Are self-builders in ROI an endangered species?

Following publication of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, there has been a very lively debate on the future of self-building. We’ve asked the Department of Environment to clarify some points and gathered the opinions of various stakeholders to find out what it all means.

Why were the Regulations put in place?

The Department of the Environment’s aim is to ensure homes are built to the current standards and that there is a clear chain of responsibility should anything go wrong, to prevent issues such as the ones encountered with pyrite or fire provisions in Dublin. Editors’ Note: An improvement in building standards has to be a good thing for everyone. It will also help the resale value of a self-built house as the buyer will know it has been built to a reliable standard.

Do the Regulations prevent self-builds from taking place?

The DOE says they do not prevent self-builds, however the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) president cautions: “It is unclear how self builders will be able to operate under the new system. The government will need to provide clarification on this issue.” Editors’ Note: A self-builder is someone who owns a site and arranges to build a house on it to their own specification and which satisfies their personal needs. Most arrange for a builder to build it. Some project manage the work. A small percentage do the work themselves. This legislation will not stop self-building – it may make it more complicated to project manage the work.

What are self-builders’ obligations under the regulations?

Our understanding is that these obligations aren’t new but instead have been clarified and strengthened. Homeowners, whether they self-build or not, take on a legal burden when they appoint their builder, stating that they believe the builder is competent to do the job. The homeowner can appoint themselves as the builder as it would appear that according to the Department’s Code of Practice Inspecting and Certifying Building Works, issued in February 2014, a ‘Builder’ means “a competent builder appointed, for purposes of the Building Control Regulations, by the building owner, to build and supervise the works.” Furthermore, “a person is deemed to be a competent person where, having regard to the task he or she is required to perform and taking account of the size and/or complexity of the building or works, the person possesses sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken.” The builder then needs to sign off on the works completed, which carries its own legal burden. As a ‘true’ self-builder therefore there are two legal burdens being shouldered.

What has given rise to the suggestion that self-builders are an endangered species?

Reason 1: The certificate the builder has to sign at the end of the works is the one illustrated overleaf (Certificate of Compliance on Completion Part A). The form states it must be signed by ‘a Principal or Director of a building company only’ which would seem to prevent sole traders (a large proportion of builders are sole traders) and self-builders from signing it. The DOE assures SelfBuild & Improve Your Home this is not the case – the reason for this addition was to address those situations whereby a building company has been appointed. Indeed Martin Vaughan, Assistant Principal at the Architecture/ Building Standards Section, tells us that sole traders and owners “are in any case principals in their own right.” The key word in the phrase ‘a Principal or Director of a building company only’ therefore seems to be ‘or’ – either a Principal or a Company Director must sign the form. Reason 2: The second reason we encountered is how the Department will deal with the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI). This voluntary register of builders is being set up by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), with a view to establishing a statutory register in 2015. Will self-builders have to appoint all of their tradesmen from this register? Hubert Fitzpatrick of the CIF seems to believe self-builders will have to go through a general contractor; as he has stated on Radio Kerry: “[The Regulations] will mean a difficulty for those who want to self-build if they don’t have a competent overall builder to take responsibility for the project.” Reason 3: There is a belief that there are restrictions to qualifying as a ‘competent builder’ under the Regulations. These concerns have been addressed by the Irish Association of Self Builders (IAOSB) who have published the following statement on their website: “As a self builder […] to operate in the role of contractor you will may be deemed to be not in compliance with the building regulations as you do not fulfil the Department’s criteria of a ‘competent person’: have at least 3 years relevant contracting experience and be the principal of a building firm. Due to inadequate resources the likely hood of getting a local authority inspection are remote. However when it comes time to sell on your property if the necessary compliance documentation is not in place in the local authority it may effect the sale of your property. These requirements will essentially preclude non-contractor self-builders from operating the role as contractor for their own projects.” Martin Vaughan from the DOE has responded to the IAOSB as follows: “A Self-Builder can nominate them-self as the Builder and sign the undertaking and the Certificate of Compliance on Completion (Part A). In nominating themselves as Builder and signing the Undertaking by the Builder, they are declaring that they are competent and undertaking to follow the certified design and to employ/ engage competent persons, etc. and anyone signing these forms must of course be faithful to the undertakings so given.” He tells SelfBuild & Improve Your Home: “All I can do is reaffirm the Department’s policy position that there is nothing in the new Building Control amendment Regulations 2014 (SI No 9 of 2014) which prevents self build or direct labour approaches to building their own home.” The IAOSB has asked clarification from the Attorney General on these matters. Reason 4: The question arises whether an architect, building surveyor or engineer will be willing to work with a self-builder as the main contractor. The assigned certifier (a registered architect/engineer/building surveyor chosen by the self-builder) appears to be in a position to specify who can work on the build as they can refuse to certify the house if built by someone they are not confident in, or place conditions on signing off, such as increased insurance cover on the builder’s part, the most likely being latent defects insurance. If the self-builder is working from a clear schedule of works and has a list of who they will be hiring for each specialised trade, a good working relationship could be established with their certifier. However it is up to the certifier who they wish to work with. Reason 5: Another argument is that the cost will be so high for self-builders that it will become uneconomic. The RIAI estimates certification will add 30% to 50% more professional involvement so the fees could theoretically rise from an average today of say, 10%, to 13%-15%. This additional cost will be incurred whether the project is a self-build or not. Builders may or may not charge a premium in order to officially sign off on the works. An additional cost to a self-builder could arguably be insurance. Editors’ Note: The tightening of the regulations, the need to demonstrate competence and the requirement to ‘sign off’ at various stages, including upon completion, will require a ‘sea change’ in attitudes and practices throughout the entire construction industry. There is no doubt that the new amendments will increase the cost of self-building, but most do not choose this route to save money although that is a bonus they may still achieve. It is instead to gain a house that reflects their personal living requirements. With reference to Reason 2, according to an article in the Irish Examiner, Clare Councillor Richard Nagle believes the Register will mean that self-builders will no longer be able to swap jobs with colleagues or trade in favours, which he says would significantly add to the cost of self-building.

What is the main area requiring clarification?

An update on the progress of the compilation of the Register of Builders (CIRI) would be helpful in providing clarity on the viability of self-builds. If self-builders are to proceed they are likely to have to appoint tradesmen from the statutory Register of builders (which has yet to be finalised), and thus it would appear a broad range of ‘builders’ will have to be included, from timber frame companies to plumbers.

In summary

For self-builders using a builder and an architect, the process will become more formalised and more expensive. Self-builders who wish to Project Manage will need to adapt to fulfil the requirements. They are unlikely to be able to qualify as a main contractor unless they are competent to do so, as defined above, so they may have to hire a main contractor for their project. It may be possible to have other trades known to the self-builder employed by the main contractor but that will be very much down to individual circumstances. Indeed, self-builders who wish to do the work themselves may well already be experienced and able to fulfil the criteria as the main contractor. Only time will provide the answers to many of these questions. However, it appears that the authorities are well aware of the difficulties which will be faced by the entire construction industry and will be working with them to ensure a smooth transition to better building standards. Self-builders will always find a way to build their dream home as they have done in NI and throughout the EU.

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Written by Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of the SelfBuild magazine. Email

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