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Building Regulations Approval – Definition, Overview & FAQ

What is building regulations approval?

Definition: Building regulations approval is a legal requirement in many jurisdictions that ensures that any building work complies with specific safety and quality standards.

Building Regulations in the UK apply to new construction and certain alterations or extensions to existing buildings. They are separate but can overlap with planning permission.

The regulations are enforced by Building Control Bodies, which can be either local authority building control or privately approved inspectors.

To obtain building regulations approval, detailed plans and specifications of the proposed work must be submitted to the local building control body, which could be the local authority or an approved private building inspector. These plans are reviewed to ensure compliance with building regulations.

Objectives of building regulations

  •  Safety: One of the primary objectives is to ensure the safety of the building occupants and those around the building. This includes structural integrity, fire safety, and escape routes in case of emergencies.
  •  Health: Regulations cover aspects like sanitation, waste disposal, and avoidance of harmful materials, ensuring that buildings are healthy environments.
  • Energy Efficiency: With a growing emphasis on sustainability, these regulations include standards for energy efficiency in buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and conserving energy. They mandate requirements for insulation, heating systems, and energy usage.
  •  Accessibility: The regulations ensure that buildings are accessible to all, including provisions for people with disabilities. This includes aspects like access to and use of buildings, facilities for disabled people, and lift installations.
  • Environmental Protection: They also include measures to protect the environment, like efficient waste and water management and sustainable building practices.
  •  Sound Insulation: Regulations ensure adequate sound insulation in buildings to avoid nuisance from noise.

Key areas covered by building regulations

  1.  Structural Integrity: Regulations ensure that buildings are structurally sound and capable of withstanding loads and stresses, including the weight of the building, occupants, and environmental factors like wind and snow.
  2. Fire Safety: This includes provisions for fire resistance, escape routes, fire detection and alarm systems, and access for emergency services. Fire safety requirements are particularly stringent in multi-occupancy and high-rise buildings.
  3. Energy Efficiency: Regulations set standards for thermal performance, including insulation levels, energy-efficient windows and doors, and reducing heat loss. The aim is to minimize energy consumption and carbon emissions.
  4. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is required to ensure a healthy indoor environment, prevent condensation, and improve air quality. This includes specific requirements for kitchens and bathrooms where moisture is prevalent.
  5. Electrical Safety: Electrical installations must meet safety standards to prevent hazards like electric shocks and fires. This includes the design, installation, and testing of electrical systems.
  6. Water Efficiency and Plumbing: Regulations cover the safe installation and use of water systems, including drinking water quality, sanitation, and drainage systems. Water efficiency measures are also included to reduce waste.
  7. Accessibility: Buildings must be designed to be accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. This covers access to and around the building, and facilities like toilets and lifts.
  8. Sound Insulation: Requirements for soundproofing to prevent noise nuisance between adjoining buildings, especially in residential developments.
  9. Materials and Workmanship: Building materials and the quality of workmanship must meet prescribed standards to ensure safety and durability.
  10. Specific Requirements for Commercial vs Residential Buildings: 

    a. Commercial Buildings: Often have more stringent fire safety and accessibility requirements due to higher occupancy levels. They may also have additional requirements for things like emergency lighting and signs.
    b. Residential Buildings: Focus more on domestic safety, including provisions for individual living spaces, home security, and thermal comfort.

When is building regulations approval needed?

Building regulations approval is needed in the UK for a wide range of construction and alteration works to ensure safety, health, energy efficiency, and accessibility standards are met. Here’s an overview of when this approval is typically required:

  1. New Building Constructions: Any new building construction, whether residential, commercial, or industrial, requires building regulations approval to ensure it’s built to the correct standards.
  2. Extensions to Existing Buildings: Most extensions to existing buildings, such as adding a new room or expanding an existing one, will need approval. This includes conservatories, garages, and loft conversions.
  3. Alterations to Existing Structures: Significant alterations that could affect the building’s compliance with the regulations, such as changes to the internal layout, removing or altering load-bearing walls, or changing the use of the building.
  4. Installation or Alteration of Services: This includes installing new heating systems, altering electrical installations, adding new bathrooms or kitchens, or changing existing drainage or plumbing systems.
  5. Roof Alterations: Changes to the structure of a roof, such as re-roofing, loft conversions, or adding roof lights, often require approval.
  6. Windows and Doors Replacement: Replacing windows, doors, and rooflights may require approval, particularly regarding thermal performance and safety.
  7. Energy Performance Upgrades: Works that involve upgrading the energy performance of a building, like adding insulation or changing heating systems, may need to comply with specific parts of the building regulations.
  8. Change of Building’s Use: Changing the use of a building can require approval if the change will bring it under different regulatory requirements, such as converting a commercial property into residential use.

It’s important to note that even if a project is considered minor and might not require full approval, it still needs to comply with relevant aspects of the building regulations.

The application process

Applying for Building Regulations Approval in the UK involves a series of steps, ensuring that your construction or alteration project meets the required standards. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to go about it:

  1.  Determine the Type of Application: There are typically two types of applications: Full Plans and Building Notice. Full Plans is a detailed process where plans are submitted and approved before work begins. Building Notice is a less detailed process, suitable for smaller projects, where work can start shortly after giving notice.
  2.  Preparation of Detailed Plans (for Full Plans Application): Prepare detailed drawings and specifications of your project, showing how it complies with building regulations. This often requires the expertise of an architect or a surveyor.
  3. Choose a Building Control Service: You can choose between using the services of the local authority’s Building Control department or an approved private inspector. Each offers a similar service but may differ in cost and approach.
  4. Submission of Application: Submit your application to the chosen Building Control Body (BCB). This can usually be done online or by post. Include all necessary documentation, such as detailed plans, and pay the applicable fee.
  5. Review by the Building Control Body: The BCB will review your application. For Full Plans, they will check the plans for compliance and either approve them, request changes, or reject them. The Building Notice process doesn’t require plan approval but still needs to meet regulations.
  6. Commencement of Work: Once the application is approved (for Full Plans) or acknowledged (for Building Notice), you can start work. You must notify the BCB when work begins and at various stages of the project.
  7. Inspections During Construction: The BCB will conduct inspections at various stages of the work to ensure compliance with the regulations. It’s crucial to coordinate with them to arrange these inspections.
  8. Completion of Work: Once work is completed, a final inspection is carried out. If the BCB is satisfied, they will issue a completion certificate, confirming that the work complies with the regulations.
  9. Role of Local Authorities and Approved Inspectors: Both local authorities and approved inspectors are responsible for ensuring that building work complies with the regulations. They provide advice, review applications, and conduct inspections. The choice between them depends on personal preference, cost, and the nature of the project.


When do I need building regulations approval?

Approval is required for most new building work, including new constructions, extensions, significant alterations, and changes in building use. It’s also needed for some smaller projects, like installing a new bathroom if it involves new plumbing.

How do I apply for building regulations approval?

You can apply through your local council’s building control service or an approved private building inspector. The process involves submitting detailed plans of your proposed work for approval and ensuring inspections during construction.

What's the difference between building regulations and planning permission?

Building regulations set standards for the design and construction of a building. In contrast, planning permission is about the use of land and buildings, the appearance of buildings, and the impact on the local environment.

How long does it take to get building regulations approval?

The time frame can vary. For a full plans application, you might receive a decision within 5-8 weeks. A building notice application allows work to start quickly, but you won’t receive formal approval.

What happens if I don't comply with building regulations?

Non-compliance can result in being required to alter or remove the work. In extreme cases, it can lead to prosecution and fines. Non-compliant work can also cause problems when selling the property.

Can I do building work myself or do I need a professional?

While you can do the work yourself, it must comply with building regulations. For complex projects, hiring a professional is recommended to ensure compliance and safety.

What are ‘controlled works’ in building regulations?

Controlled works refer to building work that must comply with building regulations. This includes structural elements, fire safety, energy efficiency, and other aspects covered by the regulations.

Are there exemptions from building regulations?

Yes, certain small and non-residential buildings, like agricultural buildings, may be exempt. However, it’s important to check with your local building control or a professional as exemptions are specific.

How are building regulations enforced?

Local authorities and approved inspectors enforce building regulations. They inspect the work at various stages and issue a completion certificate when the work complies with the regulations.