Home Improvement Agency
For Technical Officers
This is the section of our website for Technical Officers working on home improvements, repairs and adaptations. The resources focus on the more unique aspects of this role - delivering relatively small scale building works in private homes.
You will find information on your professional developments, current technical regulations and a section to pose any questions you may have.
Please use the menu links on the left for information on topics including:
- Construction Design & Management (CDM) Regulations
- Building Contracts
- Procurement including our online tender portal (DFG Tenders)
- Professional development
If you have suggestions for other resources that you would find useful, please email us.
As a Technical Officer there are a number of options for your professional development.
Foundations also has a training partnership with the Chartered Institute of Building which gives various routes to become a Chartered Builder.
There are a number of regulations that Technical Officers will need to know in the course of their work. This section gives an overview of the main regulations that will apply to home improvement and adaptation projects in England.
Building regulations are minimum standards for design, construction and alterations to virtually every building. The regulations are developed by the UK government and approved by Parliament.
The Building Regulations 2010 cover the construction and extension of buildings and these regulations are supported by Approved Documents. Approved Documents set out detailed practical guidance on compliance with the regulations.
Building regulations approval is different from planning permission and you might need both for your project. You can apply to any local authority building control department or Approved Inspector for building regulations approval. Fees do not usually apply if the works are for a disabled person.
Not all of the regulations apply to works on existing homes - however generally if you are planning to carry out 'building work' as defined in regulation 3 of the building regulations , then it must comply with the building regulations. This means that the regulations will probably apply if you want to:
- extend or alter an existing building; or
- provide services and/or fittings in a building such as washing and sanitary facilities, hot water cylinders, foul water and rainwater drainage, replacement windows, and fuel-burning appliances of any type.
In any case, the works themselves must not make the building less compliant than it was before - or dangerous. For example, replacement double-glazing must not make the means of escape or air supply and ventilation for combustion appliances any worse than they were before.
If in any doubt consult your local authority building control department.,
The new Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations came into force in April 2015 aimed primarily at small to medium contractors. The changes in the regulations represent a major change affecting HIAs in that for the first time duties are placed upon domestic clients (although performed by others). There is a new role of Principal Designer in place of the CDM Coordinator as well as Principle Contractor for all projects where more than one contractor is likely to be involved.
Foundations have responded to the urgent need for training by commissioning a new training course for staff involved in the technical delivery of home adaptations. If you haven’t attended to date and wish to attend a future course, please contact us at email@example.com
Since 2005, all electrical work in dwellings in England and Wales, whether carried out professionally or as DIY, must meet the requirements of Part P of the Building Regulations.
Part P is in place to keep people as safe as possible from electrical hazards in their homes, and applies to any alterations or additions to electrical installations in existing properties, including full or partial rewires.
By law, the homeowner or landlord must be able to prove that all electrical installation work on their property meets the requirements of Part P, or they will be committing a criminal offence. Local Authorities have the power to make homeowners or landlords remove or alter any work that does not meet the requirements of the Building Regulations.
What electrical work is notifiable?
Electrical work in a dwelling, or associated with its surroundings, is notifiable to a local building control body where it includes:
- circuit alteration or addition in a room containing a bath or shower*
- installation of one or more new circuits
- installation of a replacement consumer unit (fuse box)
- rewire of all circuits
- partial rewire
* An alteration or addition to an existing circuit in a room containing a bath or shower is notifiable only where carried out in the space surrounding a bath or shower shown below:
All electrical work in a home in England must comply with Part P of the Building Regulations. In addition, those items described as notifiable above are required by Law to have a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate.
The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) is a very useful source of advice on water hygiene. There is a section on their website covering common plumbing problems , including information on preventing the risk of backflow (Opens in a new window) in bathrooms.
Another useful source of water hygiene advice is the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors, which “provides consumers with essential basic information on a range of plumbing and heating matters including installations, repairs and maintenance.” Its leaflet on Understanding hot water systems in the home (Opens in a new window) is a very useful illustrated guide to domestic plumbing.
Home Energy Services has also produced several useful water hygiene advice guides, including an illustrated guide to Understanding cold water systems which features example schematic drawings.
New standards apply (Opens in a new window) if you change an existing hot-water central-heating boiler or if you decide to change to one of these boilers from another form of heating system.
Any work to install a new boiler needs Building Regulations approval because of the safety issues and the need for energy efficiency. This is generally achieved by employing an installer who is registered under an approved scheme.
- Gas Boiler – An installer should be Gas Safe Registered
- Oil fired Boiler – An installer should be registered with one of the relevant Competent Person Schemes
- Solid fuel fired boiler – An installer should be registered with one of the relevant Competent Person Schemes
They must follow the guidelines set out in Approved Document, which shows what is necessary for air supplies, hearths, flue linings and chimney labelling where the flue outlet can be positioned.
A new boiler must have a minimum efficiency of 86% for gas and 85% for oil. The replacement of a gas boiler will probably have to be a condensing boiler unless there is sufficient reason why one cannot be installed. An assessment is carried out by a registered installer on the type of boiler you will be required to have. The assessment is described in the Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide (Opens in a new window).
A condensing boiler with a SEDBUK rating of A or B should be installed unless an assessment carried out by a Gas Safe Register installer suggests that it is not viable to install one, then less efficient boilers with SEDBUK Ratings of C or D can be installed providing they have met the minimum efficiency guidelines.
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.
A building owner proposing to start work covered by the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions in the way set down in the Act. Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed. Where they disagree, the Act provides a mechanism for resolving disputes.
The Act is separate from obtaining planning permission or building regulations approval.
The Act also uses the expression ‘party structure’. For example, this could be a floor between flats.
The Government have published an explanatory booklet (Opens in a new window) which gives detailed guidance on the Act and how it may affect a building owner who wishes to carry out work covered by the Act or an adjoining building owner who receives notification under the Act of proposed work.
There are also letter templates that you can use to make sure you comply with the guidance.
Brick by Brick Webinars
In May 2020 Brick by Brick hosted two special webinars to explain the Party Wall Act and answer questions. Here are the recordings of those sessions.
Working with Contractors
However hard we work at supporting our clients, in most cases we're judged on the end product: the standard of the repair, improvement or adaptation, and that largely comes down to the quality of the contractors that you work with. They're an essential part of the process but sometimes their importance is neglected, and unsurprisingly they then go to ply their trade elsewhere. This means that many agencies become over-reliant on a very small pool of contractors and all the risks that entails.
Here are 10 ways that you can keep contractors happy and in turn deliver a better end product to your clients.
1. A regular flow of work
The traditional nature of grant-funded works is that it can be a bit stop-start. Agencies race to spend as much as possible before the end of a financial year and then have little in the pipeline for April and May. Then it's summer holidays and things don't really pick up again until the Autumn when there's another push to spend before the end of the financial year again. Smoothing out the flow of work will help prevent contractors needing to look elsewhere – which also means they're more likely to be available when you need them for an urgent project.
2. Fair tendering
It's worth remembering that contractors often know each other, especially in small towns. Make sure you have an open approach to tendering and selection and be seen to follow it.
3. Pay quickly
An obvious one, but sometimes it's easy for an invoice to sit on a file for weeks while minor issues are resolved that can be outside of the contractor's control. If you can, pay promptly – and always see if your client is happy for you to pay the contractor directly.
4. Be reasonable about variations
For any building job, particularly those involving existing buildings, there's potential for unforeseen works. Not that this should be a blank cheque, but if there are items that genuinely could not have been foreseen then it is reasonable to expect them to be paid for. Sometimes this includes the client changing their mind, but this should be managed so that it is fair to both parties.
5. Prestart meetings
It's not unknown for clients and contractors to fall out – but often it's down to a misunderstanding or even a lack of understanding. We strongly advocate holding a pre-start meeting for every job where you introduce the client and contractor to each other, discuss the sequence of events, any other considerations, who to contact if there's a problem and sign the contract. Use a simple agenda, record all the information and share the details (triplicate forms are great). A leaflet telling the client what to expect can help too. If you invest a bit of time in setting jobs up to succeed, they're far less likely to go wrong. You can concentrate on delivering great projects rather than fire fighting.
6. Set expectations
Having a written code of conduct sets out what you expect from contractors. This would include things like keeping the client informed, protecting the property, welfare facilities, how to deal with variations and what to include with the invoice. Setting these things out should mean everyone knows what's expected from them and help jobs to run smoothly. It's also well worth having a booklet that tells your client what they should expect while the contractor is working in their home. Many people won't have had the builders in before and some tips on what to expect can prevent misunderstandings later.
7. Contractor Forums
Good contractors are a precious resource that need careful nurturing. Setting up a contractors forum so that you can offer training (e.g. from your local building control officers), discuss changes and consult on new proposals show that you appreciate what they do and want to work with them to keep improving services. Some Councils are worried about potential cartels but with robust procurement practices the risk is pretty low compared to the benefits of proper engagement.
8. Value of smaller builders
We've seen one or two examples of large contractors delivering DFG projects well – but heard plenty of stories about poor service and escalating costs. The vast majority of DFG funding is spent with small local builders. Usually family run firms that know how to treat people in their own home and want to help people in their local community. We recognise it too, and have a new category in this year's National Healthy Housing Awards where you can nominate your best contractors for this prestigious award.
We also designed dfgtenders.co.uk for smaller builders who haven't got the time or expertise to participate in a bigger procurement process,
9. Right first time
Snagging issues just waste time – for you and the client. It also wastes time for the contractor, and time means money. Setting the expectation that a job should be completed right, first time, every time, should be the norm. Punitive measures are probably counterproductive (and potentially illegal) but adaptations are, for the most part, relatively straightforward building projects. A little bit of care extra care and attention is good for everyone.
10. Encourage them to do private work too
There can be a tendency to want to keep good contractors a secret that you don't want to share, but having one client is not a sustainable business model for anyone. One way to do this is by using Trustmark registration as the main criteria for joining your list. Trustmark is the only Government endorsed contractor quality scheme and comes with features like insurance backed warranties and dispute resolution. But it also means that people looking for an accredited adaptations contractor can find one via the Trustmark website. Foundations are developing a new approach to accreditation with Trustmark that we'll be launching in 2019.
Foundations, advised by a specialist barrister, has produced a building contract suitable for works up to approximately £10,000-12,000. The document is written in plain English and incorporates the recent changes to the CDM regulations. As with other contracts, the purpose is to safeguard the interests of both parties - the contractor and customer - detailing their responsibilities in regard to the specification. The contract incorporates the role of the contract administrator, normally the technical officer employed by the agency/local authority.
Trustmark Brochure 2018 (Opens in a new window)
Procurement frameworks are an excellent way of saving money for your clients and time for yourself when delivering adaptations.
There are existing framework agreements out there, where the work has already been done to make the process EU compliant. So if you need a particular product instead of having to procure it yourself you can buy it directly through a pre-existing framework. For example, if you want a stairlift agreement you can approach the company directly through the framework company.
We have links with Procurement for Housing and can facilitate this and other agreements for you. For lifts, there is a main provider that won the original tender so that you can liaise directly with them.
There are lots of great web tools and apps that can help a Technical Officer perform his day-to-day duties. Here’s a list of some of our favourites, but if you have any other suggestions please let us know.
Strictly speaking the CDM wizard from the CITB helps to generate a construction phase health and safety plan, but it can also help to consider designers to consider health and safety issues. There is a desktop version , and also apps for IOS and Android.
The website also has guidance for smaller construction projects, including interactive guides for both the designer designer (Opens in a new window), the principal designer (Opens in a new window) and a domestic client. (Opens in a new window)
The Planning Portal
The Planning Portal has a Professional Portal with lots of useful resources, including downloads of the Building Regulations Approved Documents , and online applications for Building Control and Planning.
There’s also an interactive guide that shows how big you can make an extension without needing planning permission.
The LABC (Local Authority Building Control) website has even more resources including, a step-by-step checklist for level access thresholds , a Foundation Depth Calculator and a free Technical Manual that is also available for IOS and Android.
There are many other calculators including:
Visit FastrackCAD to download free CAD details for dozens of manufacturers such as Armitage Shanks, Twyford and Whale Pumps.
Walsall HIA have kindly shared their set of CAD Blocks for others to use (thanks to David and Bill). These are available on request, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.