Radical plan to exempt new homes from building rules
Proposed exemption would apply to extensions and one-off homes
Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly has ordered a review of regulations introduced a year ago amid concerns that householders are paying up to €16,000 to have their homes inspected, which is adding to construction costs.
The move, if it goes ahead, would result in almost half of all homes built in a given year being exempt from the rules.
However, if the changes are made, it will also result in buyers of these one-off homes being given no protection whatsoever.
Introduced in March last year, the Building Control Amendment Regulations 2013 were described by then minister Phil Hogan as guaranteeing buyers got "high-quality homes and buildings that they expect and deserve".
It followed public controversy about the previous self-certification scheme, which saw disastrous projects such as Priory Hall being certified as safe.
Public consultation documents have been published by the Department of the Environment in relation to single dwellings and extensions to existing dwellings.
They note that among the more common faults identified were inadequate drainage and wastewater treatment systems, poor energy performance because building regulations were not complied with, and complaints about shoddy workmanship.
Construction work has begun on 1,000 one-off homes since the regulations were introduced on March 1 last year.
These oblige an "assigned certifier" - an architect, engineer or building surveyor - to certify that building regulations have been complied with at key stages of construction.
In the event of a problem, the certifier is held legally responsible.
Making the regulations "advisory", rather than "mandatory" is one of the changes proposed by the Government.
This would address concerns they are too onerous for smaller building projects.
The 'opt-out' clause would give owners a choice and would mean "they need not be held to ransom by unaffordable quotes for professional services", the documents stated,
The disadvantages include concerns that two-tier system of housing would develop, and that homeowners would find themselves with difficulties when securing mortgages or insurance.
"The easement of the regulatory requirements may prove controversial should incidents of failure occur in relation to such homes in the future," it adds.
A second option is to broaden the pool of professionals allowed to certify that a building is safe. This could include allowing architectural technologists or other professionals complete assessments, but there is no guarantee that this will result in lower prices.
The third option includes producing a template inspection plan for one-off homes, which would result in a fee of €3,800 being applied, with an additional fee of up to €2,200 to be imposed if further inspections were required due to compliance issues.
The final proposal is to increase the size of extensions which must currently be certified. This currently stands at 40 square metres, but this has proven "contentious" as previous extensions must be taken into account.
Industry sources cautioned against removing the requirement, as most one-off homes eventually come back onto the market.
One expert noted that without certification, buyers of those properties would not be protected - unlike those who purchased a home in a housing development.
Housing Minister Paudie Coffey said that anecdotal evidence suggested figures ranging from €5,000 to €16,000 were being quoted for inspections, but construction professionals noted that the cost of remedying poor construction works would be multiples of these figures.
A spokesman for Mr Coffey said that no decisions had yet been made and that public consultation ended on May 15 next.
"It's under review at the moment. When the building regulations went through, it was agreed there would be a review and that is now happening," he said.
"The reality is there were examples coming in to both ministers of very high quotations for the inspections. There's no decisions yet in relation to anything. Neither minister is going to pre-empt the outcome of the public consultation period."