Review 2 – 20 January 2015
How many houses have been altered in Ireland where first floor bedroom windows have been replaced without the provision of the required unobstructed openings for escape in the event of a fire or attic conversions undertaken without adequate structural supports? Vast numbers of homes have been renovated in this country without even the most basic compliance with Building Regulations Part L: Conservation of Fuel and Energy which has a seriously negative impact on the value of our national housing stock and our ability to meet carbon emission reduction targets. With almost all fire fatalities* occurring in residential buildings is there not a case that every project should have some sort of third party oversight by competent inspectors even if it is just to make sure the carbon monoxide detectors have been installed?
As part of this continuing BRegs Blog series on SI.9 and the 40 square metre question this post continues with an examination of the context of selecting a seemingly arbitrary 40 square metre measurement in relation to assessing project size for an exemption from the ‘additional requirements’ of SI.9; one could ask why not 4 square metres or 400 square metres? Equally one could also ask if any building works at all should be exempt from Building Control by not having to issue a Commencement Notice?
It is worth noting that the SI.9 Building Control Regulations are different to the Building Regulations. SI.9 is a set of rules to define Building Control procedures. It is not a specification for better building. The Building Regulations specify requirements in relation to Structure, Fire Safety, Ventilation etc. and apply to all building work whether a Commencement Notice is issued or competent certifiers appointed.
It appears that the 40 square metre figure arose from the identical figure used for planning permission exemptions in the Planning Act 2000 legislation as defined in SI. 601:2001. In assessing the merit of using the same figure in SI.9 it is worth borrowing a line from the recent BCMS appeal for assistance with resolving separate difficulties with SI.9 and the completion of multi-unit developments. It said:
“In this context it is appropriate to highlight the dangers of combining and confusing regulatory codes that are entirely different, though they all deal with building or site development.”
Unfortunately this statement neatly describes the difficulties now being encountered with SI.9 and the 40 square metre question. Planning and Building Control have different purposes. Planning is more about about the amenity of your neighbours while Building Control is about the safety and welfare of your family or occupants of a building. If one accepts that there should be exemptions from Building Control for smaller or simpler projects on the basis of “sure, what could go wrong?” then the smaller projects must be examined individually. There has been no logical interpretation of a cumulative approach to exemptions. If a less that 40 square metre extension to your house is exempt from Building Control this year than how can the 2 square metre extension next year not be? There are valid reasons to consider multiple extensions cumulatively from a planning control perspective but not building control. There is no substantial likelihood that any building owner will attempt to circumvent Building Control legislation by building a house in increments of 39 square metres or less. Is this the motivitation in the Department of the Environment or is it a desire to ensure every new porch extension has a professional appointment and a CIRI-registered building contractor?
If a Commencement Notice is issued with or without ‘additional requirements’ the Building Control Authority are on notice and can inspect the building works at any time. With regard to the question if any building works should be exempt from Building Control by not having to issue a Commencement Notice it is worth considering the small scale projects outlined in the opening paragraph above that may be exempt from issuing any Commencement Notice but that may have serious implications for the welfare of occupants.
In future posts on this issue we will be highlighting the varying interpretations of the 40 square metre question that the BRegs Blog has come across and a commissioned opinion, bearing in mind the law is the law and one cannot interpret intent.
*In 2013, (the most recent year for which figures are available) 21 of the 24 fire fatalities in Ireland occurred in residential accommodation. (Link to figures:)