Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Two cheers for English Heretics

We've had three years of harrumphing since the last raft of Approved Documents - the "Building Regs" - came into force. Overall, a jolly good thing they were too; a real commitment to meeting our Kyoto targets and cutting energy use in the UK. Apart, that is, from the way they have been implemented.
If an old building was not listed, in a conservation area or a scheduled ancient monument, then one could pretty well guarantee a long and frustrating debate with the Building Control Officer over what historic features could be retained and what had to be smothered or removed to satisfy the perceived demands of Part L of the Regs. Some BCOs would listen to reason and treat a case on a 'whole house' basis, offsetting one element against another, others simply dug their heels in and risked becoming landfill as tempers rose.
Now, however, English Heritage has published the fruits of its discussions with the government on part L.
The full text of the suggested ammendment has been posted by our friendly neighbourhood conservation officer here.
He argues that the whole exercise has been pretty much a waste of time, given that the net result would seem to be 'no change'.
I'm inclined to agree, up to a point. Nevertheless I'm also inclined to give two cheers for the revision for the simple reason that at last there seems to be a recognition that traditional buildings behave in a different way to modern buildings, even when they don't have the magic protection of listing, being in a conservation area or as ancient monuments.
The bit that slightly warms my cockles is:

"There are three further categories of buildings where special consideration is encouraged:

a) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest and which are referred to as a material consideration in a local authority’s development plan; or

b) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, registered historic parks and gardens, registered battlefields, the curtilages of scheduled ancient monuments, and world heritage sites; or

c) buildings of traditional construction with permeable fabric that both absorbs and readily allows the evaporation of moisture."

The particularly welcome bit is section 'c'.
I've lost count of the number of times I've encountered Building Control Officers who simply cannot see that there is a significant difference in behaviour between a modern house and a traditonally-built, solid walled and breathable building. All too often they simply regard Part L as published as Holy Writ, leaving me grinding my teeth in frustration and the client bewildered.
Specifically, the new wording asks BCOs to seek advice in "making provisions enabling the fabric of historic buildings to ‘breathe’ to control moisture and potential long term decay problems."
I do hope this is adopted, for anything which encourages BCOs to take off the blinkers is welcome.


  1. I think it incumbent on all to write and say how much we agree with c. However, will this exempt all traditional buildings now smothered by inappropriate cement render or pointing?

    I am also worried by news in the press yesterday that the government is considering massive grants to give hundreds of thousands of homes an 'eco' makeover. This is supposed to save fuel. In the end, I suspect that many more traditionally built homes will be spoilt by uPVC windows and doors, and the(small)fuel savings to the individual householder will be more than made up by the profligacy of fuel and resources used in the manufacture, transport and fitting of many of these measures, and the junking of sound timber doors and windows which have been in place for many years. These could continue to function perfectly well for decades to come, with some draughtproofing and secondary glazing. This is, I fear, simply a measure, wrapped up in greenspeak, to keep manufacturers and fitters of such things in work during the 'downturn'.

  2. Ineed, I can see arguments aplenty ahead, despite the proposed revision. My own view (and one which I shall look forward to trying out), is that 'fabric' is the very stuff of the building, and that impermeable plasters and renders are merely 'finish'
    As for the eco-grants - I'm with you in the cynicism. Interestingly, when the 2006 Part L was being prepared the consultation process involved a mere handful of consultants, nearly all of them drawn from the largest manufacturers of building materials and none representing what one might call the 'green sector'.

  3. I have posted a pic on me blog.

    A thousand words etc....