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Hertfordshire Building Control

Insights for Homeowners by manager Simon Heywood

From time to time I accompany our surveyors on site to understand what issues they are dealing with on a daily basis. It also gives me the opportunity to meet our homeowner clients and their builders, and speak to them about the service we are offering. Every time I go out it is apparent the range of issues our surveyors deal with and even with the smallest projects the complications involved. I am also heartened by the majority of builders who want to do the right thing and seek advice as to how best to achieve compliance with Building Regulations. Clearly this does not apply to all builders, but thankfully relatively few fit into this latter category.

How can you protect yourself as a homeowner?

So as a homeowner how can you avoid the worst excesses of the construction industry and how can you protect yourself to ensure that you stand the best possible chance of your building project achieving what you want it to? Very simply: do your due diligence.

This means seeking references; if possible viewing work that builders have done previously and obtaining a fixed price for the work ensuring that you agree a payment plan based on the work delivered. Standard contracts are a good way of ensuring that there is no misinterpretation and also agreeing prices for variations to the work. Architects and agents are a good source of information as are friends and neighbours living locally, who have had work carried out previously. They will be able to talk you through some of the pitfalls hopefully enabling you to avoid them. Remember that big is not always best and there are many excellent builders who employee only a few people. Often these companies will work within a small radius of their own home. That's because they'll be getting a ready supply of work through word of mouth, and because they are good, and deliver what they say they are going to.

The second piece of advice, related to the first, is do not rush. I can hear people saying "but that's all very well but I wanted my kitchen / diner extension built and ready for Christmas and therefore I had to get a move on". I understand, but often you will have to wait for the best builders; there is a reason for that!

Your Building Control Surveyor

Finally, no matter how good your builder, you need a truly independent view as to whether your building work meets the statutory requirements as defined in the Building Regulations. As a homeowner you also need to be sure that your building control surveyor will visit your site regularly throughout your build, to ensure that work is compliant at key stages. You also want an organisation who will provide surveyors who understand the local ground conditions and will work well with your builder to ensure that compliance is achieved without delays. Hertfordshire Building Control is truly independent, being owned by seven local authorities and ensures that sites are regularly visited.

We recruit our surveyors based on their experience and technical knowledge. Also because they are engaging, listen and work in a consultative way. Equally they are prepared to stand up and look after the interests of the property owner when they observe incidents of non-compliance. I witnessed this first hand whilst out on site with a homeowner and surveyor this week. A contractor had decided to pour concrete, having not dug foundations to a deep enough level! The ground conditions were heavy clay and trees were in close proximity. In these circumstances if the foundations are not of sufficient depth there is a serious risk that they will fail, due to the expansion and contraction of the soil. This is common in heavy clay soils and exacerbated by the proximity of trees. If the foundations are not built properly there is a serious risk of subsidence. This will only become apparent over time and well after the builder has been paid. I was proud of our surveyor and the way in which he brought the builder to account, ensuring that it was the property owner's interests, and not his own that were looked after.

We employ over 40 surveyors with combined building control experience of over 730 years, approximately 18 years each. Not only do we have the experience, we also have the capacity.