What does ‘Opt Out’ mean? | Patrick Daly Architectural Technologist

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08 November 2016

The following post was submited by Patrick T. Daly Architectural Technologist

What does ‘Opt Out’mean.

I am an architectural technician.  I have been in full time private practice since 2003.  My workload consists mainly of one-off private dwellings, domestic extensions and refurbishments.  Invariably I was affected by BCAR insofar as I had to limit my practice to planning only.  This hit me at a time (2014) when 7 years of catastrophic recession was causing me to ask the question ‘should I retrain for a different career path’.  I lost out on both the experience of handling the new approach to building control that BCAR has brought about and financially due to loss of income from construction stage services.

Luckily some retention applications came my way at the beginning of 2015 and I also pleaded my case with social welfare and received a part payment to supplement my practically non existant income from self employment.  I have followed this blog for the past 3 years or so and have looked on at the BCAR debate from a detached perspective- a little bit like an injured striker looking at a football match from the dugout.

Then along comes ‘opt out’.  What was my response?  You might think my reaction would be ‘hurrah, I can get back in the game again’.  No.  I have far to much time in this profession to think only from my own perspective.  My view was that despite the onerous liabilities placed upon anyone taking up a certifier role that BCAR has brought, the decision to allow the building of one off dwellings and extensions without the need for statutory County Council vetted and issued compliance certification was hastily taken.

My concern is with the term ‘opt out’ and the ‘message’ that this has conveyed to the public. It is the sign of poor legislators who in one act have completely disregarded the previous attempt at bringing about some sort of cohesive approach to compliance in building codes and standards.

I have years of experience of how poorly understood the need for proper regard for building regulation is by the general public.  It is a fact that an attitude of break or bend the rules prevails in this country if it will lead to saving a few bucks in the short term.  This said I am embracing my reinstated role of being ‘allowed’ to once again, offer my opinion on compliance issues by getting up from behind a computer screen and actually inspecting the thing that materialises from my hours of work – thinking, drawing and writing about.

The BCMS portal is an important development, one which I am finding brings greater awareness to clients and builders about the need to construct to current regulation or more importantly current best practice.  It allows the establishment of a framework within which I can manouvere a small domestic project from being substantially compliant to a position whereby every effort had been made by the project team to adhere to the building regulations.  I am not taking a light touch approach and am using my knowledge of the full BCAR system to instigate control measures into my approach to ‘opt out’.  This is what needs to occur as attitudes to inspection, accountability and responsibility for our built environment need to change on all sides.

Given that the only requirement of ‘opt out’ is that ‘an alternative approach’ be used to demonstrate compliance with building regulations, this leads to as much a professional quandary as did the introduction of BCAR in the first place.  The inspecting professional is left entirely responsible for compliance issues with not even a paperwork checking exercise required on the part of the local authority.  Therefore to increase standards the control measures that I have introduced include:

  1. Preparation and upload of compliance stage drawings and specifications
  2. Preparation and upload of an inspection plan.
  3. Doubling the number of visits to site for inspection purposes.
  4. Increasing visual recording of building work (photographs measured surveys and sketches).
  5. Increased monitoring of builders and tradepersons approach to construction detailing .
  6. Ensuring  CE certification is provided for all materials.
  7. Ensuring certification is provided for installations by specialists such as plumbing, electrics and waste-water treatment.

These are a minimum set of measures that I expect will be added to as projects develop on site, because in the absense of any type of framework or guidance surrounding ‘opt out’ I have to develop my own procedures.

Finally for anyone conducting or involved in the Full System I applaud you as the detail, caution and responsibility required by Design and Assigned certifiers complete with the wording of the statutory certifcates would cause me to hesitate leading to a state of professional paralysis.  I may be a simple techie but in my view a lot of the consternation among the professionals signing these certificates could be allivated by a review of the language used.

Essentially you are offering a blanket quarantee to anyone entering, owning, using or having any concern with the building whatsoever, that every component or all the workmanship is completely in accordance with the building regulations.  This is a position that is impossible in the construction of a bespoke or unique item involving numerous designers, suppliers and constructors. Unless we move towards total factory controlled production of buildings – a move which could inevitably lead to design monotony and architectural blandness, these blanket guarantees are an impossible burden on professionals in private practice.

All this said I will reiterate my concern that this whole area be constantly reviewed and the legislation rewritten until the principal objective of responsible compliance is understood by all involved.  At this stage we have had 2 and a half years of BCAR and a little over 1 year of ‘Opt Out’.  A lot of the concern expressed by the professions that surrounded the introduction of the system  seems to have abated- presumably as certifiers get to grips with the process and projects get completed without the painful calamaties that everyone envisaged would occur.

What I would like to know is, in the private residential sector how many projects are proceeding under the full system and how many under ‘opt out’ and how is the ‘two tier’ approach benefitting outcomes in the built environment?

Other posts of interest:

Is Industry Lobbying stalling self-building? 

Banks rule-out self-builders in housing crisis?

“Want to hear vested interests squeal and throw tantrums?” | Karl Deeter

SI 365 of 2015: A good start | Collins + O’Cofaigh

Breaking News! | SI.9 Revisions Published

RIAI Response | Ministerial Review SI.9

Regulations add up to €60k to house cost | Karl Deeter

BCAR “is estimated to add about €25,000 to the cost of each home” | Ronan Lyons

First Responders | Engineers Ireland criticise proposed SI.9 reforms

“Thank you, Minister!” | Registered Architect

6 thoughts on “What does ‘Opt Out’ mean? | Patrick Daly Architectural Technologist

  1. Zeno WInkens

    Hello Patrick,
    good essay.
    I am a RIAI member and work mainly in the domestic residential sector too. I have taken on the role of assigned certifier several times at this stage. It is difficult to advise clients on
    SI9 vs SI365 (SI9 lite). Even aftert 2 and a half years I find it difficult getting certificates off builders and tradesmen in general. At this stage every body should be aware of the necessity.
    This two tiers system may cause big problems down the line when these properties come up for sale and Banks and solicitors get their teeth into it. Will SI9 certified properties be worth more? Or should I say will Si365 be worth less? They both should be built to the current building regulation standards.
    I have drafted two A3 pages checklist type pages.
    Overview of Regulations for Dwelling under
    SI 365 2015 http://tinyurl.com/ave-dwell-si365
    SI9 2014 http://tinyurl.com/ave-dwell-si9
    Of course with those in hand my clients have plenty of questions.

    Reply
  2. Patrick Daly

    Thank you Zeno.
    I used to feel a little ridiculous informing clients that it was no longer possible for me to carry out supervision/inspection services under SI 9 2014. I had built up a small but faithful clientele in my local community. A rural community where even the process of
    applying for planning permission is made difficult by ‘development pressure’ from urban centres and the need to protect the rural landscape from the blight of poorly designed one-off houses. However I managed to work through this situation as explained above. I believe the main thrust behind the introduction of SI 365 2015 was to stop the self build sector grinding to a halt. This sector of building activity seems resilient in its refusal to let over complicated and overly expensive regulatory procedures dictate weather or not it will persist into the future. The other consideration was probably to once again allow architectural practitioners who are not part of the 3 registered and assigned professions back into the process of overseeing compliance. With regards to the latter it is my experience that economic factors have played a significant role in determining which tier clients will choose over the short term, with little regard to the consequences for future conveyencing scenarios and quality. The discussion surrounding who should certify compliance is a thorny one for all involved including the registered professionals and those capable enough to have established themselves in private practice. My position is one of refusing to allow myself become part of a second tier of non registered professionals who might be viewed as being interested in providing a second rate service at the expense of proper oversight and diligence in relation to building regulation compliance issues. With regard to the registered professions and as you have pointed out it seems utterly confusing to any ordinary man why there should be two separate processes possible in demonstrating compliance. My task is simple: I can advise clients that I can take on an inspection role only if they choose to opt out of SI9. Yours is more complicated insofar as you need to impartially explain both the drawbacks and the advantages of both systems while at the same time ensure that your fee earning capacity is not impacted. I bid you well with these challenges and will get back to writing up my inspection reports, photologs, letters seeking certificates for all and sundry.

    Kind Regards
    Patrick

    Reply
  3. Lester Naughton

    Patrick you are almost certainly dong to much where SI9 does not apply. We are in a situation now where despite the onerous wording of certification (where SI9 applies) the Department has published, then referred the public to and now also circulated to local authorities its own “Draft” inspection plan with all of 5 inspections for a typical house some of which are impossible (Eg. Inspection 1- Radon Barrier, Insulation, Hardcore and underfloor services all visible for inspection at once?) Who are we to say any different? If you are providing services under the “opt out” you surely can’t be expected to do more ?

    The reason the “calamity” has not yet occurred is that for the SI9 system to be exposed it will take another priory hall type disaster. This will take years and probably a few court cases. In the mean time we all lie away (Or are we really all demanding buildings are 100% snag free before certifying ?) and sign the certificates with service levels and fees been continually beaten down. (€450-00 per unit under SI9 was the latest I heard) The “permanent government” (ie DOE officials) in the mean time are happy out because when the next priory hall arrives they will be able to pull out the completion certificate and quote the final paragraph to the press.

    PS its a rotten job that Technicians were excluded – did you consider “grandfathering” in as a surveyor ? Be a careful what you wish for !

    Reply
  4. Patrick

    Hi Lester,
    Thank you for your comment. Yes I have considered the possibility of retraining – however the most disappointing part of BCAR from a technicians or technologists perspective is the loss of expertise and
    experience that those professions might bring to bear on the situation – particularly if they are in a self
    employed role. A good many years ago after completing a Dip. Arch. Tech. I went on to study architecture
    to BA level. I did not go any further with the later due to ill health. Therefore I have at least a little understanding of the architects perspective. I know that the training of technologists has evolved since
    my days in education to at least BcS level if not further. Perhaps it is time that my trade evolves into
    a fully recognised profession in its own right. I do not bemoan the fact that the 3 ‘assigned’ professions
    were granted exclusive roles under BCAR, The lack of a defined role for someone with a recognised qualification in construction/architectural technology ‘and’ demonstratable experience of inspecting building works was unfortunate under SI9. It certainly would not have contributed to a race to the bottom in terms of fees – as you have stated – this has happened anyway.

    Your first point is valid and in explanation I don’t mean to sound like someone saying ‘look at me I can do
    this job thoroughly and be on site every day and inspect every last screw and nail’. My reality is that I have been off-site for nearly 2.5 years and a lot has happened in the meantime. Therefore by taking up a role under ‘Opt Out’ i have some catching up to do and faced with very very poorly defined criteria under the legislation I need to be a bit cautious.

    A final point I would like make is this : From the perspective of someone coming back to inspecting building works post BCAR i can see that attitudes, awareness and quality have changed on site for the better. Whether this is due to the SI 9 legislation and its defined procedures or to the Professionals operating under the system is unclear. I would hazard a guess at a ‘bit of both’. The underlying risk
    which the role encompasses and the lowering of fees to ever more ludicrous levels as you have described is regrettable from the point of view of anyone with even a moderate sense of fairness. These issues should be properly addressed by both those draughting the legislation and the professional bodies. Will this happen?

    Reply
  5. Shaun Baxter

    Hi Patrick. I found your post very enlightening, thanks. Can I ask, how are you completing mortgage certificates, as most lenders are specifying either to be completed by “Architect or Engineer”? Are they accepting Architectural Technologist qualification for same? (I am an Arch Tech member of the RIAI for my sins…)
    I too would like to get back into on site work ( agreed , it is very embarrassing after 20 years not to be able to provide this service to clients).
    On a number of recent projects, the supervising engineers have made serious mistakes due to not understanding the design, plus are making substantial fees on the back of my work ( which hurts).
    I wonder how long until we can undertake at least the design certifier role?
    Kind Regards, Shaun

    Reply
  6. Patrick Daly

    Hi Sean,
    Your experience sounds pretty similar to my own.
    I was lucky enough to develop a working relationship with one firm of engineers. Basically I handed one pretty straightforward one off house to them when BCAR started in 2014. Since then they have returned the favour by giving me some design work which I also took through planning. However on some other jobs my role ended after planning stage. I advised my clients in these instances to make sure the certifiers understood the design and if there were any areas of misunderstanding I would make clarifications. I did not chase fees for this work in the interests of keeping up my good name in the locality. But I agree with you as having to do this is soul destroying.
    To answer your main question please feel free to email me at pdalyarchitech@gmail.com. as it will probably take a bit of explaining.

    Regards
    Patrick

    Reply

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