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.”



  254 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

Comments (253) Pingbacks (1)
  1. Hello. Thanks for such an informative site.
    I have would like to build a dog’s kennel out of brick and cement and put roof it with normal roof tiles. Its height would be 1m with a floor of 1.5 m squared. It will be attached to my home. I know this would be considered as minor work so no plans are needed. Can you think of any reasons why a municipality would not grant permission? How does one go about getting permission? How long does it normally take for permission to get granted?

    • Hi Samuel, Thanks. Your dog kennel will certainly be classed as “minor building work” and we think that it is really one of those things that you could just go ahead and build. If you are worried then by all means just write them a note for the record.

  2. Hi Penny
    We have a maids room with kitchen sink and en suite with a door leading to a double garage.We now want to put up dry wall partitioning to create a lounge and bedroom which has two existing windows.We plan to replace the garage door with a window and door.Do we need a plan?

    • Niedah strictly speaking yes – specifically for the door and window – because this will change the function of the garage to a living space. You shouldn’t need plans for dry wall partitions because these could be removed and they won’t affect the structure as such.

  3. Hi
    Can you advise me on compliant and safe methods to extend a roof. I have a room of 3.0mx3.5m, which I want to extend by another meter to make it 4.0mx3.5m. I hear about splicing rafters and am seeing conflicting information on whether it complies with building regulations and whether or not it is an acceptable method of extending the roof and the room. Or should I be replacing the rafters completely with new ones which will span the whole length of the room without a splice in them? I have a flat roof home with IBR sheeting as the roof covering. A builder is doing this, I just want to make sure I am appropriately informed.

    • Karen you need approved plans to extend a roof. And these need to be done by a competent person – most builders do not qualify because they don’t have the professional training needed. When you say “flat” roof I presume you mean a minimal slope because IBR needs at least an 11 degree slope.

  4. hi
    i have a car port (afdak) on the side of my house and would like to lengthen it. do i need a plan or can i do it with out a plan.

    kind regards

    • Eugene as long as the carport is no bigger than 40 square metres, and it is open-sided, the National Building Regulations state that you do not need plans because this is regarded as minor building work. However, as you will see from the link I have given you, you are, strictly speaking, required to notify the council that you are planning to do the work. It is their prerogative to demand plans even if it is minor work.

  5. Hi Penny, I am renting a cottage on a private household premises. My Landlord has already built 2 Cottages in his back yard “one being the cottage I am staying on” and has now started building another section onto his original house. The property is not very large and I am concerned about the space, plumbing and ultimately if he is allowed to do this. He has said to me that he has never submitted plans or reported the cottages or any extensions as it will affect his property tax. Is he allowed to do this and is it possible that at some stage he may be forced to break down the cpttages leaving me homeless?
    ps, this is in Orange Grove, East Gauteng

    • Sean – I lived in Orange Grove in another life – and I know that most properties are relatively small.
      I hate to break this to you, but your landlord has built these structures illegally. He might be given options to either submit “built-as” plans or to demolish the buildings – if/when the council (City of Johannesburg) discovers what he has done. Now might be a good time to move home.


  7. A few years ago my neighbour built a cottage using the existing boundary wall. Now I’m being blamed for damp issued in the cottage. What are the building requirements and risks of using an existing boundary wall for building?


    • Paul boundary walls 1.8 m and under are regarded as minor building work and as such do not require plans. Since they are not constructed as part of a building, it is highly unlikely that there would be any form of damp proofing incorporated in them. To utilize an existing boundary wall, this would need to be indicated on the plans, and unless there was the necessary damp proofing it is highly unlikely that the plans would have been approved. Generally if one is allowed to build up against a boundary (wall, fence or simply boundary line) a new wall would be built as part of the structure and this would include the necessary dam proofing, reinforcement etc. So check with your local authority whether plans were ever submitted – and if so whether they were approved. Your neighbour may find him/herself having to demolish the cottage!

  8. Hi,

    I currently have a double garage with a double “carport”(for lack of a better word) in front of the garage(carport already has roof trusses, tiles, etc.) I’m planning to convert the current double garage into an extra living room & put up walls in the carport to convert that to a double garage.

    Hoping you can assist me with a few questions?

    1. The current double garage is +/- 400mm lower than the existing living room, which makes the height from floor to roof in the garage higher than the living room. I want to span gum poles between the walls to make a second storey with a guest bed. Will this be allowed? And if so what is the minimum head clearance needed?

    2. The “carport” that I want to convert to new double garage has paving bricks as a floor. As said above, I want to build up the walls to close up the carport, remove paving bricks & replace with concrete slab. Will I need plans for this? As there is already a proper roof structure, only it needs proper concrete foundation and walls?

    Your help will be greatly appreciated!


  9. Hi Penny I am in the real estate business and have a client looking to either add onto their garden cottage or find a new home to live in (one that accommodates the family). There is currently a 2 bed garden cottage on the premises which is about 80sqm in size – would they possibly be able to apply to build a 3rd bedroom upstairs (roof room) or would this not be permitted.

    The size of the plot is 1,012sqm.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Nicole this will be governed by the local authority bylaws and not the building regulations. I suggest you check with them.

  10. Hi

    I stay in a apartment block, the body corporate has decided to create extra parking bays. One of these bays is directly in front of the only exit door to my flat, about 2 meters away from the door. They will also pave/tar the ground to create these bays. Would they need to get building permission to create these bays and is it legal to create a bay this close to an exit door. Are there no safety implications of doing this in regard to an emergency?

    • Grayson, There is nothing that I can find in the National Building Regulations that covers this. Part T, Fire protection requires safe emergency routes and exit doors, but there is nothing that relates to open parking bays. Generally you would not require plans for these – or to tar the ground. However, I agree with you that there are obvious safety implications here – as well as inconvenience. I’m not sure what to suggest other than appealing to the body corporate to rethink the plan.

  11. Dear Penny,

    I bought a house in 2008 in the Crown gardens area. I have been living there since. I contacted the City of Joburg for a copy of the house plan. I was advised that they dont have a copy of the stand number that I had provided because the area is very old. Could this be right though? I was told that I would need to have the plans redrawn. Is it fair on my part as I requested a copy from the city council and they do not have one. Please advise as I need to build an extra room and bathroom.

    • Unfortunately plans do get lost in the system. They should allow you to draw an as-is plan that shows what exists and then detailed plans for the new rooms. A competent person will be able to help you.

  12. Hi Penny:

    I draw and submit plans in accordance with NBR and related regulations. i can’t help notice that the fire regulation of SANS 10400 is implemented on the assumption that fire always starts in the garage.

    it then recommended that a ceiling material with fire rating of 60 minutes be installed.

    My two questions are

    1. What happens when fire starts in the roof trusses due to geyser, or.
    2. if it starts in the kitchen?

    My opinion:

    if fire can start from roof trusses due geyser, then timber can last only less than 10 minutes, this nulifies the regulation.

    if the fire can start in the kitchen, then regulation regarding fire door fails most the houses in that that fire can move into other rooms uncontrollably because most houses have arches leading to other rooms. this further nullifies the current fire regulation.

    I will wait your response.


    • First of all Moses only a competent person (see the link) is permitted to draw and submit plans. So I presume you are a draughtsman or an architect, in which case you probably know a lot more about the NBR than me.
      I am not aware of hot water cylinders (geysers) being a fire hazard. This would only be the case if the electrics were not correctly connected. But fires can potentially start anywhere due to faulty wiring, or if something like hot oil catches alight in the kitchen – or if someone knocks over a candle – or if someone is smoking in bed. None of this nullifies the NBR.

  13. Hi,i am planning to convert my single garage into a kitchen and the old kitchen into a study,do i need to redraw and submit the plan to the council ?i will not be extending any wall or room. thanks

    • The problem here is that you are changing the function of the rooms PLUS you will need to have plumbing installed in the new kitchen – which will require both plans and a qualified, registered plumber to do the job.

  14. Hi Penny, VERY interesting site you have :)Our question is :
    A builder asked me to prepare “As Built” plans for a project he was busy with. It entailed high pressure cleaning of the roof, covering up the existing timber cladding with new Vermont ( Handiplank )on 38×38 battens on vapour barrier, replacing the rotten timber windows with matching new. I thought the plan was for his costing purposes. He submitted them to council. He complained to me that Mossel Bay Municipality made him pay over R6000,00 ( six thousand ) for plan fees. No additions or structural work took place….purely repairs and maintenance. I told him to go ask for his money back…..the municipality declined his request. The building inspector forced him to stop work and told him he had to have plans drawn up.
    Your comments would be really appreciated. This issue is now closed as he has since passed away but I’m thinking about future projects in this line. Regards.

    • Bernard, I wouldn’t have thought that plans were needed, unless the battens were replaced. But local authorities do have the right to call for plans, even in the case of minor building work. And one is obliged to notify the local authority when minor building work, and I suppose major alterations are undertaken. I am also not sure how they work out admin and plan fees. That amount seems outrageous. Could that have included a fine for not submitting plans in the first place? The best way to find out is to call the municipality and ask.

  15. Hi Penny

    I’ve bought a warehouse in Cape Town that I’ve renovated for living and work use. I’ve not changed anything structural, do I need to submit plans for the divisions even if most are just drywalling? Also the building is fairly old but they want to make me comply to all sorts of regulations. Is there some thing like grandfather rules that would say the building can stay as is? Where can I find regulations particularly relating to fire codes as they want me to remove my roof (IBR sheeting that doesn’t create a “fire barrier”) and replace it with a concrete slab and brick up certain windows because of a draught issue.

    • Colin if you are renovating a warehouse for living, you do need to submit plans because the class of occupation will change. You will also be required to comply with the new XA and other energy efficiency requirements. There are very strict rules regarding heritage buildings that you should be able to get from the City. Taking this a step further, if it is indeed a heritage building (I think 50 years), I don’t see how you would be allowed to removed the existing roof and replace it with a totally different design. Many contemporary houses are built using IBR sheeting, I don’t follow why yours should present so-called fire problems. Also, blocking up windows will affect ventilation issues.

 Leave a Reply


(required but will remain confidential and not be published)