May 272013

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

Additions366 Alterations & 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.”



  284 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

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  1. 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.

  2. My name is Lungi, I just want to add a double garage to my existing house, but I’m struggling to get an architect to draw my plan, how do I know that he is the right one & not a crook.


    • You can check on this site: if he is registered, just search the directory. He could be a qualified draughtsperson and could be registered with one of the other institutes. Call the SAIA and ask them.

  3. Hi

    I am currently getting some additions designed to my house in Midstream, Centurion. The architect is telling me that there is a 15% restrictions on the windows/glass openings that we may have as part of this alteration. Is that restriction correct? It doesn’t make sense to me as part of the alteration is to include some sliding stack doors and this is basically more than the 15% already. Please can you direct me to the relevant laws that govern this or advise me correctly.

    Many thanks

    • This is covered in the SANS10400 Energy Usage X & XA and the calculation for windows is explained in this post: fenestration-calculations

  4. I have just bought a house in Somerset West. It has a large room – 63m2 above the garage. The flooring is wooden and it currently has water at a prep station. I will like to convert this room into a flatlet by means of dry-walling on the interior to create a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and a lounge with a kitchenette. Do I need to get plans to change the structure even if I am using dry-walling??

    • This is not an easy one to answer. Firstly if you change the usage of a room and make it into a habitable (bedroom) room then yes you will need plans and the job will have to be done by registered builders/plumbers/electricians etc. You will have to use dry-walling as the wooden floor will not have been designed to bear the weight of bricks and mortar. The problem that you will have to ask the council planning department about is if you are allowed to have a wooden floor above a garage and if you will be allowed to convert this to a living space. Somerset West Planning are very helpful so just pop-in and ask.

  5. Hi

    About 5 years ago, I had my upstairs patio enclosed, it is now a 2nd bathroom and study. After obtaining 3 quotes we decided on a builder, he was very efficient, sent all the plans, started off well, completed the project, and was never heard of again… leaving me with a leaking roof, that have been fixed so many times…. I am now replacing the flat roof with a tiled roof. The other problem is, I have discovered, he never submitted the plans for the alternations. I have consulted with an architect and he has informed me that the windows does not comply with the new green act and that 50% of the electricity must come from solar. Clearly this so called builder was not aware of the new act.. or he just did not care to make sure we comply…. Is there anything I can do?

    • This is a horrible fix that so many people get stuck with. If you have a valid address you can approach an attorney and sue him but unfortunately there is very little that you can do. With all due respect to attorneys you might do better spending the money on a reputable building company to fix the problem. You can report him to HelloPeter and warn others of the poor workmanship.

  6. Subject:
    New Building regulations

    We bought a house in 2004. Internal changes were made before we bought it,and updated plans were not submitted. Jeffreys Bay municipality are trying to fine us and force us to make major changes to the property
    before we sell it. Are they allowed to backdate these laws and fine us for changes made by the previous owner prior to 2004?

    • Hi Nicole, Many people in SA have had this same situation. Unfortunately when you buy the house you buy all the problems that go with it so you become responsible for having up-to-date plans for council. Normally if you take out a bond on a house the bank will ask for plans so they can see what they are investing their money in and usually at that stage you could have the seller do the plans. That was 10 years ago and legally I do not think you will be able to sue the seller after such a long time, but you could consult a lawyer and incur the costs. I have been wanting to start a campaign to make it mandatory for any house seller in SA to supply an approved set of plans to the buyer along with the house.

      • Hi All

        Let me start by saying this must be one of the most informative building and information sites around!

        I have sympathy with Nicole as our Local Municipality is less than forth coming in regards with building approval and occupancy! Building plan approval takes 90 days plus and in some cases more than a year! Because of this people simply give up or continue with their renovation on the quiet with dire consequences similar to Nicole’s as building regulations are enforced on the industry with requirements nor enforced in any other areas of South Africa! Double standards and favoritism are crippling the building industry in in Kouga.

  7. Hi I have a problem with a supermarket which is situated behind my property and they have been doing some illegal alterations where I don’t have access to the back wall of my property.They have walls which are attached to my property and metal sheetings attached to my property. The building inspectors say all they can do is give them a fine. Their walls are cracking and thereby causing our properties to crack.Please advise me on what to do and who should I contact.

    • Hi Lynette, This sounds quite unacceptable, you might ask the inspector to give you a report in writing as to what they have done illegally. Then approach the management of the supermarket requesting them to rectify what has been done. Also have a look at our article about the PAJA, it explains what you can do and there are two forms that you can download and submit. The other course of action is to consult a lawyer to demand that they put right the work done. Please keep in touch and let us know and maybe we can give your situation some publicity if you do not get any satisfaction.

  8. If i extend my existing outer wall of my bathrooms by 1,5 Meters and make my bedroom bigger, by an additional 10- 12 meters, do i need plans for this, the structure will still ramin the same its just the bathrooms will be slightly bigger and a new wall will replace the existing one on the outisde of my house. Do i need plans for this?

    • This is a major change in the plans that are registered with the council so you will certainly need to put in plans and get them approved before you build. Please note that if you do the alterations without plans and then want to sell the house at a later stage the council will see that you have done illegal alterations and it could be very costly with fines, plans and delays.

  9. Good day

    I would like to find out if I’m building with fabricated steel do I need plans.


    • Hi Suzanne, ANY building work requires plans. The method or component of the building will have to be indicated on those plans, and this will have to be an Agrément certified building method/component. Your fabricated steel will have to be a certified method or component before your plans can be approved.

  10. Good day Penny
    I own a residential property of erf size- 825 square meter with an existing house size- 64 square meter. I would like to build a few flats on this property (size-31.5 square meter) around the existing house as a second income.
    My questions are:
    What are the legislation’s with regard to putting up extra residential units as an income?
    What is the correct/legal process and procedures to follow?
    Is my suggested sizes for the flats a livable size(for single person only)

    If there are any referrals for plans or legal matters to such a project your advise would be appreciated thanks.


    • Robert the town planning scheme for your area will show you what the density (the percent of building/s) allowed is for your property. Contact your local planning department and give them your erf number and find out how many dwellings they will allow. If you want to deviate from what is laid down in the by-laws then you will have to apply for permission from the council. When you contact them they will be able to tell you what their procedure is.

  11. Hi Penny,

    I am thinking of renovating my house and extending two rooms (lounge and study) and adding an ensuit. I contacted the municipality to request for previous plans of the house. I have an idea of what i want to do and have drawn it down. Would I need a builder to amend the plans that will be received, is there costs involved for the municipality to approve the building and is there any other authority required before the actual building starts?

    • You will have to get a “competent person” to draw up the plans as they will not be approved if they are not done by a registered person. A builder might not be registered as an architect or a draftsperson and will not be allowed to draw up plans. Yes there are costs for the council to assess and approve the plans and this amount will vary depending on what is being done. A word of caution, you have to have your plans approved BEFORE you start building otherwise you might get a fine if you do.

  12. Good day

    If repair and possible modification to electrical installations in a building is done during the process of obtaining a Certificate of Compliance, would a contractor need to comply with Electrical Installations Regulations as well as the Construction Regulations?

  13. hi

    do i really need to stick to leaving 2 m on each sides when renovating ,or can I place my garage wall closer to the boundry wall from my neighbours?

    will i pay a fee for not leaving a 2m distance?

    • It depends on the zoning where your house is and it depends on the size of your property. Usually if a plot size is below 500sq meters then you can build up to the boundary. If your building line is 2 meters then you will have to get permission from the local council. They will also want you to get approval from the next door neighbour in writing.

  14. Hello Penny,

    I want to extend an existing patio (make it bigger), and add a pergola. Do I need to submit plans? Regards.

    • Not normally, it all depends on the covering, retractable shadecloth or canvas is fine any solid covering such as fibreglass or aluminium will need plans

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