Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” – admittedly a fairly cheesy corporate slogan apparently credited to Benjamin Franklin but incredibly apt for anyone considering a property development.

Due in part to the permitted development rules and the ability to use the prior notification method for gaining consent for development, many BTL landlords are now embarking upon new build developments, commercial to residential conversions and the like.

For many of you, it will be your first departure from the general tidying up of a tired property, and your first move into a ‘proper’ development that requires compliance with building regulations and other statutory requirements. In order to get building control sign off for a new build house, or even some extensions, the building will be required to pass a SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure). The SAP is a little bit like a normal domestic EPC, but instead relies upon calculations made from the building plans and proposed specification rather than a physical inspection of the property.

The assessment looks at the thermal factors present within the building, heat loss, thermal bridging, ventilation, heating, lighting, windows and the types of insulation products that are going into your development. You would be surprised at the variation in u-values between seemingly similar products by different manufacturers, and you will find that small changes in the choice of materials could make all the difference.

The reason forward planning is critical is that if you fail the assessment then you will have to spend some more money rectifying it if you want that all important sign off certificate from Building Control. Many of you will have seen a solar panel system pop up on a recently completed new build house. In most instances this is because it is the only post build change that can be undertaken to meet the energy performance requirements. If only these obligations had been considered at the outset, the cost of that photovoltaic system could have been saved.

Approved Document L1A (2013) for England and L1A (2014) for Wales and Scottish Building Standards Section 6 (2011) all give guidance as to how to reasonably demonstrate to Building Control that a building has been constructed in compliance with the appropriate energy efficiency requirements. This is done through a Design stage energy assessment submission before work starts and then an “As Built” submission on completion, with both submissions showing that the dwelling will meet or has met required targets (along with specifically how this will or has been achieved).

The two submissions are used by Building Control to check compliance of the design and of what is actually built. A clear connection must be evident between product specifications and the data inputs into the compliance software used (following the SAP calculation procedure and conventions).

The calculations for the “As Built” submission are used to produce the EPC for the completed dwelling.

By calculating the predictive SAP score before you start, you will ensure that you are using the right materials in the most cost effective way to obtain that pass. It is a far more cost effective method than that of retrospective remedial action. Indeed, on a single unit development such forward planning could save you up to £10,000. Imagine the potential saving if you have a development of ten units!

In fact, if you register your build at the outset you could qualify for ‘accredited construction detail’, which allows the assessor to use more favourable u-values and therefore make it easier for your project to be compliant.

For conversions, you technically don’t need to pass a SAP test but you will need to comply with the Building Regulations U-values and these are actually quite challenging to meet. By engaging a surveyor at the outset to calculate what combination of products is needed for the required result, you can save yourself stress and money.

I therefore urge all of you to engage with a SAP assessor early on in the process. It is to your benefit and will also mean that you will have your predictive EPC right at the start, which would be incredibly helpful in the event that you end up selling off plan before the development is even finished.

It may be your architect is also qualified to undertake the SAP assessments; if so that could be a good place to start. Alternatively you could consider a surveyor such as myself, and given that the SAP assessment does not require a site visit you will find that most SAP surveyors provide a nationwide service.
So when it comes to planning, please don’t fail to plan!