This year’s changes to the Building Regulations have created a whole new working culture for the building services profession, says Robert Higgs, chief executive of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association – and not everybody is happy about it
The changes to Parts F and L of the Building Regulations have had a huge impact on building services contractors. Their work is under greater scrutiny than it has ever been and they must now submit themselves to a new culture of notifying their work to building control.
Applying for a building notice is something services engineers have never concerned themselves about before, but since April any controlled service or fitting that is changed or is a new installation must now be notified. Because this is such a dramatic change for the sector, a number of industry bodies have been working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to set up a simple way for contractors to notify. Primarily this will involve self-certification through competent persons schemes.
This increased scrutiny changes everything. It puts a lot more pressure on the contractor to get everything right to survive scrutiny by an accredited certifier or building control officer. It also raises the stakes for the building services engineer’s employer. Ultimately, the client is responsible for ensuring building control is notified – either directly or by a suitably qualified professional. This means the role of an accredited services contractor takes on a whole new significance and logically they need to be brought into the design team at the earliest opportunity.
From a technical point of view, services contractors are now dealing with a new set of design parameters. Many of the individual energy saving elements now required under Part L, for example, would be things building services engineers would be familiar with and used to recommending to clients, but the legislation now makes them compulsory.
Under Part L building services designers are working to a dramatically different building method for reducing carbon emissions. Rather than the previous “elemental” approach, where the regulations could be met simply by deploying various individual energy efficient technologies, inspectors are now looking for an approach that tackles the entire carbon footprint of the building. This means services contractors must consider the thermal characteristics of the building envelope, the insulation associated with both the fabric and the heating and hot water systems. They must provide evidence to support air-conditioning – should they include it – and the orientation of the building must be taken into account to calculate solar gain. Also, passive methods of protection from solar gain such as internal and external shades must be considered and natural ventilation used where possible.
An even more significant change than all of these design issues is the increased importance of commissioning. This is a huge change – if not in theory, at least in practice. Poor scheduling and compressed construction timetables have led to many buildings never being properly commissioned in the past with air and water systems left unbalanced when the building is occupied: this in turn has had a disastrous effect on energy performance and occupant comfort.
This increased scrutiny changes everything. It puts pressure on the contractor, and raises the stakes for the engineer’s employer
In the new regulations, there is now a far greater emphasis on making sure that what is built operates as designed, which means it will no longer be possible to hand over a building without it being fully commissioned to the standards set out in CIBSE Code M and a certificate being provided to prove it.
The regulations have also made building log books compulsory at each handover. These provide the user with a comprehensive but simple guide to all the controlled services in their building. This has created an additional responsibility for services contractors and consulting engineers to assemble all the required information.
Users have rarely had much chance of ensuring their building works as well as it should because of the lack of usable and understandable information about the services. Log books will help to tackle this deficiency as well as helping with measuring and monitoring of energy consumption and maintenance. This means facilities managers will be able to quickly detect where there are problems so they can put things right.
This all sounds like a lot of extra work for building services contractors, and although some have rightly recognised the business opportunities that have arisen from the Building Regulations, others are clearly unhappy about the extra responsibility and administration involved. The transition is not proving easy for many, but the early pain will be rewarded. The new legislative platform gives quality, properly accredited firms with expert operatives a chance to demonstrate what they can do in the battle against climate change. It also provides greater recognition of the importance of their role and with that should come earlier involvement in design and installation decisions and, ultimately, fairer financial rewards.
Regulations August 2006
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