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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
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    About to start our self-build and thought I'd ask what I hope is a straightforward question - are we better off with the local authority full plans process or should we approach a private outfit?

    My own experience is the approved inspectors tend to wave anything through (presumably they have very understanding PI insurers), whereas the local authority are overworked, underpaid and will use any excuse to delay things.

    Since this is our first build, I'm therefore tempted by the path of least resistance (i.e. Approved Inspector) but slightly concerned we'll essentially be paying for someone to just nod and rubber stamp rather than get proper scrutiny...perhaps I'm too cynical!

    Anyone got any ideas as to how much extra we can expect to pay?
    • CommentAuthorDarylP
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    LABC put their charges on the LA website, well they should!
    Full Plans approval plus site visits.

    Having experience of both LABC and AI BCBs, it depends on what you're after?

    LABC will help if you are in doubt, AIs tend to be less forthcoming, as their insurance companies keep them on a tight leash.

    Good luck:wink:
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    I would go LA, and take advantage of them by working with them, asking advice etc
    • CommentAuthorvord
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    I went private for my change of use project - about £700 I think but the cost depends on the project. A change of use is a bit like a new build inside an old building which is quite frustrating. An experienced council guy would have been fine, but had we got someone straight out of college reading the rule book without any thought or experience the process would have been a nightmare. The private guy is experienced ex-council and has mostly been fairly sensible about stuff.

    I've not had anything just waved through. I had a meeting at the start of the project where we decided what needed to be done. I argued that some things could not be done without a massive spend or damaging the building so we compromised and I'm doing some other more effective things instead.
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    Experienced Building Inspectors are worth their weight in gold, but can smell when they're being manipulated to get away with stuff, which includes trying to play the rule book at them.

    By all means, know the rule book backwards (which is merely hard work for anybody, not restricted to 'techies') but use it as basis for agreeing best feasible result. They really respect that intention to do best poss, and will help creatively.

    Same goes for Listed Buildings Officers, but Planning Officers are much harder to be nice to.
    • CommentAuthorvord
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    I wanted to marry my planning officer. A nice sensible Australian girl in a senior position. You can get good ones and bad ones.
    • CommentAuthorrevor
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    If my experience with LABC is anything to go by I would go with them. I had a terrific BCO on my job was the team leader but has now gone to another authority and will miss his very helpful advice. As an ex brickie he has a wealth of experience. Being local BCO are very accessible whereas it can be a bit dodgy getting an independent officer at short notice I have heard.
    Whereas our LABC officer was a nightmare when we did a small loft conversion. At every visit he would bring up something new which meant it took us forever to get it signed off.

    Has a reputation for a lack of knowledge and a strict adherence to letter of rules. See if you can get any info on who you will get from people who have built locally.

    We've used a AI whose inspections also cover the structural warranty. It saved us a fair bit of money but we've had no useful input (emails don't get a response, difficult to get on phone , doesn't come back on questions).

    We are hoping it will be an easy ride (it should be - we've tried to do things properly) but we will see - there will always be areas where a bit of pragmatism is needed
    • CommentAuthorringi
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016
    Often you can combine your independent inspector with your insurance. Without 10 years insurance cover you will find it very hard to get a mortgage on a new build.
    Are you going to be buying a 10yr structural warranty for your self build? I found that the warranty companies insisted you used their nominated building control inspector, you therefore have to look at the costs as a package (which I found varied wildly).

    My builder has mainly dealt with building control, but he says they are pretty good and when I've given them a call on the odd issue they've been good.
    • CommentTimeJan 4th 2016 edited
    Posted By: Simon StillAt every visit he would bring up something new
    Sounds like you went the Building Notice route - much better to get Approved Plans in advance.
    • CommentAuthorsnyggapa
    • CommentTimeJan 5th 2016
    we used the LABC and it worked well as the guy was senior, sensible, helpful and pragmatic. However the the builder we used has had opposite experiences with LABC as well, generally junior inspector's who's only reference is the "approved documents" and won't deviate from them an inch even when they don't make sense in the situation.

    I would hope that by going "own inspector" route that you get more of the first category and less of the second but I have no experience, the opposite may be true. as I am not sure the LABC inspectors are actually answerable to anyone whereas the own BCO route is likely answerable to an insurance company

    I guess some of this also depends on how far "off piste" your building work goes - it needs to be in the comfort zone of whatever inspector you use

    We went full plans submission with LABC and found it straightforward. The BCO has been very helpful. Being low energy design he was very interested in the technologies used.
    • CommentAuthorcjard
    • CommentTimeJan 5th 2016
    One of the major problems that junior BCOs may not understand is that the Approved Documents are NOT the building regulations and are not a stipulation of how things must be done. The law has very little to say about the actual construction - it may be something like "the building will be constructed so as to inhibit the spread of fire and resist disproportionate collapse" or "the building shall be accessible. The Approved Documents are ONE RATIFIED EXAMPLE of how to comply with the law. Essentially, by building in compliance with the recommendations in the AD, you are automatically complying with the law because the secretary of state says so. An experienced building inspector may be happy to get into a compromise situation where what you do isn't mentioned in an AD but can be demonstrably compliant with the law

    In terms of the actual question, I've had good and bad ones of both. On the whole they've been better than what other people say their experience is, but then I make a point of having conversations with them, approaching for advice, and doing what I'm told. I tend to use building notice route rather than full plans, and it helps build a better relationship. One advantage with an AI is, if you get the inkling that they're going to make life hard work you can sack them and appoint another if you haven't started, or have the council take over if you have started.

    The AI I now have I will probably keep until he retires and he covers a wide area.. Like most things there's an element of interpersonal relationship rather than just straight business so do try to be easy to get on with :) - a lot of the things you'll end up having to do aren't particularly costly or arduous in the grand scheme of things and the building game is full of shysters and assholes so don't get too hung up on little things - for example your first roofer may well rip you off for far more than the cost of a couple of fire doors your BCO insists on so try to take everything on balance. Generally the building regulations are a good idea and will promote a healthier and happier life for you and yours

    Doubting_Thomas, to be truly helpful we need to know who your Local Authority is, then if anyone here has direct experience of AIs in your area and your LA we can make recommendations
    • CommentAuthorDarylP
    • CommentTimeJan 5th 2016
    cjard, +1 :bigsmile:

    Slightly blown away by all the responses - thank you everyone!

    It sounds like it is luck of the draw in a lot of cases, but I'm perfectly willing to work closely with whoever we choose to go with and certainly agree that the Building Regs are a good thing in general (even if occasionally contradictory).

    Local Authority is Bath and North East Somerset and I should also probably mention that we're going the Passivhaus route which will likely add to confusion (particularly around Part F). All suggestions welcomed.
    • CommentAuthorcjard
    • CommentTimeJan 6th 2016 edited
    The other good thing about AIs is you can interview them.. Ask a few locally if they have done any passivhaus projects near by.. You could even go as far as asking if they'd give some details on the project, you can call round and ask the owner how they found them (if you have an appetite for such). I'd do my guy a reference for anyone who came knocking, and my missus also says I'd talk building techniques at great length with anyone who would care to listen* - finding a local PH owner could be a valuable source of insight for your project.

    *I'm quite sure it's not true. Not completely.
    • CommentTimeJan 7th 2016
    Posted By: Doubting_Thomaswe're going the Passivhaus route

    Start with the Passivhaus database, or other sources, to identify nearby Passivhauses and ask the owners or developers who did building control and whether they would recommend them?
    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: fostertom</cite><blockquote><cite>Posted By: Simon Still</cite>At every visit he would bring up something new</blockquote>Sounds like you went the Building Notice route - much better to get Approved Plans in advance.</blockquote>

    This was for a small loft conversion with one tiny dormer - first work we'd ever done that required BC approval. No plans - just structural calcs - and it was the secondary required work that he tied us up on.

    First visit was helpful - you need x insulation in the dormer, send me the structural calcs, if you put smoke alarms here here and here you don't need to change all the doors for fire doors. Fine.

    Next visit - when we'd done that - "oh - the door to the loft opposite needs upgrading". Ok, we'll do that.
    Next visit - the glass in the kitchen door needs to be swapped for fireproof glass.
    Next visit - you need to upgrade the door to the cellar (we did these by adding cement board to the back)

    If he'd done a proper inspection and told us all these things on day 1 I'd have been fine.
    • CommentTimeJan 7th 2016
    That's the point - with Building Notice they're apparently not obliged to do 'a proper inspection and told us all these things on day 1' or even to hold to advice given on previous visit - it's scandalous, and they won't admit fault in any of that, right up to the boss of Bldg Regs.
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