How BCAs should assess and process minor variations
Proposed minor variations
All proposed minor variations need to be communicated to the BCA before the building work is undertaken. Decisions about whether a change meets the definition of a minor variation and whether the minor variation can be granted are the responsibility of the BCA, not any other party. Following receipt of a minor variation proposal the BCA should advise the applicant whether the change will be assessed as a minor variation or is too significant a change from the consented building work and requires a formal application for an amendment to the building consent.
A minor variation proposal does not mean a formal application in the way that a building consent amendment is applied for. In some circumstances this may be as simple as a:
- conversation on site between the builder and the inspector (documented afterwards)
- covering letter or email from the designer or builder accompanying revised architectural plans or construction details covering the proposed change.
Assessing a proposed minor variation
We recommend BCAs assess a proposed minor variation by addressing, in sequence, the following questions:
1. Does the proposed change involve building work that is required to comply with the Building Code? If the work is not required to comply with the Building Code, then it is not necessary to seek approval for the change; the work can simply be carried out as of right.
2. Is the proposed change sufficiently minor that it comes within the definition of ‘minor variation’ contained in the Building (Minor Variations) Regulations 2009 and explained in this guide? A proposed change will generally come within that definition if it involves either, for example:
- substituting comparable building products in the same or similar position/manner
- any alteration that does not change the footprint of the building or the location of internal load-bearing supports, or does not change fire safety aspects
- altering a room's layout (for example, the position of sanitary fixtures in a room).
3. Does the proposed change:
- comply with the Building Code
- reflect common appropriate industry practice or standards (for example, drainage or roof truss ‘as-built’ plan)
- not significantly increase the likelihood of a building element’s performance failure or of damage to other property.
If the answer to each of those three questions is ‘yes’, then it will generally be appropriate for the BCA to grant the minor variation.
There may be cases where a proposed minor variation involves aspects of specific engineering design. For example, changing the size of a specific engineering designed beam or lintel and approving this change might be quite straightforward in some situations. The BCA may only require information on the revised beam or lintel, such as size and structural calculations from an engineer to assess and approve this as a minor variation. This will require professional judgement by the building official to judge each case on its merits, assess and consider the significance of the proposed change and make and record a decision.
Best practice for processing minor variations
BCAs need to ensure that they consistently follow the policies, systems and procedures they have put in place for assessing and granting minor variations. We recommend BCAs base their policies, systems and procedures on this guidance and on existing good industry practices, which have enabled a reasonably flexible approach to minor changes during construction. In line with those practices, BCAs should determine each minor variation on its merits. Whilst standard operating policies and procedures can help achieve better consistency, there will always be cases that are different and require professional judgement, individual assessment and consideration.
BCAs should make reasonable efforts to streamline their processes, to reduce time and cost for all those involved. They should consider carefully what evidence they will require consent applicants to provide to show that the work will comply with the Building Code. For example, for a minor variation to a structural element during construction, it may be enough to require a producer statement with supporting calculations provided by a chartered professional engineer.
Construction changes that require a minor variation or an amendment to a building consent should not be made before the BCA has granted the minor variation or amendment.
Approving minor variations on-site
Discussions about proposed minor variations will often be held on site with the building inspector. If the inspector decides that the minor variation can be granted there and then, the inspector should record this in writing, with their reasons. Depending on the significance of the change, this might include a handwritten change on the approved consent documents, initialed and dated by the building inspector and an inspection record for the consent file. The building inspector might also advise the owner, builder or contractor to provide ‘as-built’ drawings to the BCA once the work is completed, to reflect the changes.
After a minor variation has been approved, it is important that it is always recorded on the inspection notes and consent file. The relevant council records should also be updated. This is to ensure that BCAs records are accurate and to assist with issuing the code compliance certificate.
Just because a minor variation cannot be approved on-site does not mean it cannot be approved at a later stage. If an inspector lacks the specific technical capability to approve a minor variation, we recommend that they seek advice from someone else, such as another building official or their team leader back at the BCA. It is perfectly acceptable for the inspector to take some photos and go back to the office to discuss the situation with their colleagues first, or to consider additional information they have asked the builder or designer to provide, before approving a minor variation, later that day, the next day or a week later.
A proposed minor variation should not escalate into an amendment to the building consent merely because the on-site inspector cannot approve it there and then. The key question is whether the proposed change meets the definition of a minor variation or whether it meets the threshold for an amendment to the building consent.
Approving minor variations at the BCA office
Minor variations can also be approved at the BCA office. The owner or designer might send a letter or an email to the BCA seeking approval for a minor variation, or the BCA might have a conversation with them over the phone (in which case the BCA might require additional information for their records) or at the front counter. Again, it is important that, once a minor variation is granted, the BCA records this on the consent file and updates the relevant council records.
Product substitution includes information about minor variations.