When people are thinking about choosing us as their architect, they understandably have lots of questions. Many of them are to do with design and ways of working. But we often get asked about building regulations and building control.
Our answer is that we work in accordance with all legal requirements from the very beginning to ensure we deliver projects that conform to best practice design and build principles.
At Stage One, we look to develop the big picture view of your project, drawing up plans that encapsulate your vision. These plans are also used to fulfill the legal requirement of this Stage – planning permission from your local authority to build the project.
The legal requirement relevant at this Stage is compliance with the Building Act. This is the law that concerns the construction process, and the design and specifications of buildings and their component parts. It is this law that forms the basis of Building Regulations. To check your building complies with Building Regulations, it needs to be inspected and signed off by an approved Building Inspector.
There are two ways to seek Building Regulations approval on a domestic project. We favour one over the other because it fits into a process that helps us manage costs much more effectively than is typical on a building project.
Two routes to Building Regulations approval on a domestic project
The first route to seeking Building Regulations approval is to submit a building notice to your local authority. This notice tells your local Building Inspector that you are about to start work on a project. They then tell you the stage at which they will need to inspect the work. When you reach that stage, you tell them and they come to inspect your project. They will then sign it off (or not) accordingly.
The issue we have with this approach is that you have to build something while always running the risk it has to be taken down because it doesn’t comply. If the work you are doing is simple and is being carried out by an experienced professional, then it may be a risk worth taking. But on any project with any degree of complexity, we think it is a risk too far. Quite simply, as soon as you make your first mistake, any savings you’d achieved are lost.
We prefer the second route to approval. This is to detail the method of construction and ask the Building Inspector to check it before you start work. We do this by preparing and submitting detailed plans. The Building Inspector will still need to check the method of construction on site and there are still details to confirm, but you have greater reassurance it will be acceptable and there is less risk of costly mistakes being made.
The value of looking at the detail
We prefer the second approach because it also brings much wider benefits. For most people, the most important of these is cost control. The costs of building projects are notorious for spiralling out of control and our way of working focuses on minimising this risk.
The plans we compile at Stage One of our process, look at the big picture. The overall design, the size, the materials we’ll use and so on. These help us agree what you want.
The plans we compile at Stage Two work out how we are going to build what we have agreed. They look at foundation design, wall construction, structural design, insulation values, window detailing, damp proof courses, electrical layout, where boilers and flues should be located, kitchen and bathroom design, bespoke furniture required, all finishes to be used and much more. We also consider the legal requirements that demonstrate health and safety has been taken into account at every level. We look at fire safety. We look at requirements in relation to safe handling of asbestos if required. We produce pre-construction safety documentation to discharge your duties under the requirements of the CDM 2015 Regulations.
“One of my main concerns was around the regulations and getting them right. I could always get in touch with Alex and have him explain something. It reduced my stress levels enormously. Having that second pair of eyes gives you great comfort.”
This detailed level of work gives many advantages.
It allows us to sense check our Stage One plans and make adjustments if we need to. It also allows engineers to calculate beam sizes, heat loads and loss and more, so we can make adjustments to meet regulations if we need to here too. Working all this out on paper is much cheaper than working it out on site.
The results our work are a detailed set of plans that document exactly how the project will be built. There is also an itemised list of the components required. We send this information out to tender to building contractors. We also submit abbreviated versions to the Building Inspector for checking before work starts to cover the requirements in relation to Building Regulations.
“It was a very pleasant process but it was very detailed – the attention to detail throughout was phenomenal. I was astonished when we were given a lever arch file full of drawings and details but I understood why when the quotes from the builders came back because it gave them something detailed to quote on.”
The value of having such detailed plans is that we can get very detailed and accurate prices from building contractors. We can then agree these costs up front before any work begins.
This is where the real value of Stage Two really shines through. At the point where we sign the contract with the building contractor, our clients know what they want, the builders know how to build it and we have a very good idea of how much the build will cost.
There is no doubt this way of working adds more to the upfront costs of a project. However, it is still a relatively small amount in comparison to the total price of the build – we generally find that most people spend 10% of their budget at Stage One and Stage Two and 90% at Stage Three. It’s also work that reduces all the risks of a project’s costs spiralling out of control. So much so that the vast majority of the projects we run in this way are delivered for their agreed cost. And that’s an incredibly reassuring place to start from.