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 – doesn’t suit modern life.
When you add to this some of the rather unsuitable alterations that have often been made over the years by previous owners 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.
Ways to make the most of space:
- Add a side-return extension to create a kitchen diner
- Open up existing rooms
- Add a downstairs WC
- Convert your basement
- Add more bedrooms
- Move a bathroom upstairs
- Convert your loft
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 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.
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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 adjoin 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.
Nowadays, the kitchen diner is high on many a homeowner’s wish list, and 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 idea also opens up the opportunity to use large areas of glazing to help bring natural light into the home. 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 losing privacy.
Another option 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.
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 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 and no more than 6m deep if single storey or 3m for two a two-storey extension.
- 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.
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.
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, while those extending should consider one leading off from a utility area. You could also consider a WC/shower room.
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 your basement 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 £1,000-1,350/m² to around £2,000-4,000/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)
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.
Many pre-twentieth century terraces were not originally built with bathrooms — a toilet in an outbuilding and a tin tub in front of the fire were sufficient. As a result, bathrooms were often added to these homes, usually tacked on to the end of a galley kitchen extension.
This can be offputting, especially to those who have not lived with this type of set up before. Close proximity of the bathroom to the bedrooms is preferred, and it is not all that practical having the kitchen as a thoroughfare to the bathroom. Therefore, you might want to think about how you can move it to the first floor.
To move the bathroom upstairs, you often have to combine the move with a loft conversion or two-storey extension to create room for a new bedroom. Then an existing bedroom can be replaced with the bathroom. It is usually most convenient to use a room at the back of the house for this (or wherever is above the kitchen) as that is where the soil pipe is mostly likely to be located and connecting to existing plumbing should be easier.
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 can take a look at this feature on loft conversions for difficult roof constructions if you are worried your roof will not allow a standard ‘room in roof’ conversion.
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 need to 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 simple conversion for storage will fall at the cheaper end of the spectrum. However, a complete conversion, including a new fixed staircase, will cost from £15,000 for a basic room-in-roof conversion, and above £20,000 for a dormer conversion (up to £45,000 if you’re adding a bedroom with en suite facilities). 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)
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.