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.”



  197 Responses to “Alterations & Additions”

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    • Hi Selbie, The best publication on the market takes you through the whole process is “Owner Building in SA”. Look in the sidebar of our website and you will see a link under “Get This New Edition Best Selling Book” click on that and get yourself a copy.

  2. Hi,
    Our house in Parkhurst is older than 60yrs. When we wanted to submit the plans for planned alterations today(signed of by architect and enigineer) we were told that there is another process for buildings older than 60 years. In the meantime the builder started knocking down internal walls today – nothing external has been done so far as to change the appearance from outside. Will this be a problem to have our plans approved?? Any penalties?

    • Rudolf I honestly don’t know. This is something that is governed by bylaws and regs that relate specifically to heritage sites. If I was you I would stop all work and follow due process.

  3. Hi All,
    I am currently looking at adding onto an exiting house in Blairgowrie, Johannesburg.
    the existing building is a single storey house and we would like to go double storey.
    - what are the foundation requirements etc. to go double storey.
    any assistance would be great.
    Many thanks Grahame

    • Rule of thumb for any foundation is that the width should be the width of the wall plus twice the thickness of the concrete. But you would increase the dimensions to improve the load bearing capacity of a double storey. If you are adding on you will need plans to be drawn up by a competent person. That person is qualified and will know what to specify for the foundation, depending not only on your roof structure, but also on the design of your house, including the walls.
      Have a look at our Foundations page for more info. You might also want to get a copy of Part H of SANS 10400, Foundations.

  4. Hi Penny,

    I am a very competent person with some experience in the renovation game. i have done a few projects with mates that i helped out over the years.

    do i need to architect to draw up and submit plans for a small renovation project to a residential property or can i get a draftsman to do that for me?


  5. Hi,
    What is the minimum prescribed space between my house and the back and side boundries. If there is an existing building ( been there for 40 odd years) and it is too close, will I have to remove it?
    Love your info to others. Hope you can help me too.
    Kind regards

    • Elsa it depends on where you live and what the zoning by-laws say. For instance in Cape Town you can generally build right up to a boundary, provided the percentages of land and boundary covered are in keeping with the bylaws. You don’t even need neighbour’s consent any more. I doubt very much that anyone could expect you to demolish the building after all this time. But I can’t be sure.

  6. Dear Penny
    I wonder if you could offer some advice, I am currently renting a 1820 property from a friend who unfortunately, took the wrong advice from the local ‘village council’ and removed the roof without plan submission to council. As such, the building inspector arrived to cease works and the owner has 2 months in which to submit plans. The problem is of course that the building is a national monument and thus would require their authority too. Now we sitting without half a roof and it has rained most recently. Do you know how one could speed up the process and would you have any contacts that you could provide in this matter. The owner is understandably quite anxious to resolve the matter having never worked with a situation like this.

    • Susan I don’t. Since the National Monuments Council was replaced by the South African Heritage Resources Agency it’s all changed such a lot. I assume you would need to get to someone in the SAHRA to see what can be done. Though I would think that there should be something that could be one to put a roof back on in the meantime – if only because if there isn’t a roof on bad weather is going to have a really bad effect on the house. Does the building inspector even care about that aspect? Here’s a flyer – tell the owner to just put the old roof back for now … or some type of roof covering. I don’t think they could get into trouble for that. Do let me know what happens. Wish I had more time, I’d love to try and help you more.

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