Findings from the Hackitt report will likely impact the expected review of the Part L Building Regulations later this year, says BEAMA.

In May, Dame Judith Hackitt released her final report into Building Regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell tower tragedy. While the report was focused on issues around safety in high-rise buildings, it does clearly state that “the ideas proposed in this report have broader application to a wider range of buildings”.

So, it is clear that the implications will be felt across Building Regulations, and indeed the government response to the report includes a pledge to change the law “to achieve meaningful and lasting reform of the building regulatory system, with strong sanctions for those who fail to comply”.

In this light, and with a review of Part L of the regulations expected at the end of this year, the heating industry needs to start thinking about where changes could be coming.

The Hackitt report highlights a number of failures in the current regulatory system that will resonate with anyone involved in the regulations for domestic heating. One of these is that “the package of regulations and guidance (in the form of Approved Documents) can be ambiguous and inconsistent”, and there are definitely elements of ambiguity in the current Part L requirements for heating.

The Approved Document for Part L makes it clear that there is a legal requirement to install “effective controls” but, to determine what this looks like in a typical domestic retrofit installation, it is necessary to look at the Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide. However, the guide consistently refers to what controls ‘should’ be installed, as well as mentioning some elements that are only good practice.

It also mentions in the introduction that in defining what should be installed it “neither endorses these methods and technologies, nor excludes other more innovative technologies that may offer and alternative means [of complying]”. So, the installer can make their own choice on what comprises effective controls, but how will they know if this meets the regulations?

The introduction to the guide also says that if you follow what is in the guide “there is a legal presumption that you have complied with the Building Regulations. However, in each case, it is for the building control body to decide whether work complies with the requirements of the Building Regulations”.

This seems to be saying that the guidance may not be enough, and building control have to decide whether any solution you come up with meets the legal requirement.

The above may sound reasonable, except that building control officers are thinly stretched these days and have to be experts in many aspects of buildings, not just the technical effectiveness of a heating system.

So, are they able to assess every system to judge whether it effectively controls the heating system, particularly with the multitude of new and innovative technologies that are available? We don’t feel that the provision of flexibility in compliance that this could deliver actually exists in practice.

This also reflects another aspect that Dame Judith Hackitt mentioned in the introduction to her interim review before the full report: “As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”

This is obviously a significant statement and indicates the desire for a review of the compliance system that will undoubtedly impact on the heating industry. While gas safety seems to be well regulated, it would be nice to think that we will end up with a system that not only ensures minimum standards are met, but allows for flexibility in compliance.

An interesting failure highlighted in the Hackitt report is around product testing and labelling being “opaque and insufficient.” While gas boilers are clearly labelled under the EU energy labelling regulations, the recent Boiler Plus additions to the Building Regulations introduced definitions for types of heating controls that many of us have been trying to decipher to help industry comply.

How building control officers judge whether individual products meet the definitions will be interesting, and indicates how important the work going on within industry to effectively label product types is.

There is a lot for the heating industry to be aware of in the Hackitt report and, when the time comes to review Part L, we must look to embody the principles in the report of clear regulation, stronger enforcement, and more clarity for everyone.