The Side Return Extension – Making the Most of Limited Space (Part Two of Two).

In the first part of this two-part blog on side return extensions, we provided a comprehensive answer to the question “What is a side return extension”, while also covering why Victorian terrace houses provide the perfect layout for creating a side return extension. Beyond that, we explored the potential costs of a side return extension and provided what we hope was sound evidence to show that a side return extension is a good investment when compared to the costs of moving house.

In this second part we will look more closely at the practical side of having a side extension built and we will try to provide answers to the most common questions relating to side return extensions.

Do I need planning permission for a side return extension?

Over recent years, planning regulations relating to property extensions have become more relaxed. As a consequence, you can now extend the rear of your property by up to six metres from the main body of the house. However, please note that the main body of the house does not include that section of the property at the rear which runs perpendicular to the walls which connect all the houses in a terrace. This section which juts out from the main body of the house is sometimes referred to as an outrigger, and usually contains a kitchen with a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor above.

As a consequence, that six metres may not run the full length of the outrigger, and this is where you then have to carefully explore the design options. Obtaining planning permission for this type of property extension, if it is purely to take the side return extension the full length of the original building, is usually successful. While it can be frustrating to have to pay additional costs for planning fees and have your project delayed for a few months, the end result may well make that wait all the more worthwhile.

Do I need a Party Wall Agreement for a side return extension?

Because nearly every Victorian terraced property is separated at the rear by either a half-height wall, or the wall of an extension to the neighbouring property, that means there is a party wall. A party wall is on a boundary and the boundary may be owned by one individual, but the wall separating the two properties is a wall which provides benefits to both parties, hence the name party wall.

By law, if you decide to extend your property along the boundary between yours and your neighbour’s property, this will physically involve the party wall and as a consequence, you need to have a legally binding Party Wall Agreement allowing you to make alterations to that party wall.

You need to notify your neighbour at least two months prior to work commencing, though you can inform them anything up to one year in advance of your intentions. You should ultimately present your neighbour with complete details of your intentions, and they must provide written consent within 14 days of receipt of your request for their permission.

By law, your neighbour cannot refuse you the right to use the party wall, but they are still allowed to object all the same. If the two of you are unable to come to an agreement, then chartered surveyors will act on behalf of each of you, and in discussion with the two parties establish the terms of the Party Wall Agreement that must then be signed.

As you can perhaps appreciate, it is better not to book your builders in to commence work before you have the Party Wall Agreement signed.

How should I approach my neighbour if I want to build a side return extension?

If the wrong approach is made to your neighbour, they could delay building works for quite some time, though they will, ultimately, be unable to stop you providing the extension complies with the law and building regulations. It doesn’t go a long way to fostering good relations with your neighbour though.

Experience tells us that best results are usually achieved if you approach your neighbour on an informal basis first to explain your plans. Enabling them to feel involved, their rights respected, and a polite enquiry as to whether they would have a problem if you built a side return extension will usually get far more positive results than presenting them with a ‘fait accompli’ and demanding they give you written permission to build your extension.

You also need to remember that surveyors and builders will need access to your neighbour’s property during the construction phase of the extension, so it is preferable not to antagonise them from the onset. Your neighbour cannot deny them access, but they could stipulate, as is their right, that you must give them 14 days’ notice of your need for access.

Curiously, on a couple of occasions, neighbours have been surprised to learn all about a side return extension from their neighbour and consequently they have joined forces and helped to reduce each other’s costs by each having an extension built at the same time.

Do I need an architect to draw up plans for a side return extension?

The short and simple answer is yes. Better still, if it is within your budget, it can be worth involving an interior designer from the very beginning as well.

An architect is required for two reasons. Firstly, any building work must comply with all building regulations. Second, as builders, we need clear and comprehensively detailed plans showing us exactly what construction work will be required.

From the design front, externally the architect can run through all the options for external finishes, helping you decide if you want the extension to match the existing façade, or contrast against it.

The three of you can discuss how to bring in more light, whether the new internal walls need to be rendered or left as exposed brickwork, and what to do about the dreaded ‘killjoy’ of any extension work that involves the use of steel beams which will support the walls above the side return extension. Thankfully, ceilings tend to be relatively high in Victorian terraced houses, so rather than having the joist boxed in as a ‘downstand’ that juts down below the ceiling height and which destroys the natural flow of the room, the whole ceiling can be lowered to solve the problem alternatively subject to the design the beams can also be exposed as part of a feature.

Being able to have joint meetings with the interior designer, architect and you means that the architect can immediately advise on the feasibility of a specific design idea which may involve the re-routing of plumbing, electric cabling, etc., and provide possible and less costly alternatives.

Here at Vitex Construction Ltd. We are fortunate enough to be design and build contractors based in Slough, which not only gives us direct access to Central London, but easy access to all the Home Counties. As a consequence, over the years we have worked with some brilliant architects and fantastic interior designers who have helped to make a side return extension completely transform the living space at the rear of terraced Victorian houses. We would be more than happy to pass some names on to you.

In the meantime, if this is early on in your thought processes concerning a side return extension, please feel free to contact us and invite us out to have an informal chat and to give you an idea of approximate costs and timelines. To help you along, we have also created a useful calculator as a guide to side return extension costs which may give you a good idea of the potential costs.