Saturday, June 7, 2014

In Support of new Building Control (Amendment) Regulation (S.I.9 of 2014)

In support of SI9 I offer the following Opinion Piece.

Good for clients
At the end of the day the client will be sitting down in the new or extended house having a relaxing cappuccino and now with the added confidence that the team members have stood over their work. Construction is hugely complex and while normal projects with proper builders and professionals have been doing a good job for years much of their actions have not been codified and so the door was open for the shortcut brigade to get in there. Competence is now a legal requirement. While this is bad news for the incompetent it's good news for the client who has just made their biggest ever financial investment. 

Good for architects
Architects will now be engaged on a fuller service and hence will be better able to control the build. While some projects had a full architectural service far more projects had none or only a minimal partial service. Architects, as well as engineers and building surveyors, have the skills and experience for the task and the wisdom to call in appropriate expertise for any gaps in this knowledge. Workload will rise for what still remains an extremely depressed profession. (the Architects Council of Europe (ACE) reported that average sole principals salary in Ireland drop from €75,000 in 2008 to €25,000 in 2012). The service of an Assigned Certifier is under a separate fee and agreement to the main fee. Yes it costs more but the benefit is the development of an (overdue) compliance culture  in the construction industry. 

What's the fuss?
If you are reading this article you, like myself, are a participant (or should I say “victim") of the Information Age where all can express opinions. Much fear has been spread about SI9 on all media and from my perspective I see these main reasons being: 

1. SI9 came in too quickly.
The law was only published six weeks before enactment.  In many cases this isn't a problem but with the huge complexity in this particular law  problems arose. The minister's stated view that www had a year to prepare is questionable because the major part of that year was taken up by the stakeholders working with government to get the impossible SI90 of 2013 morphed into the (difficult but not impossible) SI9 of 2014. RIAI could not advise members on a law that was up in the air.

2. The online system was untested by all. It could not be seen before 1 March.

3. The framework and understanding for inspection plans was absent. This led to massive variation in interpretation of how many visits are needed. 

4. Local authority staff could not be trained.  There was virtually no time for this to happen. 

5. RIAI information to members and public has been delayed. who have the capacity and mandate to advise members was slowed down by a new Council, elected prior to sight of SI9, on a platform of protest against its impossible predecessor SI80. 

6. Self builders felt excluded. This was based on the wording under the signature on a Completion Certificate Part A which says:  “to be signed by a Principal or Director of a Building Company only”. Both Minister Hogan and Martin Vaughan, assistant principal in the Architecture/ Building Standards section of DoECLG clarified “It is only where the assigned person is a company that the requirement applies that the signatory be a principal or director (i.e. not an employee)". While the wording on the cert suggests otherwise the lawmakers have clarified their intention and for this reason I believe any action against a self builder on this matter alone would fail.

7. Architectural Technologists (Technicians) were excluded. This is now being addressed I understand but it will require the legal creation of a register for Technologists so the matter cannot be fixed overnight. In the meantime Technologists can work as ancillary certifiers within the existing framework.

Many of these issues are now being addressed and more issues will no doubt arise  but I believe it is too early to judge the merit of the actual law. Rightly or wrongly a "throw them in the deep end" decision was taken by government to proceed on 1 March and while some will drown most will (eventually) swim.

8. Architects feared impossible liability. This was the case in SI80 but SI9 is different in 2 critical respects. firstly the Ancillary Certificates can be relied upon by the Assigned Certifier. For example an engineer as an ancillary certifier might sign off on drains, foundations and steelwork. An architect (acting as certifier) can rely on this now and not "double check" these issues. Secondly the words "having exercised reasonable skill, care and diligence" are included in the Certificates. This is fundamental to normal practice and it means that for an action against an architect to succeed his/her "skill, care and diligence" will have to be proven to be unreasonable. Professional Indemnity Insurers were satisfied once these changes were made so I find the view that SI9 imposes significant additional risks to architects (acting reasonably) unsustainable .

What bits of the jigsaw are missing?
1. Latent defects insurance. This is a “solutions focussed” measure in the event of defects and is necessary for customer (and architect) protection.
2. Official RIAI documents for Architects and Clients.
3. Unity in RIAI.  It would be timely for a reaffirmation of Article 2 of the RIAI Memorandum of Association which state (emphasis mine): 
"The main object for which the Institute is established is to undertake and encourage the general advancement of architecture for the benefit of the community and to promote and facilitate the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts, sciences and skills connected therewith. The Institute seeks to achieve this object by being a centre of excellence for the advancement of education, information, advice and support in all matters related to architecture."
4. Better public understanding of the role and benefit of Architects.Even when patients die the medics get thanked for their care. Likewise architects deserve some respect for their service to people and that includes adequate payment which I am glad to see is actually written into SI9. Because Architects have been in an unmerciful construction recession client exploitation on fees has occurred. I myself have had the phone slammed down by angry clients when I informed that that I would charge for a call out. 

Clients are the ones who now have additional duties and costs but the good news is that the building will be better as a result of this new law. For this reason, despite the problems, I support SI9.

Anthony Brabazon MRIAI is an architect and conservation architect in private practice at ABA Architects in Dublin. He is founder of RIAI Dublin Forum (for architects) and Help My House (for homeowners)


PassiveLogical said...

Anthony, thank you for your willingness to support moves for higher quality standards in the construction process. I would not agree, however, that Architects generally are competent to deliver SI9. I think they are the best qualified of the three professions currently identified for certifying most buildings, but their skills are still seriously deficient. I described a "six-pack" of skills they require to certify compliance with Part L, 2011 in my presentation to yesterdays nZEB14 conference in DIT. I know of a handful of architects with the six-pack and one single Engineer with the first of the six-pack skill set. Good luck with that.

In a situation where a small number of service providers are faced with an unlimited demand for their services there are only two outcomes: prices rise or cowboys enter the market. We will know which has happened when we see how many AC/DCs sign up for six-pack upskilling.

Unknown said...

A good informative opinion piece on the SI9. I disagree strongly with you on your 'self builders felt excluded' point.To be frank it should read 'self builders are now excluded'- because we now ARE excluded. Nothing the Minister & Martin Vaughan says will change the wording of the Law, in fact, they are only trying to avoid national outrage by refusing to tell the truth, this is evident in Mr Vaughans refusal to write a little note to all the BCAs in the country informing them to always accept commencement notices from self builders. I admire your positive energy in this regard, but the truth of the matter is negative and very sad for all those people, including myself, who had intended to build a family home. I have much sympathy for your profession in this difficult time...

Unknown said...

Thanks PassiveLogical. Most of my work is in extensions and alterations and I can handle the Part L calculations for same, When I am dealing with a new house or if a BER is required I have a good energy consultant who does the maths etc. Since 2005 Part L has become highly technical and some assistance is normally required unless, as some architects have done, you choose to specialise in DEAP or Passive House training etc. Would you agree?

Unknown said...

Dear Amanda, Thanks for your comment. I thought the article in Self Build and Improve your Home brought some clarity. I quote:
"The form states it must be signed by ‘a Principal or Director of a building company only’ which would seem to prevent sole traders (a large proportion of builders are sole traders) and self-builders from signing it.
The DOE assures SelfBuild & Improve Your Home this is not the case – the reason for this addition was to address those situations whereby a building company has been appointed. Indeed Martin Vaughan, Assistant Principal at the Architecture/ Building Standards Section, tells us that sole traders and owners “are in any case principals in their own right.” The key word in the phrase ‘a Principal or Director of a building company only’ therefore seems to be ‘or’ – either a Principal or a Company Director must sign the form."