New legislation and greater self-regulation create pathway to safer, better-built properties
Due to be implemented in full in the coming year, the Building Safety Act makes unprecedented reforms to improve building standards and safety in the UK.
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04 April 2023
A significant aspect of the new legislation is the provision of more rights, powers and protections to residents and homeowners. It also strikes a blow for those of us who have long campaigned for improved construction standards by holding to account contractors or other supply chain stakeholders for building safety defects.
Uncertainty remains as to the time period that parties can be found liable for their part in a building’s failure. However, residents can rest assured that the new safety measures will ensure poor building practitioners face remediating costs and possibly prosecution for damage as a consequence of their negligence.
With the creation of three new bodies to oversee the reforms: the Building Safety Regulator; the National Regulator of Construction Products, and the New Homes Ombudsman, the Building Safety Act provides a most welcome framework for the delivery of better, high-quality homes.
Endemic cost culture
The Act has been introduced following a wholescale, post-Grenfell review of the fire and building safety regime undertaken by Dame Judith Hackitt (former Chair of the Health and Safety Executive). The report informs much of the Building Safety Act, including its call for improved regulation compliance. This certainly chimes with my view that in terms of construction, a ‘how much does it cost?’ culture remains prevalent in the UK. In too many cases, the bottomline is the all-consuming consideration, rather than specifying products or materials that perhaps more costly, are precisely what’s required for a property to comply with safety and energy standards.
As with most things that exist to improve our lives, quality is everything. Indeed, the recent amendments to Part L of the Building Regulations acknowledge the need for a fabric first approach to building, replete with high-calibre insulation, as being integral to improving the quality of new-homes. This strategy implies a back-to-basics process is what’s needed to produce better-built properties. It’s my opinion that this is precisely what the industry needs to address issues with the UK’s 28.6m housing stock, which according to an Imperial College London report: ‘Decarbonising Buildings: Insights From Across Europe’, is among the least energy efficient in Europe.
Ultimately, for experienced, professional builders, constructing homes to current building regulations should not be a matter of rocket science. Following British standards and applying best practice throughout all stages of the process are basic tenets for building a property that performs as-designed. For instance, minimum insulation thickness levels apply in roof installation. Failure to work to those requirements in single-ply applications risks problems with surface condensation and algae growth. Then, the potential for accidents and the prospect of additional costly maintenance become a possibility.
For the insulation sector and indeed all strands of the construction industry, the Building Safety Act is a wake-up call to those who have become conditioned to giving customers what they want, rather than what they need. This means being precise with building processes such as U-value calculations and ensuring the building’s fabric at the very least meets the minimum regulation target. Too often, builders will shortcut this crucial design aspect by setting a notional target based on average U-value outcomes, the culmination of which can lead to a building falling short of its overall thermal expectations.
Therefore, as welcome as the Building Safety Act is in respect of setting out more clearly how residential buildings should be constructed, maintained and made safe, builders should not dismiss letting their conscience be their guide when it comes to achieving the highest standards of construction.
From architect to developer, ‘doing the right thing’ for clients, residents and our future built environment should be the overriding objective when embarking on a building project of any size. This is because self-regulation is often the most effective regulation of all.
Find out your building’s elemental thermal performance via our U-value calculator.