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Extend and Remodel Terraced Homes

More than a quarter of all UK houses are terraced and although there can be minimal space in which to extend, clever design solutions or choosing to simply remodel the existing layout instead can result in a surprisingly spacious, practical home.

The original layout of most terraced houses – tiny kitchens, smaller separate living rooms leading off from one another with little light allowed to penetrate each one – just doesn’t suit modern life, and when you add to this some of the rather unsuitable alterations that have often been made over the years by previous owners, such as downstairs bathrooms and unsightly lean-tos, it is not unusual to find that a great deal of useful extra living space can be gained from simply rearranging the layout of the house rather than carrying out a full-scale extension. Indeed, you may find that you have no option but to remodel your existing spaces rather than extend, perhaps due to restrictions on your budget, but also due to a small courtyard garden or shared rear access (both common in this type of house), or living in a Conservation Area — all factors that could prevent a worthwhile extension.

Before starting out on your extension, consider how much money you have to spend, how much any work is likely to cost, and the final value that will be added by the new addition. Unless you really don’t mind whether or not you make any profit from your new extension, then you need to think about ceiling prices on the road — the maximum value of any house in a certain area. However fabulous your extension, your house will still be a terrace, surrounded by other terraces, and this inevitably has an effect on what it will be worth.

Consider which elements and features add the most value. The best way to do this is to ensure that your new plans overcome a horribly negative aspect of the original house, for example a miniscule kitchen or ground floor bathroom. You are almost always onto a winner by adding well-planned bedrooms and en suites.

Useful Info

  • If your extension will be up to the boundary of a neighbour’s property or on or up to a neighbour’s wall, you will need to pay attention to the Party Wall Act. You can download the Act at communities.gov.uk.

  • No new windows should normally be placed within 2.4m of the boundary that they face. For two storey extensions there should be no side windows at first floor level that can overlook neighbouring houses.

Problem #1: I need a bigger kitchen!

Rarely did the original owners of period terraced houses seem to place the same importance on having a spacious, sociable kitchen as we do today. The most common layouts featured small, narrow kitchens tucked away to the rear of the house, sometimes with direct access out to the back garden, or occasionally leading into a separate scullery. They also often adjoined an outside WC and/or coal store, and the most cost-effective way of gaining extra kitchen space is to knock through into these spaces to simply incorporate them into the new kitchen, although this option does not offer much scope for changing the narrow galley-style layout of these kitchens.

The most popular way to get a bigger kitchen in a terraced house is to create a side-return extension. This involves incorporating the space behind the dining room, known as the ‘side return’, into the kitchen, adding around 1-2m to its width. 

This side-return area was created to provide light to the dining (middle) room of the house, which is why it is a fantastic idea to use large areas of glazing in the new kitchen to ensure that no light is lost, although more often than not the ‘middle’ room is integrated into the new kitchen to create a kitchen diner. The most stylish ways of doing this are through a glazed roof or a bank of rooflights. A clerestory window is also sometimes incorporated into the wall overlooking the neighbours, providing light but without creating a loss of privacy.

Another option, which works well in larger houses, is to reverse the typical layout of the house, relocating the kitchen to the front of the house and merging it with the middle room to create a large, light kitchen dining room. By then building a side-return extension to open up the former kitchen and turning this into a new living area with access out into the garden beyond, a whole new way of living can be created (SEE BELOW).

Reversing the Layout

A small living/dining room, lack of entrance hall and a downstairs WC make the layout of this end terrace impractical for modern life.

The living/dining room has become a kitchen, accessed from a new entrance hall. The dining area is now open into the new living room, which takes the place of the old bathroom and has been extended to the side return and rear. On the first floor, the centre bedroom has become a bathroom and the rear bedroom is now larger thanks to the two storey extension. If a third bedroom was required, use could be made of the attic space.

Permitted Development

There is actually a great deal you can do to a terraced house without applying for planning permission, and these works fall within your Permitted Development (PD) rights. You will not usually need to apply for planning permission for an extension to a terraced house if:

  • It is not any nearer to the highway than the nearest part of the original house, unless there would still be 20m of clear space between the house and the highway.
  • It covers no more than 50% of the area of land around the original house, taking into account outbuildings.
  • It will be no more than 4m in height and within 2m of the property boundary.
  • The volume will not be increased by more than 10% or 50m³ (whichever is greater up to a maximum of 115m³).
  • The house is not listed or in a Conservation Area.

(MORE: Permitted Development Rules)

Problem #2: Our dining room is dingy!

Some of the most typical terrace layouts include a front room, originally a parlour; a middle room, perhaps once featuring a range for cooking, although often now used as a dining room; and a back room, intended as a scullery or kitchen. The nature of this layout often results in a middle room that suffers from a lack of natural light, either due to having just one small window or sometimes none at all.

There are several ways in which to rectify this problem. The easiest – and often cheapest – solution is simply to open up this middle room into the front room, creating an open plan living/dining area and allowing the middle room to be flooded with light from the often large front window. Those who are reluctant for the two rooms to become one should consider installing a sliding glass partition or archway between the two to create a more flexible arrangement. In order to get even more light into this area, take a look at the possibility of replacing the current small window in the middle room with a set of French doors leading out into the garden — adding a fanlight will draw even more light in.

If you want to take things a step further, consider merging this middle room with the kitchen. Although this option often involves a little more structural work in the form of the removal and addition of walls, not only will it provide a lighter, more open dining room, but it will also result in a larger kitchen.

Simple Remodelling Scheme

The kitchen is small and the layout is further restricted by the back door. The solid wall between the dining and living rooms mean that the dining room receives hardly any light. Rather than extending the house, the ground floor layout has simply been remodelled. The living and dining rooms have been opened up to one another, meaning that the dining room now receives far more natural light — plus replacing the window in this room with French doors brings even more in. To provide more working space in the kitchen, the back door has been blocked up and access to outside is now through the new utility room – once the coal store – which also leads into a new downstairs WC, formed from the old outside WC.

Problem #3: Should we add a downstairs WC?

Most buyers these days expect a house to have a downstairs WC and it should not be too hard to make space for one in your terraced house. When deciding on the best location for your new WC, bear in mind that the minimum practical space around standard sanitaryware in a WC is 200mm on each side and 600mm in front.

The ideal locations for new WCs are either off the utility room or a main hallway, and although the Building Regulations no longer prevent you from having a WC directly off a living room, kitchen or dining room (there must still be a door), do consider how this will work in everyday life and think about privacy — will guests really want to use a WC leading off the dining room during a dinner party?

Understairs areas and storage cupboards provide lots of scope for a new WC, whilst those extending should consider one leading off from a utility area. You could also consider a WC/shower room.

Problem #4: Is it worth converting our cellar?

Many Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses were built with cellars, but whether or not it will be worth your time and money to convert yours depends on a number of factors. In high-value areas, such as London, the cost of the work compared to the resultant end value of the extra space gained often makes sense.

However, terraced streets have a ceiling value and you might find that you never make back the money you spend on converting the cellar in this instance.

Although planning consent is unlikely to be required, you may be up against some technical hurdles. Most cellars in terraced houses have low ceilings, so to become extra living space, the floors will need to be excavated. This involves expensive underpinning of shallow foundations — something that will at least double the cost of converting a cellar with sufficient headroom, seeing costs rise from around £750-1,200/m² to around £1,500-2,000/m². These old cellars usually suffer from damp too, and so will need to be tanked, plus light and ventilation will also need to be considered.

(MORE: Basement Design Guide)

Problem #5: We need more bedrooms!

Adding an extra bedroom is a fantastic way to add value to a house. Avoid the temptation to simply retain or create a new ground floor bathroom in favour of having three bedrooms on the first floor — this is bound to put off potential buyers.

Unless you are planning a loft conversion, the most obvious way of gaining a new bedroom is to add a two storey extension to the rear of the house.

Adding a two storey extension is actually a very cost-effective method of gaining extra space, working out 20% cheaper to build per m² than single storey extensions, as the cost of the groundworks and roof is effectively halved, being spread between two floors. Building a two storey extension also means that you get more space, without having to eat into your garden area.

Depending on how many extra bedrooms you plan on adding, consider the final bedroom-to-bathroom ratio. As a general rule there should be one bathroom for every three bedrooms, so adding a fourth bedroom may also warrant the addition of an en suite.

Problem #6: What about a loft conversion?

Before you do anything else, check that a loft conversion is actually viable. The amount of space you will have all depends on the height and pitch of the roof. You need at least 2.3m of clear headroom for an area to be considered ‘usable’, plus you will need to take into account enough space with clear headroom for staircase access too. An architect or loft conversion specialist will give you an idea of how much  space you will have and the options available. In addition, you think about where the stairs to this new room will go. Do you have space to reconfigure your existing staircase or to add a new one?

It is possible to adapt the roof structure to create more usable space, and any bulky water tanks can be discarded and replaced with a combination boiler in the kitchen to provide more space — but you need to weigh up how much value all this work will add, compared to what it is going to cost.

A basic conversion, to provide storage space, should cost under £1,000, whilst a conversion for home office or playroom space, accessed by a simple loft ladder, will cost around £350-500/m². However, a complete conversion, including a new fixed staircase, will cost from £750-1,200/m². If your conversion will involve significant roof alterations the cost will rise further. Speak to local estate agents to determine how much value a loft conversion will actually add.

(MORE: Loft Conversion Design Guide)

An Upstairs Bathroom

A ground floor bathroom – particularly one off the kitchen – is sure to put off potential buyers, but moving it upstairs does not have to mean losing a bedroom. This single storey side-return extension has allowed for a much larger living room to the rear of the house, taking the place of the old kitchen and bathroom. The new kitchen is now partially open to the dining room and receives lots of light from the front bay. Upstairs, the landing space, with a window to the front, has become a new bathroom.

Right to light

When extending a terraced house, which, by its very nature, will be close to its neighbours, and particularly when considering a two storey extension, their ‘right to light’ will need to be taken into consideration. Although not specifically a planning issue, there is an ancient law dating all the way back to 1832 that still protects homeowners’ right to light. What this means is that if you decide to build something that will substantially block light from a neighbour’s window, then the neighbour can take legal action against you for infringing on their right to light — providing their window has been there for at least 20 years. They could seek to have your proposed development reduced in size, or try to obtain a payment in lieu of reducing their right to light. The right to light is not actually a material consideration in planning decisions and if the loss of light is fairly insignificant and can be compensated for financially, the court may award compensation rather than an injunction.

5 Comments

Hi You say in the above article that No new windows should normally be placed within 2.4m of the boundary that they face is this a build control issue. Can you provide me with anymore info on this issue as I may encounter that problem Thanks Shaun
Hi I have been searching for information on just how to get an extension to the rear of my property. The problem is, I have a terraced 1920s factory workers cottage which has a lovely long garden, right down to the river... so no rear access!! Any idea if it's even possible to extend? I thought maybe a genius somewhere had invented a workable mechano portable digger or whatever is needed to create an extension. Thanks
The extending of the roof may be arises anywhere and anytime. These ideas really work at that time.
Hiya, I've re-posted your question in the forum as you are more likely to get a response there. The link is http://www.homebuilding.co.uk/forum/extensions/no-rear-access Kind regards, Sam Joy (Online Editor)

is it possible to alter a roof of a terraced house from low roof to roof high enough to make a bedroom???