In the first of our ‘Meet The Team’ interviews, we chatted to Tom Clarke, a Building Control Surveyor who has worked for both local authority and private sector building control. He currently works for jhai Ltd, a large firm of approved building regulations inspectors, so was able to give us the low-down on the processes and pitfalls of building control...
First could you tell us a bit about the job of an Approved Building Control Inspector?
Put simply, our function is to ensure the safety of people in and around buildings. We do that by assessing a building for its compliance with the Building Regulations which are set out by the UK Government. Once approved, the homeowner receives a government issued certificate to show that the works are compliant.
Many of our clients prefer to go with their local council building control over the private sector because it’s cheaper. What would you say to homeowners trying to choose between the two?
Homeowners can choose to use their Local Authority Building Control or an approved inspector working in the private sector. In theory the local authority and private sector should deliver the same function, but a large company like jhai has access to huge resources and experience. I think our access to knowledge is far greater and it’s in our interest to have qualified staff. We know that if we have a well-trained, highly competent team then we can deliver a far higher level of service.
If there was one piece of advice you would give to a homeowner based on your experience what would it be?
I’m not saying this because I’m sat in front of an architect...but appoint an architect!
When we find problems with a drawing and feed back to the homeowner, often they won’t know what to do with the information and may not do anything. We can chase it up to an extent but you get to the end of the project and can’t issue a final certificate. That’s why it’s best to get a professional involved, to offer advice and a design steer which helps achieve compliance.
It’s also about giving the client confidence that what the building control surveyor is saying is correct. The building control surveyor could be wrong and if there’s nobody in between the homeowner and building control then there’s nobody to protect the interest of the client.
"If you want something compliant it all starts at good design"
What can people do to make the building control process as smooth as possible?
If you want something compliant it all starts at good design. If you have a really good design then you’re not going to have any problems. The homeowner may not realise the value that it adds because they don’t have any issues, but in my position I’ve seen the worst!
Our best clients are the ones who provide the best plans, who are willing to talk with us to resolve issues and who appreciate the building control process - then the whole process works very well.
At what stage in a project should people be getting in touch with you?
It depends on the complexity of the design. If it’s a hugely complex job then it’s better to get us involved earlier because we can flag potential problems and avoid any costly redesigns. For simple projects it’s much closer to the intention to start work. For a simple single storey rear extension there isn’t a lot for us to get involved in in the early design stages.
What makes you happiest in your job?
It’s really nice when you’re able to use your expertise to find a solution to a design problem that needs to be sorted and you have a really valued input in that. That’s always great to see.
What do you find frustrating?
I think there’s a tendency, especially in smaller domestic projects, to see building control as a problem and that isn’t necessarily the case at all. We all have a high level of education and experience which should be a positive on site. As a company I think we’re really good at working with clients and designers to find solutions. Asking questions is often seen as a problem by clients, but in fact we are protecting them by asking these questions.
So for the homeowner it’s good to remember that although there are hoops to jumps through, in the end it’s all about benefiting the project and protecting them in their home?
Yes, everything is value added; if you go through the process properly you get value. You don’t necessarily see the value because you haven’t experienced any of the pitfalls. You haven’t had the pitfalls because you’ve been through the process properly and that gives you protection that you can’t get otherwise.