From the grandest penthouse to the humblest converted garden shed, extensions have become an increasingly popular option among homeowners looking to upgrade.
Inflated property prices have made moving more difficult than ever, and enhancing an existing property with a conservatory, loft conversion or basement build can be a more affordable, if not necessarily less stressful, alternative to a full-on relocation.
Naturally, projects can vary wildly – but whatever your extension of choice, there are a few issues every would-be renovator will face. From paintwork to paperwork, here’s what you need to consider…
A few home truths
Let’s start with the bad news. Extensions are expensive, time-consuming, and often headache-inducingly complicated, so it’s essential to go in with the right mindset.
Every extension is, to a greater or lesser degree, specific to home and homeowner, so you’ll need to be closely involved in the project, right up until the last brick is laid.
During longer projects, it’s tempting to slip into a hands-off approach, but constant communication is a must to ensure that you and your tradespeople are working towards the same goal.
Secondly, you’re in it for the long-haul, and must be ready for the stress and disruption that will inevitably ensue. Unless it’s a very small project, you can expect about 20 weeks’ worth of paperwork from the moment you submit your designs, followed by three or four months of building work at least.
Most of all, you need to be very clear on what you want. Are you trying to add value to your home? Are you creating a self-sufficient space for a lodger or relative? Are you trying to fulfil your own domestic ambitions? All of this should influence the decisions you make and how much you’re prepared to spend.
Any designer worth their fee will ask these questions, and the more detailed your answers, the happier you’ll be with the result.
Get the right people on board
This, more than anything else, will decide the success or failure of your project. Even for simpler extensions, it’s strongly advisable to hire a qualified architect, and it’s important to find someone that takes the time to listen and understand your vision for the build.
“Ask friends and family for recommendations, and search the internet for companies that have worked on similar projects,” says Rebecca Lewis-Chapman, Director at the IAD Company (theiadcompany.com). “We suggest speaking to at least three firms.”
Once your designs have been drawn up, you’ll need the sign-off of a structural engineer – which is “required for your building control application”, says Lewis-Chapman – and, of course, a good builder to make your plans a reality.
For larger projects there’s a whole range of case-by-case specialists you might want to call on, from interior designers to electrical consultants and landscape architects. This may feel like extravagant cash-splashing, but you can’t put a price on piece of mind, and if they can preempt any potential problems you’re probably saving money down the line.
Check planning permission
“Planning permission should be the first thing a homeowner applies for once they’re satisfied with proposed designs,” says Lewis-Chapman, “and it’s important to have approval in place before spending any more money.”
Some small alterations fall under ‘permitted development rights’ and shouldn’t require consultation, but the only way to know for sure is to check. Do not under any circumstances assume that a) no one will notice, b) no one will mind, or c) you can deal with it later.
And any other relevant permissions
Even if planning permission is unnecessary, you’ll still need to abide by building regulations – industry minimums for fire safety, structural integrity, ventilation, energy-efficiency and more. Check your builders can either self-certify with a trade organisation, or have cleared their work with the council.
If you own a leasehold – as opposed to a freehold – you may need to check your lease and notify your freeholder. Don’t forget to notify your home insurance provider as well.
You should also consult your neighbours – partly as simple courtesy, but also because if you do need planning permission, they’ll be officially consulted. You don’t really want a formal letter on the doormat to be the first they hear about your plans.
No one enjoys trudging through mountains of admin, but you really don’t want to realise you’ve left a box unchecked after knocking down several walls. So do all your homework first.
You’ll need to over-budget
If you’ve ever seen the TV show Grand Designs, you’ll know that making – and then sticking to – a budget on a construction project is about as easy as building the thing yourself.
As ever, you’ll want to shop around. Prepare an itemised list and get quotes from at least three different companies to help you compare and contrast. Remember to check that VAT is included, and beware of overly-optimistic builders offering up numbers too good to be true. Cheapest isn’t always the best deal.
Be liberal in your estimations, and make sure your architect understands in detail your budgetary constraints. If you can, keep a contingency fund in reserve for hidden costs that are bound to crop up, however sensibly you plan.
Plan for different eventualities
Home extensions are 1% inspiration, 99% preparation, and the more time you devote to the planning process, the smoother your project will be.
“As a project progresses, there can be many bumps in the road,” says Lewis-Chapman, “and the speed at which decisions need to be made when the building work begins often catches people by surprise. As a consequence, decisions are often made in a rush, due to timescale or product availability.
“We always advise people to have a range of ideas for all finishes, and one back-up for each product to cover the possibility of an item going out of stock.”
Remember it will all be worth it
There’s no doubt that home extensions are daunting, but the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. “It is going to be difficult,” says Lewis-Chapman. “It may well take longer than you think, it will be dirty, it will be stressful, and you’ll regret starting in the first place. Probably more than once.
“But before you know it you’ll reach the finish line, and you will be living in the house of your dreams.”
- Press Association