12 things you need to know before extending your home

Private Property South Africa
Taryn Isaac

Not sure where to start when planning a home extension? We’ve got your back with this helpful 12 point guide.

A home extension can be a useful way to add space, liveability and value to your home. The right planning, advice and discipline will ensure that your home renovation project goes off without a hitch. Here’s what to keep in mind before getting started:

1. Where do I start?

The design stage of the project is the first step in any home extension plan.

Every home extension requires a custom plan, which can be completed by appointing the help of a professional draughtsperson a building designer or an architect.

This is your opportunity to improve the liveability of your home, as well as the chance to add value to the property. For this reason, choosing the right person for the job is essential.

Consider asking your friends or neighbours for recommendations when interviewing your shortlist of preferred designers. Doing so, will help you to get familiar with the type of workmanship you can expect and will help you to make an informed decision.

2. Do I require planning permission?

By law, homeowners must ensure that any new building or renovation plans for their property has been approved by the relevant local authorities.

Whether you want to build a new wall around the property; build a swimming pool; add on a room, a second story, or a new wing, it is important to liaise with the planning department of your local municipality as you may require planning permission before proceeding.

This can be achieved by appointing a qualified architect or draughtsperson to draw up and submit the building plans to your local municipal planning department.

It is important to also keep in mind the fee structure that the process entails. For smaller home alterations, a draughtsperson would be better suited and more cost-effective.

planning permission documents for a home extension rolled up

3. Who am I building for?

Many homeowners plunge ahead with their extension project but put very little thought into what it is they are trying to achieve.

For this reason, it is imperative to establish what the purpose of your home extension is.

Your extension plans should never be a listing of random thoughts and ideas you have collected over the years.

Instead, it should reflect any personal and unique aspects which comprise the purpose of the extension.

Clarity on what you want to achieve with your home extension is important as it will help you to create a detailed brief, which will also prevent overspending on unnecessary space and items.

4. Do I have enough space to extend?

Are you looking for a new living area that the whole family can enjoy, an extra bedroom for a new arrival or a home office?

Knowing precisely what your home extension will be used for, will also help to determine what kind of alteration you may need to make to your home.

This will give you an indication of how much of space you will need to follow through successfully with your home plans.

To visualize the amount of space needed, use a rope as a marker to map out the extension plan.

Use the size of your existing rooms as a guide to gauge how big each room should be.

Stand back and assess whether you are happy with the amount of space remaining afterwards.

5. Up, down, or out to the side?

Deciding which part of the home to extend is the next big decision.

If you don’t have enough space to extend at ground level, you may need to consider adding a second storey.

An additional level to your home is a great way to retain backyard space. However, it can be a costlier project as it requires more work in removing the roof structure, replacing it with a new floor structure and supporting the new upper-floor walls.

It is important to also consider what it will look like. Investing in a second storey has the potential to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your home - if done so correctly.

To avoid building a home extension that looks like it has been ‘tacked on’, it’s essential to engage with a good architect or building designer to help you balance the practical and aesthetic considerations.

A man and woman on their hands and knees, looking at floor plans next to a wall

6. Will my plan impact on my neighbours?

It’s important to take into account the effect your home extension will have on your neighbours, especially if you are making major alterations to your property.

If you share a wall with your neighbours, you will need to consider if your home alterations may potentially damage their property.

There is also the social aspect to consider as your plans may affect their quality of life during the construction period, so it’s wise to keep your neighbours fully informed of your intentions right from the start.

7. Do my neighbours have a say?

While you should keep your neighbours informed of your plans to extend, there is no legal requirement from the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act (NBA) requiring home owners to submit or inform their neighbours of their building plan application.

However, dependent on the area you live in and its policies, a neighbour can be at liberty to object against your home extension, if the area policy implemented by local authority allows for it.

In this case, a neighbour can submit their objection, but it won’t necessarily prevent the building plans from being approved.

While the municipality can acknowledge the objection, it is up to local authority to make up its own mind as to whether the plans should be approved or not.

8. What are the costs involved?

One of the central elements of a home extension is the demolition work required and the costs that come along with it.

It is important to bear in mind that each wall demolished will require the involvement of several tradespeople to complete the extension.

This may include carpenters, plasterboard experts, and painters and depending on the rooms affected, you may also need to enlist the help of electricians, plumbers and tilers as well.

To be able to account for these additional expenses, it is essential that these costs are accounted for in your project’s budget.

9. Will it brighten up the house?

One of the key considerations when extending your home is to investigate the most effective ways to bring more sunlight and warmth into the house.

This should be one of your key priorities, especially if you are adding a living room or family room that you will spend a lot of time in.

Having more natural sunlight will make it a more comfortable space to live in, and will also reduce the amount of artificial heating required.

However, while an excessive amount of sunlight may be wonderful in winter, the opposite can be said for a scorching hot summer’s day and can make the space unpleasant.

To avoid this, it is important to be very aware of the amount of sunlight the windows will be exposed to when including large windows into your design plan.

10. Would I need to move out?

Being able to live in the house throughout the build, can be less expensive and more convenient as you can avoid having to uproot your life and routine.

However, an extension project which involves a significant amount of renovation work to an existing part of the house might be difficult to live with until the completion of the project.

In these circumstances, you can arrange to have the extension project staged so that you can move from one part of the house to the next.

However, a staged building project generally takes longer to complete which means it may be costlier.

11. How do I find a builder?

Finding the right building contractor is one of, if not the most, important factor to consider in a home extension project.

It is crucial to appoint a builder who is registered with a professional, reputable organization.

In South Africa, there are two primary building bodies, the Master Builders Association South Africa (MBSA) and National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC).

Recommendations are also important when looking for a builder. You should choose a builder who is experienced in doing similar work and within similar budgets to yours.

Consider asking friends and colleagues for their recommendations and create a shortlist of builders to get quotes from.

Based on the quotations you receive for their pricing and workmanship; you will be able to choose a builder that is best suited for the job.

Builder working on a table with tools and wood

12. How long will it take?

For many cases, a quick and simple extension can take between four to six weeks, if you happen to be adding only a small amount of space under an existing roofline and don’t require a full range of tradespeople to complete the job.

A similar timeline would also apply if you were adding a kitchen or bathroom.

However, for large extensions that involve a lot of renovations to the existing house, the time frame is more likely to be between three to six months or longer. This is especially so if the extension involves a second storey addition.

It is advisable to set yourself a strict timetable for completion. The chances are that it will over-run, but if you lay down the ground rules for completion at the very start of the project you can avoid living on a building site for months on end.

Don’t underestimate the impact that building an extension can have on your quality of life, and try to minimize that impact.

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