Weeks on after the national tragedy that was the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, a number of inquiries have begun or are about to begin. With many hundreds of people still affected in so many horrific ways, as a country we should all continue to wish them all well, and help where we can to get these people back on their feet.
Matters must also turn to preventing these sorts of tragedies in the future. That means a massive review into Building Regulations. The very codes and laws we all have to stick to when doing any sorts of construction work.
For me, one of the biggest problems building regulations have is it’s language. I think we should start there.
Grey areas and loop holes
One of the biggest frustrations for me when it comes to Building Regulations, and other codes of practise from all other kinds of industry bodies and groups, is the terminology it uses.
It is terms such as “best practise” or “recommended” that create such confusion. What is worse is that bodies in the window industry use Building Regulations as a template for their own advice documents to the industry. I remember reading a 2010 (I think) iteration of my FENSA handbook of laws and regs, and it was littered with all sorts of terminology such as the above. It was about as clear as mud in some areas. So many grey areas created by shoddy language.
The problem is, if we can’t even get our terminology and language right in the first place, all we do is create loop holes in the system where less than honest window installers can slither by on certain rules. For example, lintels. This is an extract taken from an article on the FENSA posted Dec 29th 2015:
A vital part of the survey and installation of replacement windows is how any structure above them is supported. In the majority of cases a suitable lintel is present and plays no part in the installation. But this should never be taken for granted.
UK homes exhibit varied building techniques for load carrying – concrete, steel, timber and stone lintels, brick arches, boot lintels. The list is endless. If the installation property has one of these in place (with no signs of failure) there’s little to worry about. But if there are no obvious means of support then very close scrutiny must be made during survey.
If there is any potential for the structure to move, then as a competent person you must ensure that the load above the opening is secured. Many properties were built with the original timber window supporting the brickwork above. So replacing it with modern PVC or Aluminium window frames compromises the carrying the load.
A soldier or head course of bricks above a window is not acting as a support unless it has been formed into an arch. A soldier course is usually decorative. These should be carefully examined and a plan to support it drawn up before any window below is replaced.
Now this is part of an article series called Tech Talk Tuesday, and wasn’t written to be any sort of official guide from FENSA. But it has been published to help inform, and for me, it’s about as vague as it can be, and it is all down to the wording.
For example, I would argue that there isn’t that big a majority of cases where lintels are present in homes. Nearly every job we are doing at our place at the moment is having to have lintels installed. Quite often we find houses built between the 50’s and 80’s have no lintels at all.
Second, where is says that if there is potential for the structure to move then the load must be secured. How? How must it be secured? There’s no mention of lintels in there. And seen as though this is coming from one of the industry’s biggest bodies you would expect total clarity on this matter. What it should have said, in the interest of the best possible job being done, is that if there is no presence of an existing lintel, one must be installed either prior to installation or during installation of new windows and doors to prevent the structure from moving. Job done. Structure secure properly. Windows and doors installed properly. Clear terminology, no grey areas.
Clean, simplified and strict
I am only using this extract as an example of my point, so I hope FENSA doesn’t take that too personally. But we absolutely have to start putting pressure on Government to clean up the whole of Building Regulations and quickly.
The whole point of red tape and regulation is to keep us all safe. Well I would argue that there are so many grey areas, things that are confused down to poor language, that loop holes can be exploited by those putting money before people.
I want to see a quick, wide ranging review into the whole of regulation, take out terms like “good practise” and other fluffy nonsense and start laying down proper laws in clear and concise language so that companies looking to cut corner can’t in the future.
I have never understood that when it comes to things like Building Regulations terms like “good practise” and “recommended” can be allowed in to the text. This is supposed to be the documentation that is set in law, by which we all must abide by when carrying out work. Yet, it’s been left open to interpretation due to poor choices of language. Surely terms such as “mandatory” and “must” and “obliged” should be used instead, to make sure companies follow the letter of the law as intended.
No one likes red tape and regulation really, unless you’re the inspectors looking to fine people and companies, then it’s the very thing keeping you in a job! But, we have to see past the frustration and make sure that as an industry we are abiding by them as best we can. At the end of the day, many of the regulations are there to keep us safe. All I am calling for is that when the review into regs is done, it is revamped with language that cannot be left to interpretation, abuse and bending. It would be better for all.
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