Home building regulations apply when you build, sell, rent out or make major alterations to your property. But if you're a longstanding householder with a can-do attitude you've probably been working on it since you moved in. Even when you use a tradesperson you're responsible for any changes, which could also include various aspects becoming worn, damaged or outdated. While the rules are constantly evolving, it's never a bad idea to consider where you stand.
Building Regulations UK
The Building Regulations for England and Wales date back to 1965, but the original, very prescriptive ones, were substantially redrafted as the more realistic and flexible Building Act 1984, which forms the basis of current legislation. The Building Regulations 2010 and subsequent amendments currently apply.
Specific parts deal with structure, fire safety, damp proofing, ventilation and other concerns, and new work will be inspected by the council after construction. The key sections are Building Regulations Part L, which governs energy-efficiency, Building Regulations Part J, regarding gas and other combustible fuel, and the building regulations on electricity, which are in Part P. Unusually, gas and electrical work doesn't have to be inspected by Building Control, and can be signed off by a suitably registered tradesperson.
A badly fitted or poorly maintained boiler, cooker or gas fire can cause fire, explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning, so although it's not legally required, you may choose to apply these safety standards to your home.
In any case, only a Gas Safe registered contractor (CORGI no longer handles this) may conduct gas work or a gas safety check. They will automatically issue your inspection certificate on the specified safety documentation forms.
If you ever smell gas or suspect a gas leak, always follow the gas leak safety procedure. Open doors and windows, switch off the gas at the appliance and the mains. If you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, see a doctor immediately and tell them you may have carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't turn the mains back on until a registered gas engineer has inspected and repaired the problem.
Part P and BS7671 wiring regulations govern electrical circuitry, but an informed handyperson may do electrical work. Paperwork is not usually required for work to most existing circuits, including adding or replacing power sockets, spurs, switches or lighting points, or for telephone or similar low-voltage wiring.
Replacing a fuse box, adding kitchen, bathroom or outdoor sockets or installing two-way light switching or cooking equipment does need Building Control approval. Either use a registered professional (who will apply for you) or, to do-it-yourself or use a non-certificated tradesperson, notify your local Building Control direct or engage an 'Approved Inspector' to handle this.
A Part P registered electrician can inspect any work and issue a certificate, and it's worth getting everything, including those minor repairs, checked for safety now and again.
Energy Performance Certificate
An EPC rates the building on an A-G scale like those on household appliances, and is valid for 10 years. If your home was built after 2007, the original builder should have obtained this and issued it to the first owner. An accredited assessor can issue a new EPC, but you'll only need this when selling or renting. The rules on energy efficiency are constantly changing, so it's not worth it otherwise.
Building Regulations apply primarily to new building projects. You don't usually need consent for repairs, but you may for structural work like building an extension or loft conversion, removing a load bearing wall or creating a window. Replacement windows, underpinning or rewiring, new kitchens or bathrooms, heating systems, chimneys and flues are also governed by these regulations. Exempt projects include a porch, car port or external conservatory of less than 30m².
Some major work, known as Permitted Development can be done without full planning permission, (provided your home is not subject to extra legal proscriptions), though prior approval and neighbour consultation may be required. New relaxed rules were introduced in May 2013 for a trial period due to end on 30 May 2016, and these allow for larger rear extensions than previously.
Some people worry their DIY refurbishment projects may have broken strict building regulations on bedroom size or similar, but the current rules on layout are quite flexible. Minimum room proportions do exist, but are only applied to social housing. It's been a while since a toilet needed a lobby between it and the kitchen, and a shower cubicle can go anywhere, including off a bedroom or living room.
A word of warning, though: if your home is Listed or otherwise restricted to preserve its appearance, there is less you can do without consent, including changes to the interior. This could even apply to some electrical or gas work. Check with a council Conservation officer if you're ever unsure - breaking listed building regulations is a crime. It's also worth noting that Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own rules, which may differ in some respects from those discussed above.
Though it's not a good idea to get into this situation deliberately, it is possible to request 'regularisation' or retrospective consent for work you've already done. You maybe forced to undo work, or to remove wall surfaces to expose the work in question, and in any case the process usually costs more than applying in advance. But if you've done something that's typical to homes in your street, it may be just a matter of getting the paperwork straightened out. These processes do tend to take time, though, so make sure you plan for that.
Is it safe?
Unless you're building a new home, the bottom line with most building regulation paperwork is that it won't be an issue unless you're planning to sell or rent out the property. But building regulations exist to ensure everyone's safety and comfort. If you think your gas or electricity might be substandard, or your extension unstable, it may be worth getting it checked out anyway, just to be sure.