Conservatories: First Thoughts – Building Regulations and the Party Wall Act

The aim of this article is to give a brief, easy-to-understand overview of what to consider if you’re thinking about having a conservatory built in England.

In 2008 the rules around the building of extensions to private homes were relaxed, mainly because planning departments around the country were overwhelmed by the huge increase in the number of people building extensions and conservatories.

This is good news if you’re thinking about having a conservatory built. It means that if you keep within the government’s quite reasonable limits on your conservatory build it will not need planning permission (see link below).

Building Regulations
Even though planning may not be required, however, building regulations must still be considered. These are the rules that the government has set out to protect people from incompetent and dangerous building work.

It is essential that any firm you employ to build your conservatory understand and adhere to building regulations. It protects you, the homeowner, in three ways:
1) health and safety of the new building
– it will not damage you, your family or your home;
2) the validity of an insurance claim if there were to be damage to the conservatory
– if building regulations were not followed this would complicate and even nullify any insurance claims;
3) the value and legitimacy of any future sale of the home
– if you plan to sell your home at any time in the future you will need to provide evidence that any structural changes you have made to your home met building regulations at that time.

A reputable firm will have the experience and skills necessary to meet all building regulations, but it is good to know that if your conservatory has a floor area of no more than 30 square metres then it will make life much easier all round. It should also be separated from the main home by proper, exterior walls, windows and doors, and there must be no change to the entrance ‘out’ into the conservatory, otherwise this will definitely require building regulations approval.

Beware of cowboy builders who make no mention of building regulations or building control. After they have packed up and gone it is you that will face the cost of making right the build and this could cost more than employing a more expensive firm in the first place.

Building Control is the arm of the law as far as building regulations are concerned. It is administered by the local authority where the conservatory is to be built. Your local authority web site will have information on this, but a reputable conservatory building firm should be able to explain building regulations and give you an estimate on this part of the building costs at the very outset. Firms that specialise in conservatory builds will already have an established relationship with the relevant local authority personnel and be fully aware of what is permitted and what requires building control.

Party Wall Act
There is also the matter of your neighbours. Even if you do not need planning permission, if your new conservatory affects a wall you share with a neighbour or if the foundations will be dug-out close to your boundary with them, then you must adhere to the requirements of the 1996 Party Wall Act. Essentially, this means that you must give your neighbours (at the sides as well as rear of your home) advance, written notice of your planned work. Again, a reputable firm will be aware of the regulations from their first discussion of the location of the build, and it would be better if one firm carried out both the excavations and the build itself for this reason (and others set out above).

In cases where you do need to obtain your neighbours’ consent, the best thing to do here is to put yourself in their shoes (or foundations). How would you prefer to hear about building work? Over a cup of tea with some rough plans that are open to change, or via a formal letter with plans (ready to be literally) set in stone. As with so many things, common sense is the order of the day, and that old saying comes to mind: treat your neighbour as yourself.

For a summary of limits and conditions for avoiding the need for planning permission in building a conservatory visit the government’s planning website:
http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/permission/commonprojects/conservatories