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.”



  260 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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