Yesterday’s Room to Improve on RTE1 with Dermot Bannon MRIAI became a Twitter trending topic in Ireland last night and is a great source of discussion between myself and fellow tweeting architects. And yesterdays episode raised a very important issue regarding the Building Regulations and the forthcoming amendments in March next year:
I tweeted during the show that the hall handrail that over-looked the double height space looked suspiciously low. Now I have no idea what the height was and I could be completely incorrect that it was a non-compliant handrail but it raised a very important point that I’ll address below:
Let’s look at the relevant section from Part K of the Building Regulations:
A balcony is required to have protective guarding at a minimum of 1100mm from the finished floor level.
What’s interesting is that a landing only needs a height of only 900mm.
But when does a landing become a balcony?
The Irish TGD documents (above) have a landing at 900mm and a floor, balcony or roof at 1100mm. Now in my opinion a gallery looking down from first floor to the hall below isn’t a landing, it comes in the category ‘Floor, Balcony, roof’ and it should have guarding at 1100mm.
The UK TGD documents are clearer:
The 1100mm applies only to ‘External balconies and edges of roof’ and the ‘edge of an internal floor’ should be 900mm.
So what’s correct?
Let’s ask you, if you have knowledge of the Irish Building Regulations then please complete the poll below:
Now what’s interesting is the key phrase I used above is ‘in my opinion’ and this exact problem arose on a site recently I was involved with where there was the same exact debate. In the end the decision was to opt on the side of safety and 1100mm guarding was installed. But the problem is that it is only my opinion and my certificate of compliance with the Building Regulations is the same; it is an ‘ARCHITECT’S OPINION ON COMPLIANCE WITH BUILDING REGULATIONS’. And that’s not all, the certificate goes on to say that:
‘I am of the opinion that the Design of the Relevant Building or Works is in Substantial Compliance with the Building Regulations.’
Not that it’s fully compliant with the Building Regulations but it’s SUBSTANTIALLY COMPLIANT! based on an opinion. Now this is a separate issue to the forthcoming changes to the Building Regulations in March 2014 but the issue raises an important point under SI80:
• The ‘assigned professional’ ‘in his opinion’ designs and certifies guarding (in this example) as 900mm
• The ‘assigned builder’ under SI80 constructs the guarding in accordance with the drawings
But what happens if there is ever an accident? There are stacks of cases at the moment of young children falling from windows and balconies and a fall from a first floor gallery is a serious situation. Who picks up the tab if the case ever goes to court when there is NO INDEPENDENT INSPECTION of the building works by the council or an approved inspector? The professional with the Professional Indemnity Insurance of course – The architect.
So what am I asking for?
The Building Regulations Amendments (SI80) due to be in operation from March 1st 2014 are not the answer to building better in Ireland. They make the situation worse lulling everyone into a false sense of security; what is required is to:
1. Review the proposed system, not only with the industry stakeholders but also with representatives of consumer and other groups affected;
2. Postpone implementation of the regulations until that review has taken place;
3. Amend the proposals to provide a system that will improve the quality of design and construction and protect the consumer.
One of the answers is the implementation of independent inspectors either through the council (or from an approved list as the UK) for the drawings upon lodgement of the construction drawings AND checks/approvals throughout the build; this is the system operating in the UK which Ireland needs to adopt.
This is what the Building Regs Forum is calling upon the government to do; if you are interested in taking this debate further then please head on over to TheBRegsForum
Comments on this blog also welcome…