You are here: Building Regulations explained

Building regulations cover all aspects of construction from structural stability of walls and roofs to fire safety, ventilation and drainage. The rules are developed by Government and enforced by local authority building control departments to ensure safety and energy efficiency standards. They also protect against cowboy builders.

In England and Wales, Building Regulations that apply are set out in the Building Act 1984 which is regularly updated with the current version being Building Regulations 2010.  Meanwhile those that apply in Scotland are set out in the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. Government produces Approved Documents which describe in detail how to comply with the rules. However, they are highly technical and you may need expert help from a building surveyor, structural engineer, architect or other competent person.

When is approval needed?

Some types of building projects are exempt from the Regulations. However, Building Regulations apply to most kind of construction work, including:

·        Extending or altering an existing building

·        Putting up a new building

·        Replacing windows and doors

·        Replacing roof coverings on pitched and flat roofs

·        Installing a bathroom or washing and sanitary facilities that involve plumbing

·        Putting in a fixed air-conditioning system

·        Replacing hot water cylinders and fuel burning appliances of any type.

·        All drainage work

·        Insertion of cavity wall insulation

·        Any structural work

·        Underpinning of the foundations of the building

·        Adding extra radiators to a heating system

·        Installing or replacing a heating system

·        Replacing fuse boxes and connected electrics

It is important to check whether your planned work will be affected by Building Regulations before you getting started. This can be done by checking if it is covered by ‘building work’ in Regulation 3 of the Building Regulations.

The new work must meet the standards and not make other fabric or fittings less compliant or more dangerous than before. For example, the fitting of a new roof window must not weaken the roof structure. You can also ask your local planning authority for advice as they have a duty to enforce Building Regulations in their area. If council building inspectors find work does not comply, they will usually give you an opportunity to fix it.

The various stages of the work will be checked for compliance by your local authority or approved inspector. For example, they may want to watch new foundations being poured. If the inspector finds work does not comply, they will usually give you a chance to fix it. A certificate is issued on completion of the work if it meets Building Regulations.

If the building remains non-compliant, the person doing the work and/or the owner of the building can be prosecuted and fined. Your local authority can also make you pay to have the faulty work fixed. If there is no completion/final certificate issued, this can cause problems when you come to sell the property.

How do you apply for Building Regulations?

Tradespeople who are registered with Competent Person Schemes can self-certify that their work complies with the regulations, so you don’t need to apply. For example, installers of boilers, windows and heating systems. If necessary, they can inform your local authority about the work for you. They will also issue you with a certificate within about two months of completion which can be used as evidence of compliance, for example if you sell the property.

You don’t have to seek approval yourself if you use a tradesperson registered with a competent person scheme. Competent person schemes also have insurance-backed warranties and complaints procedures if there is a problem with the work.

If the building work is more substantial, for example a new extension or loft conversion, you are likely to need to apply for Building Regulations approval. This is different from applying for planning permission. More detailed drawings, including itemised notes and specifications on how the building is to be built, are required. The drawings must identify the materials to be used and compliance with all the relevant Building Regulations and other statutory requirements. Most people will need to hire someone with the technical expertise to produce the drawings and documentation required. 

What’s the difference between Building Regulations and Planning Permission?

Both are a form of permission that may be required for building work or changes to your property.

Planning permission controls if you can build or alter a property. The rules consider impact on neighbouring properties, landscape considerations, highway safety and look of the building. Planning is shaped by local and national policy and seeks to control the development of our towns, cities and countryside.

Building regulations control how you build or alter a property – with national minimum standards for design and construction to ensure the safety of people in and around the buildings as well as energy efficiency.

Many building projects will require separate permissions for both from the local authority planning department. For smaller schemes, such as internal alterations, only Building Regulations approval may be needed.

Useful information

Find out about Building Regulations in England & Wales:

In Scotland: Scottish legislation

In Northern Ireland: NI legislation regulations