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.”



  365 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

Comments (364) Pingbacks (1)
  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

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

  5. Sorry forgot to mention the area size is 20m2.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. hi, do you require building plans to extend an existing wall? the idea is to make the wall the same height and add a gate to the front of the house. the wall is currently curved, no gate in place.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Hi…I want to convert my existing double garage into a 2 bedroom cottage with a small lounge/kitchen area…..DO I NEED APPROVED PLANS?….. The existing garage (6M x 8M) have a bathroom with a small room in it already. So, I will remove the 2 garage doors and build it close. I will build dividing wall with doors for the 2 bedrooms (3M x 3M each) with no ceiling as it is a thatched roof. the bedroom walls will be 2.6 meters high. I will add windows for each room and a window and sliding door for the lounge.

    • Your plans with the council state that that area is a garage and if you want to change the “class of occupancy” of any room then you will need to get plans approved before you start with the alterations. You are doing structural changes to the building as well and any structural changes must have plans.

  14. Good Day,

    I would like to find out of I am alb dot move 2 windows in my house without having to submit plans. I have a cottage on the property and two of the windows lead onto the garage and I would like to move them so that they face the garden.

    The two windows are in fact cottage pane french doors that will open fully, would this make a difference?

    Sheldon Davy

    • Yes you will have to submit plans as making two new openings to fit the windows/doors that you want to move means that you will do structural changes to the building and that means you need plans.

  15. Subject:
    query regarding alterations
    Dear Sirs,
    Please may I ask you, you advised the following on your website: “Knocking through a wall (as long as it isn’t load bearing) is also not a problem; but again, if you’re having plans drawn up anyway, you could mark the opening “as built”.”
    May I ask, in terms of what law do you say this? Would this be applicable to KZN too?
    Kind regards,
    Daniel Robb

 Leave a Reply


(required but will remain confidential and not be published)