Now that my Dad has plumbed in the cylinder-that-means-we-can-lose-the-water-tank (which, by the way, has transformed our rather limp shower into a veritable POWERJET, happy days!) I have been getting my head around what we need to do to get our work approved by Building Control. This isn’t the same thing as getting planning permission – though it’s only now that I’m dealing with it that I have fully understood the difference. I figured it might be useful to do a quick post on this in case anyone out there is starting a project of their own in the New Year – see how good I am to you?
Basically, planning permission (in the context of a house reconfiguration) deals with the external appearance of the development and its impact on the surroundings. Building Control deals with making sure that fire safety and environmental regulations are adhered to, both for layout and materials, and that the plans are structurally safe. I haven’t been that interested in this side of the project so far, until it dawned on me that ‘structurally safe’ actually means ‘will not fall down join the middle of Sunday Lunch’. Oh, see, NOW I’m interested – NOTHING comes between me and my roasties!
So, the good news is I now understand the importance of Building Control – and the bad news is that this means hiring a structural engineer (for a loft conversion, this can cost anywhere between between £300-£1,000). His/her role is to look at the architectural plans in conjunction with the existing structure of the house, and to provide a detailed plan, backed up by calculations, for the builders to work from.
At this stage, the overall costs can change quite drastically as the structural engineer’s calculations will dictate how much steel is needed for your project. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll need at least a couple of steels put in to take the load away from existing joists; you may need more depending on the details of your conversion – we do because we’ve included a large dormer.
Once your Structural Engineer has made their recommendations and you’ve cried a bit at the price of all the steel, you will need to submit the plans and calculations to your local authority for approval before you start building. This is generally a much quicker process than applying for planning permission but guess what – it also comes with a cost – for our loft we are looking at between £400-£500. Huzzah!!!! It’s the throwing money out the window game!
When you submit the plans, you have a choice between asking for a full inspection or a ‘Building Notice’. Both options cost the same but if you are in a hurry, the ‘Building Notice’ route means you will be able to start work within a couple of days, whereas the full inspection will take longer – as the name implies, this will involve a detailed check of the plans along with a visit to your property, before approval is granted.
A note of caution here – if you start work on a Building Notice, you will still have in-progress inspections of the work; if at any point the Building Control Officer is unhappy with the work from a technical/safety/structural point of view, you will have to undo what’s been done and redo it to the appropriate specifications – this can add time, costs and tears to the process. Whereas if you go for the full inspection, and then stick to the approved plans, there is no risk of having to pull out the work already done – unless, I guess, something majorly unforeseen occurs but let’s not think about that!
Because we’ve taken such a long time to get to this point so a few more weeks don’t seem to matter, and because our house has some idiosyncrasies, AND because we absolutely CANNOT afford the risk of taking stuff apart to redo it, we have decided to go for the full inspection up front – if it is straightforward, and if the Party Wall Agreements go smoothly (more on these at a later date…) we could be looking at a January start!