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Do We Really Know What The Rules Are On Solid Roof Conversions?

Solid roofs. They have been one of the fastest growing markets in UK fenestration for a lot of years now. Home owners have been snapping them up as a remedy to turn their existing conservatories into something more like an extension. A room to be used 12 months a year, without being cold, too hot, or have the sounds of gunfire when it rains. Great idea.

But, as you may be aware, when you swap a translucent roof to a solid roof, that structure is no longer classed as a conservatory as it’s use has been changed and would now be classed as an extension. That is where things start to become complicated. The more I listen to the advice and “guidelines” out there in the industry, the more I think that we actually don’t have a true grasp on what our proper legal responsibilities are when installers are putting up these solid roofs.

Years down the line we could be preparing our own can of worms.

The advice given to me

We sell solid roofs at our place. Not in huge numbers. Partly due to home owners in our area still wanting a glass roof. Partly due to some very mixed information that has left us unsure as to what is the proper and 100% legally watertight route to installation.

So, I got on the phone with Building Control at Wakefield Council to try and find out with some degree of clarity as to what the proper and 100% legal procedure would be. This is what I was told based on a job I have just recently quoted…

There is an existing conservatory to a semi-detached property which has a 3m x 4m (rough size) conservatory with a polycarbonate roof and the home owner wants to convert it to a solid roof. The existing structure is only five years old and didn’t need planning originally as it was just within the size limitations allowed. My person at the council that it wouldn’t need full planning permission to convert, but it would need a Building Control Notice.

This is just the start. Again, this is the advice given to me. They require a test dig of the foundations to be done. That’s fine, we do that as a company anyway. They want to be present at the test dig. So we would have to liaise to make that happen. Fine also. They also told me that for them to pass the base as suitable, they would need an engineer’s report. So that means whilst our builder is on site with the council, we also need to hire the relevant engineer to garner information whilst the ground is dig up. They would then have to submit their report to the council, whereupon they would make their final decision as to whether they think the base and indeed the rest of the structure would be suitable to take the weight of the solid roof. Clear enough?

After all of that, there is the distinct chance that they can say no, and that work would have to be done to the base before they would be prepared to pass it and issue paperwork saying so. And of course, all of these people and services cost money. So before we have even taken a single roof sheet out of the old roof, many pounds have to be shelled out by the home owner, with the clear risk that at the end of it all they could say no.

That was the guidance given to me by our local council. Yet, if you were all to go back to your own council’s and ask for the same guidance, I would bet that you all get different answers. This is where the mud gets even less clear, and results in installers doing the work anyway, in the hope that no legal ramifications show up in the future. Risky business.

Missing the point

I think we’re missing a serious point here. The industry has focused hard, as it should, to make the product itself as good as it can be, with the end result to have various bodies give it various approvals. Fair enough. But it isn’t actually the roof itself where the issues lie, rather, the stuff underneath that you can’t see i.e. the base, and when you need to give legal notice. For me, based on the advice given by my local council, every conservatory with a translucent roof, or conservatory that is over 50% glazed, when being changed to have a solid roof must be passed by Building Control Notice. Those BCN’s have certain criteria and processes that must be adhered to in order to be signed off. That’s the point, and that’s an area that I believe much of our industry has been ignorant to.

The very crucial area that I don’t think we’re focusing on is the base. It is likely that many of the conservatories being converted will not have been built by the company doing the conversion. Which, if that is the case, they will have no idea as to what lies beneath the surface. It could be a shoddy, shallow base knocked together in quick time. It could be a huge raft base that goes way beyond what’s required. But you just don’t know, and that’s the point. Checks have to be done by the installer if doing a conversion to make sure that what is there is suitable.

But that creates the next problem. The majority of window installers are not official bodies and therefore do not have the power to issue any sort of official or legal certification of that base. They can make a judgement, but that judgement brings on risk for the installer. What if they get it wrong? What if they put their solid roof on and it starts to move? Or worse? The home owner will only be knocking on the door of one party. That is why to satisfy the requirements of Building Control, as I have been advised remember, an official report has to be submitted to them by someone who is qualified to do so, ergo, an engineer. So at this point, this has nothing to do with the roof, but the very thing that all that extra weight is going to sit on.

It is the certification of the base that, as I have been explained, which is the key legal aspect. As the change of the use of the structure changes from conservatory to extension, the council is required to approve it to be able to say it’s been done legally. That means checks. Installers can do their own checks, if they’re professional enough to do so. But to have an official check done, it needs an engineer’s report and then ratification of that information by the council so that they’re confident the structure would be sound.

Question is, how many installers are actually going to those lengths to make sure their work is absolutely watertight? Given the rate at how many are popping up around our area, I would guess not so many. If what our council says is the absolute right way to do it, I foresee problems in a few years time when people start to move and new owners, solicitors and estate agents want to start seeing various bits of paperwork.

So many suppliers state they have this accreditation, that certificate, that rating etc. That’s great. Well done. But it’s not the quality of the roof that will means a job will get BCN approval. It’s the existing structure and it’s suitability. I think some parts of our industry have been missing this point.

Of course, after writing all of this, I could have been given duff information by my council and all of this is a load of guff. I would predict that most councils will give you slightly varying guidance on this issue. It’s always the case. The information never tends to be the same between councils. Still, I think there remains a grey area when it comes to solid roof conversions and I don’t think we’re always getting it right.

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