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Self Builders Can Now Opt Out of Building Control- Should You?

Roof Detail

Copper flashing on simple extension. Even basic details can pose technical questions?

This is an excellent question. Minister Alan Kelly recently announced a change to the controversial SI09 2014 Building Control Regulations allowing individual self builders to act as their own Assigned Certifier, and therefore “opt out” of the system. This act essentially limits the building control system to commercial developers. Before deciding not to certify your home to the SI09 level, think about why this unpopular legislation exists and the actual benefits for home-owners and the property market.

The 2014 Building Control system exists to record who is legally responsible for the design and inspection of all parts of a building. If a building turns out to have expensive hidden defects such as leaks or structural problems you can identify exactly who’s responsible from the public records.

Before SI09 2014 there was massive variation in the credibility of certificates. The process of recovering damages was also slow because only the architect accepted responsibility in writing with some additional certificates “to fall back on”, but architects are seldom actually to blame for latent defects.

Because of the lenient self certication regeim in Ireland since 1990, many existing houses have hidden problems or “latent defects”. These can affect any aspect of the building which can’t be checked by visual inspection. Improper installation of thermal insulation is extremely common, for example; this latent defect means that a good BER level doesn’t actually deliver low running costs because cold air by passes the insulation you paid for. Other serious latent defects include poisonous materials in stones used on site (eg. Pyrite) and fire safety issues such as missing cavity barriers (Priory Hall scandal).

Homeowners have always had legal recourse against the certifier, but in practice the cost of taking legal action often far out-weighted the cost of repairs. (Imagine a situation where your building had a €50,000 defect but you had to spend €100,000 on legal fees to sort it out.) SI09 sought to address this.

Architects Opinions on Compliance are still an excellent guarantee of quality if issued by a skilled professional who designed and rigorously inspected the building work. But the same document can be issued without adequate inspection. Given such wide variation, when houses are bought and sold buyers must analyse the risk of latent defects in a common sense way.

The 2 main benefits of certification under SI09 2014 are that it vastly reduces the likelihood of latent defects and if they do happen, it reduces the cost of litigation against the people responsible to recover damages. All homes in commercial developments will continue to provide this level of assurance through SI09.

Should you opt out? It depends, most people who can opt out will opt out to avoid the administrative costs, but these questions may help you decide:

  • Do I plan to sell or refinance the property in the future?
  • How much of the property value depends on location and how much on condition and energy performance
  • Will a prospective buyer for my house really care about thoroughgoing build quality if the finishes look alright
  • If I sell, will my property have to compete against developments with SI09 in place
  • How much will additional professional services cost? How does this compare with value of the guarantee it provides?
  • How much do I trust my builders and tradesmen?
  • Do I actually understand construction well enough to make this decision?
  • Am I really able to check the quality of building work myself?
  • What level of legal recourse do I want if something goes wrong?
  • Are there other stakeholders whose interests will be affected? Such as a mortgage lender or insurance company?

I predict that in the future all property purchases will involve a “risk assessment” for latent defects. In my opinion, solicitors should be better informed about the variable quality of certificates and should learn to critically asses their veracity to favour careful design and construction. In my opinion, the construction stage of a fully administered architect led procurement process costs little less than SI09 certification. An Architect’s Opinion on Compliance resulting from such a well resourced process is an excellent guarantee of quality. The goal is to have proper inspection and design. The current Building Control system basically forces everyone to retain a common sense level of professional advice which most businesses deem essential.

SI09 2014 certification is a sound guarantee of quality and should help ensure the value or saleability of your home.

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