May 272013

What the National Building Regulations say about Alterations and Additions to Existing Buildings

alterations and additions

If you build onto an existing home you will need to submit plans and comply with the “new” building regulations, including Part XA which deals with energy usage.

In general, the National Building Regulations are not retroactive in their application. This means that if you are adding to or altering a building, you won’t have to ensure that the entire building complies with new regulations that have been imposed since the building was originally erected.

This will be of particular interest to people who are concerned about the implications of the new energy efficiency legislations and regulations

But if you need plans for any additions or alterations, then you will need to ensure that the new section of the building complies.

Part A of SANS 10400, General Principles and Requirements, deals with alterations and additions.

This part of the National Building Regulations states that where an application is made to make an alteration or addition to any building that was approved before this version of the Building Regulations and Standards Act (i.e. prior to 2008):

  • The  alteration must comply with the requirements of the Act, but “consequent changes to any other part of the building which would be necessary in order to make such other part comply with the requirements of the Act shall not be required unless in the opinion of the local authority such consequent changes are necessary to ensure the health or safety of persons using the building in the altered form”
  • The addition must comply with the requirements of the Act, “but no changes to the original building shall be required unless the addition :
    1. will affect the structural strength or stability of the original building;
    2. will render any existing escape route from the original building less effective; or
    3. will affect the health of persons using the original building.

Problems May Occur When Adding to Older Buildings

In addition to the above, the law-makers are aware that problems might arise when alterations or additions are carried out on buildings that were erected in compliance with earlier building by-laws.

In the case of such an addition the local authority (which is of course the body that will approve any plans that might be required for such an addition or alteration) might decide to treat the new portion as an entirely separate part. If this happens, then the alterations will have to be designed to comply with the National Building Regulations “without having any effect on the original portion of the building”.

This is not likely to happen often with alterations, though the local authority will decide “to what extent that part of the building which is not to be altered should comply with the National Building Regulations”. Generally they will be more stringent when it comes to the application of fire regulations (Part T, Fire protection), and particularly when it comes to escape route requirements. Since this doesn’t affect “dwelling houses”, it is unlikely to have any effect on residential buildings.

The regulations state: “It is obvious that a pragmatic and essentially practical approach is necessary.”

Their primary concern is the health and safety of those people using the building. But they advise local authorities that any decisions “should be within the context of what might be practical and economically sound in an old building. If an owner or entrepreneur cannot alter a building to suit his purpose at a cost which will enable him to have a reasonable economic return, he will probably not alter the building at all. This could lead to the perpetuation of a situation which might be dangerous but one which is in compliance with old by-laws and is thus perfectly legal. Such a situation could often be considerably improved by making certain changes that are practical and economically sound even though they would not provide the same standard as would be expected in a new building.

“Both the owner and the local authority will have to consider what they are trying to achieve with the Regulations and the answer should be tempered by the knowledge of what is reasonable and practical to require of an existing building.”



  312 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

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  1. Hi

    I want to know if the contractor I use to do renovations to my house is required to be NHBRC registered or if this is only a requirement for the building of a new house or additions to an existing house?

    • Hi James, The NHBRC registration only relates to new houses but the chances are that if they are reputable builders they will also do renovations as well. You can check with the Master Builders if they are regisrered, all good builders should be:

  2. Gauteng – Can you please advise if there are special requirements that must be met when the addition (living room) to a house with a tile roof has a thatch roof?

    • I do not understand the question. If the addition has a different roof to the existing house that is not a problem so long as it is stated on the plans.

  3. Hi – I would like to close in my courtyard – extending existing walls and adding roof to change into a laundry room. Kitchen door leads onto courtyard… what do I need to do.

  4. Hi
    I need help how long does it take the contractor to do alterations in a house according to the law.

    • Hi Mogomotsi, There is no time limit according to the law. That is why when you hire a contractor to do work you must put the agreement for the work and the costs in writing and put time limits in there.

  5. I want to extend my rear patio with a wooden deck by 2meters no roof covering.Will I need to submit plans.

    Thank you,Ken

  6. If alterations was done before 2008 what was the norm for ceiling brander spacing? Currently 400mm.

    • Brandering should not be @ more than 400mm centres, see the illustration below.
      Brandering spacing
      This has been the norm for many years.

      • What if alterations was done in 1983 and house was build in 1976 and brandering is 600mm? Does that mean the brandering is illegal?

        • Generally any changes in the standards are not retrospective, but it depends largely on the extent of the alterations. If the alterations were done legally, there shouldn’t be a problem.

  7. Hi I’m in kzn and would like to do alterations to my exsisting garage turning it into a batchelor pad would I need plans for the alterations

    • Yes you will need plans because you are changing the use of the space from one for a car to human habitation and the regulations are very different. Do not do the alterations without plans as this will catch up with you later and could be costly.

  8. Dear Janek,

    I am planning a few alterations which I think will be classed as minor building work but would appreciate some clarity.

    1. My gate is part of a built wall and have posts high enough for a carport om the street side boundry (also have recesses to rest beams on). can I fix this new carport to the house on the other end and use IBR for roofing? Would I need to submit plans?

    2. On our stoep is a built braai (brick up to about 1.2m) with a steel braai box including chimney mounted on top. Can I move this (Not on plan) and use the existing steel portion without plans? And how close can I build this new braai to the boundry wall?

    I will notify the Bellville council of these minor works before commencing.

    Thanks for a very imterresting site!!



    • I agree that this does sound like minor building work. The council will be quick to tell you if they disagree – good luck!

  9. Hi,

    Both my neighbour and I recently purchased our properties in Bedfordview, Gauteng. We have an existing boundary wall between us however he wants to raise it to 5m high. He asked me permission, option 1, if he can demolish the existing wall and start from scratch and carry all the costs except he will not plaster my side – which I am not happy with as its unnecessary cost for me. Option 2 is to keep the existing wall and to start from scratch on his side however the part which is higher than the existing wall will not be plastered on my side and hence will look ugly, I am also worried if the new wall will affect the old wall’s foundation, strength, etc. Option 3, is to build onto the existing wall but he first needs to explore the foundation, strength, etc, as it’s an old wall which is a bit skew here and there and have some cracks as well. So he gave me these options and asked that I get back to him on what option will work for me. Please can you advise on the best way to approach this situation, which option should we go with and what to look out for ? Thank you.

    • Hi Shaun, 5m is a pretty high wall so I am pretty certain that the original foundations were not designed to take that weight of wall. For a 5m height of wall plans have to be submitted and approved by council and foundation size will have to be specified on the plans possibly accompanied by an engineer’s report. So long as the bricklayers finish your side as a fairface finish then it should not look too bad and you could paint it to match you house colour scheme. The other cheap alternatitaves are to do a spatterdash finish or a bagged plaster finish.

  10. I want clarity on the construction of carports (Fixed to house) and wendy houses exeeding 5m2 please.

  11. Hi I am planning to replace old windows with similar shape wooden windows. Do I need council approval? Would the window replacement affect the foundation in any way?

    • You will be fine replacing old windows with new ones without plans. So long as you do not make the opening bigger and have to put in new lintols. The new windows should not affect your foundations in any way.

  12. Hi. What a great site!

    Please advise. I need to know if I need to have a plan drawn up if I want to use precast walls on my driveway. My building inspector is being difficult with me for everything I suggest. He told me to have plans for the gate columns that you mount the gate to, is that right? My precast wall will be about 4m long and 2 m high, do I really need a plan. Thanks.

    • Anything that requires concrete foundations should have plans and your pillars must be built on proper foundations so will need plans if that is what the inspector wants.

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