Building Regulations: What You Need to Know

For any budding home improver, the prospect of building regulations can be a significant deterrent. There are so many questions around what exactly they are, when they apply and how you go about actually meeting them, that they can make the simplest DIY improvement job seem far more hassle than it’s worth. And, large scale jobs, like conversions or extensions, can become impossible tasks when you don’t even know the difference between building regulations and planning permission.

Luckily, UK building regulations are not really that confusing at all. They exist to ensure your home (or any building) is safe, efficient and practical. They are actually about protecting you!

Still, knowing that simple fact isn’t much help to someone in the process of updating their home, tussling with lists of approved documents and building regulations.

So, we’ve decided to put together this post as a primer on British building regulations.

As well as looking at what they are in a little more detail and signposting some helpful places where you can learn even more, we’ll get into specifics around building regulations for staircases and safety glass regulations so that you can ensure that any regulation-compliant product you purchase from us is as safe and secure when it’s installed as it was when we manufactured it.

What are Building Regulations?

Building regulations are statutory legal requirements that must be met when completing any form of construction. They were originally set out in the ‘Buildings Act of 1984’ and are regularly revised and updated to reflect new developments in construction materials, technology and health and safety. The most recent iteration of the act is Building Regulations 2010.

Their main purpose is to define the standards that must be met by all building work, to ensure the safety and health of anyone who uses the building after its completion.

The act also sets out as follows:

  • What building work is covered by them
  • Any type of work that is exempt (for example, in certain temporary buildings)
  • The notification procedures that must be adhered to at the start, during and completion of building work

Approved building regulations are classified under 16 headings, each one identified by a letter (Building Regulations Part A to P). They cover all aspects of the construction process including:

  • Energy (efficiency, performance as well as safety of gas and electrical systems)
  • Fire safety and protection
  • Structural integrity
  • Accessibility
  • Standards for drains and ventilation
  • Protection against contamination or ingress of water

To assist with compliance to the building regulations, the government published free accompanying documents (called ‘Approved Documents’) that provide general guidance and practical suggestions on how the regulations can be met.

When a house is sold, surveyors will ask to see proof that any building work that has been carried out is compliant with the relevant regulations. If you commission or carry out on your work, you should always investigate what regulations will apply and obtain proof they were met by either the person employed to complete the work or by applying for approval yourself, before the work is started.

Building Regulations and Planning Permission

A lot people confuse approved building regulations and planning permission. In fact, these terms are not actually interchangeable and refer to completely different legislative requirements.

Building regulations outline standards for specific building design and construction and features within, as outlined above. In contrast, planning permission is a way of guiding the development of villages, town and cities. It takes into account the effect on the general environment, encompassing the use of land, the building’s appearance, the required access and the impact on the local ecosystem.

As the nature of building regulations and planning permission differs so greatly, for most larger scale development projects you would need to satisfy both processes. For smaller scale internal building work, you may not need to seek planning permission but you will still need building regulations approval. You can find more information on exactly what work requires planning permission on the Government Planning Portal.

Building Regulations for Windows

You may wonder, when it really comes down to it, do you need building regs for windows? Structural integrity should be the same with or without window frames.

Most glass sold these days is strong enough to keep out the elements and stay safe: at the very least, is double glazing exempt from building regulations?

In actual fact, windows are covered by a number of different building regulations and whether you’re updating one front window, or replacing every pane in the house, new windows need to conform to those standards.

Some of the areas that cover windows, are what you would expect. For example, Part L of the building regulations deals with conservation of energy and energy efficiency, with a requirement that all windows provide a minimum level of insulation against heat loss. This is something that is really rather reassuring in a world of rising fuel prices not to mention sea levels.

Part K of the building regulations also has obvious relation to windows, as it covers protection from falling and lays out exactly where you can place windows and the need for safety glass.

Alternatively, you may be surprised to see windows covered in the section which deals with means of fire escape. Of course, when you look deeper, even this makes sense. For many domestic dwellings, the only means of escape on the first floor is through a window. Having a minimum unobstructed opening space so that people are able to evacuate through a window is a sensible precaution, and that is what is outlined in the Part B building regulations.

In fact, there are so many subsections that cover windows, that a scheme was set up to allow certain traders to self-certify their work as compliant. This is called the FENSA scheme, and it has a rigorous validation process, where installers have their work inspected to ensure standards are maintained.

You don’t have to employ a FENSA registered installer, but if you don’t you will need to seek approval through the relevant channels yourself. This applies to all new windows, including both UPVC and timber framed.

Building Regulations for Stairs

When it comes to staircases, Part K of the building regulations is the main section you need to consider. The section is named ‘Protection from falling, collision and impact’ and has a whole sub-section that deals specifically with staircases. Limits on the width, length and pitch of stairs are all laid out as are requirements for headroom, landings and handrails.

Even within the building regulations on stairs, there are a lot of subsections and extra considerations. Though the prospect of a handrail might seem like a simple yes or no question – do you need a handrail on stairs?

In an area as important as construction health and safety, there are always further details to be considered – how many stairs before a handrail is required? What height should it be at? What materials can the handrail be made from?

For any staircase with more than two stairs, a handrail is required – and if the staircase is wider than 1m, you will need a handrail or balustrades on either side. Height and material for handrails have a lot more specifics and conditions, but the details can all be found in the Part K building regulations, making it an essential read when you’re planning a new or replacement staircase or balcony.

Building regulations were set in place to make sure that any building you live in, work in, or even visit is safe, secure and accessible. It is in everyone’s interest to keep to them in every step of building work and if you undertake any significant work on a building that you own, compliance with the appropriate regulations should be a priority.

Hopefully you’ve now got a better handle on building regulations, what they are and how they impact you. Particularly with regards to double glazing units, glass balustrades and other home features we supply.

However, if you have further questions about how our glass products meet with UK regulations, or how you can incorporate them compliantly in to your building, call us today.