BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

How site visits inform degree coursework

Practical project experience is enabling a degree apprentice to consolidate her learning, understand the Building Regulations and develop her portfolio, the fifth piece in our series explains

Author:

  • Charlotte Turner

09 March 2023

Young Asian woman sitting next to standing older white woman

Alongside developments in the building control sector over the past nine months, I have also been making personal progress as a degree apprentice in the profession.

Last June saw the introduction of new or amended Approved Documents F, L, O and S. Consequently, we have seen changes in certain aspects of construction to satisfy the requirements, with some projects subject to the new regulations now approaching completion.

Qualified and trainee building control surveyors have had to familiarise themselves with these new regulations and methods for complying. As an apprentice, for instance, I have attended many in-house training sessions with Assent Building Control, while also building the foundations of my knowledge from university coursework and independent research and relating the changes to existing guidance and legislation.

I have found one of the best ways to consolidate my knowledge of the Building Regulations is to understand the requirement first and then reinforce the knowledge by witnessing the construction on site. This helps me visualise the plans and specifications that we see in the office, gather evidence of what compliant work looks like, and even helps with my revision.

Building project experience for portfolio

As part of my degree, I am also expected to produce a professional portfolio containing a variety of projects I have worked on, which will contribute towards my final assessment. To develop this portfolio, I like to balance time between the office and site, either independently on small domestic projects or accompanying senior surveyors to complex commercial developments.

Among the notable projects I have visited recently are a new school being constructed to Passivhaus requirements, some large, multi-storey offices, and the redevelopment of a listed building into apartments.

It was particularly interesting to see construction to the Passivhaus standard after studying this approach as part of a sustainability module on my degree. The standard, developed by the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, aims to limit the amount of energy buildings use for heating and cooling, by achieving more stringent targets for insulation, airtightness and thermal bridging.

Consequently, these buildings have lower running and maintenance costs and are more sustainable and energy efficient. It is, however, different to the 'traditional Part L approach' which is for common building situations. This demonstrates the flexibility of the regulations in allowing alternative or innovative solutions.

I found the architecture and construction of this building extremely futuristic, and unlike anything I have experienced thus far. There is a commitment to sustainability, with an innovative and eco-friendly design to support the needs of our evolving climate.

There is a possibility we may see more of this kind of construction in both domestic and commercial projects in the future as there is increased demand for sustainable homes.

I am confident that, as I progress through the final two years of my degree, I will build a substantial portfolio of unique and challenging projects on which I have been involved as an apprentice with my employer, Assent Building Control.

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Modules cover planning and control processes

September saw the beginning of a new semester, and I entered the third year of my BSc in building control with University College of Estate Management. I have recently been studying modules in planning and conservation and in building control, and submitted my final assignments for both in February.

Planning and conservation covers topics such as the planning process and controls, listed buildings, conservation areas and historic buildings. It involves two coursework assignments, the first being a professional letter to a potential client on a planning matter, and the second a report on a chosen historic building.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this module because the history and cultural significance of buildings are something in which I have a keen interest. Studying a listed building in my local area has therefore been extremely engaging.

We are asked to discuss historic forms of architecture, identify the specific materials and design style of the building, with a timeline of associated historical events. As part of the assignment, we are encouraged to visit the site and include primary images, which is something I feel confident with due to my site experience as a surveyor.

There is a direct link between planning restrictions and building regulations when it comes to listed buildings and those within conservation areas. For example, some of the approved documents incorporate exceptions if necessary to preserve the historic or architectural value of the building.

This can be seen in Part L, where it is stated 'work to the following types of buildings does not need to comply fully with the energy efficiency requirements where to do so would unacceptably alter the building's character or appearance'. Therefore, it is important for building control professionals to understand the key concepts of conservation areas and listed buildings and how this may impact the building work.

Meanwhile, the building control module relates directly to the degree itself and to my role as an apprentice surveyor. It covers topics such as the Building Regulations, foundations, fire safety, legislation, and plan assessments. I also have to complete two assignments for this module.

The first is a presentation on the building control function, its main responsibilities, the consequences of non-compliance and examples of inspections. The second is a plan assessment report, which determines whether a submitted proposal meets the Building Regulations' minimum requirements.

We are advised to refer in particular to Approved Documents A, B and L, on structure, fire safety and conservation of fuel and power respectively, as well as to the specifications for the fire escape and foundations and the inspection regime schedule regime for this project.

My workplace experience over the past two years has helped me feel confident in completing this assignment, as I regularly carry out plan checks on domestic projects as part of my job that are then checked by mentors. So this assignment is a helpful way of demonstrating the knowledge and competencies I have developed thus far.

Increasing my professional confidence

Throughout the past year, I feel my confidence has improved dramatically with the increasing experience I am gaining, not only in assignments but in my role as a surveyor. This year I am looking forward to working on some more exciting, complex projects, strengthening already positive client relationships as well as completing my current modules.

I am thankful to be able to document my progress in these articles, and hope they provide a useful insight into the experiences of an apprentice building control surveyor.

'My confidence has improved dramatically with the increasing experience I am gaining, not only in assignments but in my role as a surveyor'

 

Charlotte Turner is an assistant building control surveyor at Assent Building Control
Contact Charlotte: Email

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