Building an extension is one of the most popular home improvements homeowners undertake. It is a great way to add some much needed extra space (and value) without having to move house.
But there is a lot to be considered to ensure your new extension meets your needs. This beginner’s guide will cover everything you need to know, including:
- How much does an extension cost?
- Will I need planning permission for my extension?
- Building Regulations
- How to design an extension
- Building your extension
- Heating and electrics
Is Building an Extension the Right Move?
Moving house costs money — there are agent fees, legal fees, stamp duty, as well as the premium for that desired extra bedroom or bigger kitchen diner.
For the same price, you might well find that you can build a decent extension, adding both space and value to your existing home in the process.
What Should I Consider Before Extending?
Any Shared Walls
If your extension involves building or digging foundations within 3m of the boundary, party wall or party wall structure, or digging foundations within 6m of a boundary, the work will require you to comply with the Party Wall Act.
You will need to factor in how deliveries, trucks and lorries will reach the property and unload large items and materials. You’ll also need to determine where trades will park and store their tools.
Demands on Your Boiler
Will your existing boiler will be able to cope with the demands of the new extension? While replacing the boiler is an option, you could also look at alternatives such as underfloor heating.
Importantly, notify your insurer of the work. Some may not provide cover during the works, but others offer dedicated extension insurance products.
Other important aspects to consider before you get to the stage of getting your plans drawn are matters like:
- soil conditions on the site
- surrounding trees
- any history of flooding
- rights of way.
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How Much Will it Cost to Build an Extension?
As with any project, the cost of your extension will come down to a number of factors, including size, specification and location.
Depending where you are in the UK, for a straightforward extension you should allow around £1,000–£2,000/m2.
A single-storey extension will cost the following per/m2:
- Basic quality: £1,000 to £1,680
- Good quality: £1,680 to £1,920
- Excellent quality: £1,920 to £2,160
Remember: Be mindful of ceiling prices in your area — you’ll want to make a return on the money you spend on an extension so make sure the numbers add up.
A two-storey extension will not cost much more per square metre because, aside from the extra interior fixtures and finishes, you are only adding walls and floor joists — a roof and foundations are required whether your extension is single or two storey.
How to Pay for Your Extension
There are several options when it comes to borrowing money to finance your extension.
In an ideal world, we would all finance our projects using our savings, but if you need to borrow the money, your best options are:
- Credit card: If you need to borrow thousands rather than tens of thousands for your work, an interest-free credit card is a good choice. Shop around — the best deals offer up to 27 months of zero-rated spending
- Loan: Personal loans of up to around £25,000 are suited to smaller projects. The loan may be enough to cover the building work and if you are fitting kitchens or bathrooms in your extension you can often buy these on finance from larger stores. Just keep an eye on repayments as they can quickly add up when you borrow from several sources
- Remortgage or secured loan: If you are borrowing more than £25,000 you may need to remortgage or take our a secured loan against your home. Many building societies offer a Home Improvement Loan of up to £200,000
Your builder will generally stage payments for each phase of the project. Try not to make any payments upfront.
If it is necessary to purchase an expensive item perhaps a bathroom suite some months in advance of its installation, you should make sure it is in your name and not that of the builder, just in case they should go out of business.
Your designer will charge fees according to the work involved, so an accurate quotation of the fee would be a very useful thing to have before you give the go-ahead for plans to be prepared.
It is wise to check what any quote includes and who will pay any local authority application fees. Also, ask if any provision has been made should structural calculations be required.
VAT is zero-rated on new build in domestic properties including self builds, but this does not include extensions.
If you are renovating or extending a property that you can prove has been empty for 2 years or more, it will be treated as a conversion and therefore be charged at the reduced rate of 5%. The VAT concessions are only available via a VAT registered contractor.
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What Insurance Do I Need if I am Extending my Home?
If you are carrying out extension works and are managing the project yourself, you should arrange Extension Insurance to cover the new works and the existing structure. This is because most home insurers will exclude loss or damage whilst the property is undergoing alteration or renovation.
It’s worth discussing your project with a specialist site insurance provider like Protek as extension projects can be complex and often include liability assumed under the Part Wall Act 1996.
Site insurance caters for both the existing element of the property that’s being extended and all the new extension works that go into the process. The existing structure is usually your house – so if the property collapses while creating a new opening for example, the renovation insurance will cover it and completely replaces the requirement for buildings insurance, which is not suitable.
All the works, including any temporary works, materials, plant tools and equipment need to be covered. Public liability and employers liability is automatically included to ensure you are adequately protected.
You may also need to consider a 10 year structural warranty on the new extension works.
Extension insurance needs to be in place from the moment you plan to start works on the property and should continue to the point the project is completed and taken into full use.
Do I Need Planning Permission for an Extension?
Not necessarily. In many cases you will be able to extend your home under Permitted Development (PD) (these rights allow certain works to be carried out to your home providing you meet the criteria).
Under PD, the following rules apply:
- You can extend a detached property by 8m to the rear if it’s a single-storey extension, or by 3m if it’s double
- A single-storey extension can’t be higher than 4m on the ridge and the eaves, and ridge heights of any extension can’t be higher than the existing property
- Two-storey extensions must not be closer than 7m to the rear boundary
- Side extensions can only be single storey with a maximum height of 4m and a width no more than half of the original building
- Any new extension must be built in the same or similar material to the existing dwelling
- Extensions must not go forward of the building line of the original dwelling
- In designated areas (such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, etc), side extensions require planning permission and all rear extensions must be single storey
- An extension must not result in more than half the garden being covered
You should bear in mind that if your house is in a Conservation Area or a National Park, the amount of work one can do under Permitted Development is usually reduced.
If you’re planning a significant extension you’ll likely need planning permission and will need to submit an application. Engaging with your local authority early on and researching local planning policies to know what’s likely to get approved is a good idea.
You can either apply for consent via planningportal.co.uk or through your local authority. An application in England for an extension currently costs £206.
All alterations to listed buildings, including internal ones, require consent and it is a criminal offence to alter a listed building without it.
With a listed building the planners will always regard the existing property as more important than what you are proposing to add to it. Any extension will therefore have to respect the flavour, appearance and historic material used in the construction of the original house.
Local Authority Grants
Unless your house is in an exceedingly poor state or is listed Grade I or Grade II*, or you are disabled, you are likely to have great difficulty in obtaining a grant for your work.
However some organisations will offer help to maintain a period property (usually only to bring it to a basic standard of living to avoid demolition), so enquire with your local authority.
Whether you require planning consent or not, you will need to make sure you comply with Building Regulations. To meet the Regs, you can either submit a Full Plan Submission or a Building Notice.
- Full Plan Submission: send plans to your local authority building control or approved inspector prior to the build for approval. The building inspector visits your site at different stages and inspects the work as it progresses
- Building Notice: a statement which lets the local authority know that you will be complying with the regulations in building your extension and gives the building control department 48-hours notice of your intention to start the work. Building inspectors will inspect the work at various stages and will advise you of any problems
A Building Notice is the riskier of the two as you may only find out you have a compliance issue once building work has started, which then needs to be paid to be put right.
Getting a warranty for your extension is advisable as it will cover you for things such as structural defects or faulty workmanship. Should the worst happen, the builders who did the work will need to return to put right what has gone wrong.
How to Design an Extension
One of the first things you’ll need to think about is who is going to design your new extension. You can choose to design it yourself, opt for a build and design company, or you can work with an architect or architectural technologist.
Design advice and inspiration:
Finding an Architect or Designer
Choosing the right person to draw up your plans is as important as choosing the right builder, and the prospect can be just as daunting.
The key is to do your research, look at previous work and ideally speak to past clients, and choose someone who most closely aligns with your design aspirations, and who you feel you can work with best.
Bear in mind, if you’ve designed the extension yourself you may need the aid of a designer or draftsperson to draw up your plans to submit them for planning approval (if required) and a structural engineer to produce drawings and calculations for Building Regs’ purposes. These will also form part of the tender documents when hiring builders.
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT)
- Association of Building Engineers (ABE)
- Chartered Institute of Building (IOB)
- Institution of Structural Engineers (ISE)
Most of these bodies require full members to have relevant academic and technical qualifications. Whichever designer you choose, ensure that they carry sufficient professional indemnity insurance.
Updating the Access
Access problems can be a nightmare if you are extending. The issue usually raises its head in towns or on bends in the highway.
The scenario is that more bedrooms mean more bodies and so probably more cars. If your house is in a town and there is a shortage of off-street parking it might be a requirement that you provide parking space on your land.
If this worries you, remember that you do not need planning permission to provide a new access off an unclassified (i.e. lower graded than a B) road. Fortunately an awful lot of suburban roads come into that category.
Building an Extension
Who Will Manage the Work?
You can use a design and build company who will manage the build project for you but if you’ve used an architect or designed the extension yourself then you’ll need to find a main contractor to manage the project.
Alternatively, you could manage the build and hire subcontractors, or take on a project manager to sort it for you.
Sites like Checkatrade.com or the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) are good places to start your search. But, word of mouth is often a great way to find someone locally — speak to friends and family and ask them for recommendations.
Finding a Builder
If there is one thing that is more difficult than finding the right builder, it is getting on with him throughout the project.
Obviously a good recommendation helps, but it is wise to talk to previous clients of the builder. You should also ensure that they have contractors all risks insurance.
If the builder has sufficient information there is no reason why they should not be able to give you a fixed price detailed quotation. Day work rates can be a recipe for disaster for all sorts of reasons. Try to avoid them except for extras requested at your behest although sometimes it is impossible to do so.
If VAT is to be added to the price given, make sure any quotation has a VAT registration number on it and a VAT receipt is provided when payment is to be made. It has been known for some less reputable operators to use the VAT system as a means of adding more onto the bill which they then keep for themselves.
It is enormously helpful if you manage to find a small group of tradesmen, all of whom have several trades under their wing. This can be crucial in keeping continuity. Time wasted can prove very expensive for a variety of reasons: e.g. scaffold and plant hire, additional labour and rent.
You should also remember that anyone hiring his/her own labour effectively becomes the builder. There is no contract with a main contractor and the buck stops with you. If you take on this role, you will have to manage:
- keeping the site tidy
- relevant site insurances and public liability insurance.
Safety and Disruption on Site
Try to keep the mess to a minimum. You can do this by:
- Using masses of protective plastic sheeting wherever appropriate
- Sealing off the rooms being worked on.
- Provide welfare facilities (rest area, toilet and access to a kettle) for your builders.
A frameless glass extension to this period property provides a stark contrast between old and new, and offers uninterrupted views of the garden
Should You Move Out While Extending?
Decide from the outset whether you’ll be able to cope with the disruption.
A large extension project with remodelling work planned might be less stressful if you move out, but for others, you may be able to seal yourself off from the dust and the work, and find it cheaper to stay put.
Heating and Electrics
Extending Your Central Heating
Before you start work you should reassess your heating requirements and check if your existing system is large enough to cope with the extra rooms you intend adding. If your boiler does not have the capacity it might be more economic to add a second system rather than replacing the boiler.
You may well pay less in the long term by opting for a separate electrical system rather than having to fork out a large lump sum for a new boiler. Many people opt for electric underfloor heating or electric radiators.
Extending Your Electrics
If you are adding a kitchen to your house you are likely to have to add a circuit that goes directly from the distribution board. For any other work, unless it is very extensive, it is usually possible to extend the existing ring circuit.
Ring circuits are restricted to 100m² but any number of sockets can be provided on this system.
An extension will give you the opportunity to add to your existing power points. Many people in this position take the opportunity to replace single socket outlets with double ones and install outside lighting.