the launch of certificates for residential sales from 1 June next year as part of the Home Information Packs.

The DCLG is expected to announce a qualification scheme for EPC inspectors by the end of this year. EPCs will give owners and tenants clear information on the energy efficiency of their property, and advice on cost effective improvements for the first time. Public buildings will also be required to display their certificates.

Part L – energy efficiency

The big story of the past year was, without doubt, the revision of Part L of the Building Regulations (see our energy special, pages 14-35), requiring tougher energy performance standards for new buildings. However, it was not the standards themselves, but the way in which they were enforced that caused uproar in the industry, with the approved document published just three weeks before the new regulation came into force on 4 April. Since then, the industry has been battling to get to grips with the new whole-building calculation methodology, which means that software is essential to calculate the energy performance of non-domestic buildings. Meanwhile, in the residential sector, housebuilders have had to deal with the introduction of mandatory pressure testing for all new dwellings as well as the updates to the SAP software.

Part F – ventilation

The changes to Part L, which requires buildings to be more airtight, were accompanied by complementary changes to Part F, which deals with the ventilation of new buildings. The guidance in the approved document to Part F is now more performance-based.

Part P – electrical safety

On 1 January last year, Part P was introduced for domestic wiring installations. And electrical safety is one of the first areas to be covered by self-certification schemes (see pages 49-51), as well as building control. In April this year, Part P was further updated to clarify exactly when inspection and testing needs to be carried out and who is able to do this, along with other minor changes.

Part B – fire safety

In October, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which consolidates existing fire safety legislation into one document, comes into force (see page 45). This scraps the need for fire certificates, transferring responsibility to building owners or occupiers. The order is part of the government’s goal to reduce the number of fires by moving towards a fire prevention and protection strategy. As part of this, a revised Part B of the Building Regulations will come into force in April 2007, with final approved documents published by the end of the year.