Building standards inspections

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1785437,00.html has an interesting insight into the views of those that carry out such inspections. Here are some of the main points. The country is England, but things are similar elsewhere.
================================================================= For 21 years builders in this country have been legally bound to construct homes that conserve energy. The building regulations tell them how much insulation they must use, what kind of windows they must fit and how good their draught-proofing will be. Guess how many builders have been prosecuted in that period for non-compliance. I won't keep you in suspense: the answer is none.
There should be only one good reason for this: that they are building houses so well that enforcement is unnecessary. But a study conducted by the Building Research Establishment, looking at just one factor (the rate at which cold air leaks in) found that 43% of the new houses it checked should have been failed by the inspectors. All of them had been passed. In some homes the requisite amount of insulation had been left in the lofts, but it was still tied up in bales. No one has been prosecuted because no one gives a damn.
A new survey of the people who are supposed to enforce our building rules - building control officers - published this month by the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes found that they treat the energy rules as a joke. Part of the problem is that since their profession was deregulated, many of them are involved in a standing conflict of interest. In the past, building control officers were employed by the council. Today builders hire "approved inspectors" to certify their houses. If the inspectors are too tough, they won't be hired again. As the major parties compete to cut red tape, businesses are seldom prosecuted for anything, let alone such a petty misdemeanour as killing the planet.
Even if the officers wanted to enforce the rules, it is hard to see how they could. They inspect homes only towards the end of construction, when it is too late to see what's inside the walls. But the biggest problem appears to be their attitude. Several of them told the survey that they saw energy efficiency as a "trivial" matter, and would never dream of withholding a certificate because a house wasn't properly insulated. They saw their real job as ensuring that houses won't fall down or catch fire. No one was going to sue them if a building they had approved leaked heat. Poor energy efficiency, some of them said, is "not life threatening". Oh really? [snip]
Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, boasted this month that "energy efficiency standards are 40% higher than in 2002". That is not true. But even if it were, they are worthless if builders know that they will never be enforced. She also flourishes her new voluntary "code for sustainable homes", which urges builders to go green. It is hard to think of a better means of reinforcing the impression that energy efficiency is trivial. We don't have a voluntary code to prevent our houses from falling down. More constructively, she wants inspectors to be given more time in which to prosecute. Unfortunately, as the survey shows, they won't use it. The officers still have every incentive not to uphold the law.
But I can support the government when it says it wants to "simplify and streamline" the building regulations. My suggestion is that it reduces them to one sentence: "By 2010, no house in this country shall be built with a heating or cooling system."
This sounds ridiculous, outrageous. Does Monbiot want us all to freeze to death? Far from it. In Germany there are now some 4,000 homes built to the Passivhaus standard. A Passivhaus is a house without radiators, fan heaters, stoves, air conditioners or any other kind of heating or cooling device. The only heat it requires is produced by sunlight coming through the windows and by the bodies of the people who live there. A study of more than 100 passive homes showed they had a mean indoor temperature of 21.4 degrees during the bitter German winter. That's 2.4 degrees warmr an the average British home.
All that distinguishes them from other houses is that they are built properly. They are airtight (the air that enters the house comes through a heat-exchange system) and have no "thermal bridges" - material that can conduct heat from the inside of the house to the outside. The windows are matched carefully to the volume of the house. Because they have no active heating systems, they are not much more expensive to build than ordinary houses. A development of 20 homes in Freiburg, with a measured energy saving of 79%, cost just 7% more than a typical building of the same kind.
I fail to see why the Passivhaus cannot become a universal standard. But this standard, like all those the government might propose, will be a waste of time until our building control officers are forced to do their jobs properly. What is the point in investing in nuclear power - or in any other generating technology - if we can't sort out something as simple as this?
The New Statesman reveals that in 1988, when Tony Blair was shadow energy secretary, he launched a passionate attack on the Conservatives' climate policies. "What is unbelievably depressing about the government's response," he said, "is that they see, in the evidence about greenhoue gases, not an opportunity to promote environmental concern, but a chance to make the case for nuclear power ... Having made a big issue of the greenhouse effect, it became clear that energy efficiency was the best way to deal with it, but ... the government's position has been characterised by a malign reluctance to have anything to do with the notion of energy conservation." What better description of his own legacy could there be?
=================================================================
--
David Hansen, Edinburgh
I will *always* explain revoked encryption keys, unless RIP prevents me
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
An interesting analagy. As a builder I have certainely noticed an improvement in both the standards set and the levels to which building control work. In more recent years lots more insulation is required. May be as a direct result of builders failing to insulate properly, increase levels for all builders and then overall we will have more effective insulation. I am of the opinion that simply increasing the levels of insulation used is not the right answer. Far more effective would be to insulate properly and reduce as much as possible air leakage. The only trouble is that the inspectors will typically call only 7 or 8 time in the course of a new build. Recently new legislation has come in and a lot of building inspectors do not understand it yet. I recently asked one about the implications of trickle vents with a HRV system and he did not have a clue. In the end I read through Part F and advised him. He was happy to take my word for it as he had not had the time to study the new document. Yet they only will do site visits from 10:30 till 15:00 minus lunch. As with all industries, they will make there excuses for only being able to do site visits between certain times ensuring that they have enough free time to do whatever it is they should be doing. The whole industry needs overhauling to some degree. Skilled labour is in short supply with a hefty price to pay. Companies motivated by profit will use cheap labour where poss. The goverment keeps telling us that we need x million more homes in the next 10 years. I don't have the answer.
Regards Legin
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 30 May 2006 10:25:53 -0700 Legin wrote :

The new L1 effectively makes this compulsory on new housing developments. There is an exemption for one and two dwelling sites but if you choose to take advantage of it you really have to jump through hoops on the insulation side. The key thing about testing is that it will find out weaknesses that are not visible.

all
I was a BCO for eight years and for the most part we only did inspections in the morning. The rest of the time went on plan checking, meetings with applicants and other work - we weren't sitting around doing nothing!
--
Tony Bryer SDA UK 'Software to build on' http://www.sda.co.uk


Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Tony Bryer wrote:

I am sure that you were a very good BCO, certainely your contributions to this group indicate to me that you are one of the good guys. However when you see the lcoal building inspectors in the builders merchants, shopping not checking on product availability, it does question there integrity. You can ring for advice and you will get conflicting opinion. I know that these are my issues, but the local A has recently lost 60 % of its inspectors becuse they left for better op's. The remaining bunch are predominantly a waste of space, unhelpful, uncooperative and down right drowl if not rude on occassions. My opinion. I am currently building an extension in a neighboring authority and by contrast they have been very helpful. They will actually try to agree a time, as opposed to an open ended all day, and have been very reliable, are cheerful and talkative (mostly shop but informative). By contrast they make my LA look a right shabble. I hope that my LA BCO is not indicative of the nation. In fairness to them a couple of the replacements are looking hopeful. Regards Legin
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 30 May 2006 12:13:08 -0700, a particular chimpanzee named "legin"
produced:

Perhaps because they are being asked to do 2 times the work to make up for the surveyors who have left, on wages that have made 60% of their colleagues leave for other Authorities and elsewhere.
--
Hugo Nebula
"If no-one on the internet wants a piece of this,
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Tony Bryer wrote:

I am sure that you were a very good BCO, certainely your contributions to this group indicate to me that you are one of the good guys. However when you see the lcoal building inspectors in the builders merchants, shopping not checking on product availability, it does question there integrity. You can ring for advice and you will get conflicting opinion. I know that these are my issues, but the local A has recently lost 60 % of its inspectors becuse they left for better op's. The remaining bunch are predominantly a waste of space, unhelpful, uncooperative and down right drowl if not rude on occassions. My opinion. I am currently building an extension in a neighboring authority and by contrast they have been very helpful. They will actually try to agree a time, as opposed to an open ended all day, and have been very reliable, are cheerful and talkative (mostly shop but informative). By contrast they make my LA look a right shabble. I hope that my LA BCO is not indicative of the nation. In fairness to them a couple of the replacements are looking hopeful. Regards Legin
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.