E-X-T-E-N-D your home

THESE days, it’s often better to improve, not move, as extending or converting your home is usually less expensive, time-consuming and hassle than moving to a new one.

If you live in a Victorian or Edwardian terrace, there’s one area that may be an unlikely asset – the side return. Could you be making more of yours?

The side return is a narrow strip of garden created by one room (or rooms – usually the kitchen or the kitchen and bathroom) jutting out into it. It can be a dumping ground, a dingy passage or just a waste of space, but it doesn’t have to be.

Incorporate it into your home by building an extension, and you’ll add both living space and (hopefully) value – you probably won’t make much more than you spend, but you will make your home more saleable and enjoyable to live in.

To make a side-return room bigger, you remove the external wall that runs along the side return, fit a steel beam in its place, extend the roof and end wall, and build a new external wall at the boundary of your garden with your neighbour’s garden.

Skylights are usually fitted in the new roof, which flood the extension with light. If you have a narrow kitchen, extending it into the side return will give you a bigger, wider kitchen-diner that’s perfect for family homes in particular.

Because the extension is (in most cases) built next to the boundary with your neighbour’s house or garden, you’ll have to comply with the Party Wall Act, which governs shared boundaries.

Under the Act, you must serve a notice on the adjoining neighbour, informing them about the work at least two months before starting it.

While they could agree, if they object or don’t respond within 14 days, you’ll have to employ a party-wall surveyor (or surveyors), who’ll draw up a document (an ‘award’) that should sort things out. For this reason, complying with the Act is sometimes a lengthy, expensive and complicated process.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need planning permission. Most houses have permitted development rights, which means you can extend them without planning permission, providing the extension is a certain size and complies with other rules and regulations.

You can get an idea of what you can and can’t do within the law at www.planningportal.gov.uk, but don’t go on this alone. Check with your local council’s planning department, too, because there are exceptions to the rules, such as listed buildings and properties that have already been extended.

You must also notify the council’s building control department about the extension before you start work on it. They’ll want to check on it as it progresses to ensure it complies with building regulations. Providing it does, they’ll issue you with a completion certificate when it’s done (they’ll charge a fee for this and their inspections), which you’ll need if you sell your home.

Some companies specialise in building side returns, but most homeowners will employ an architect, structural engineer and builder separately, or get the architect to project manage the build and the contractors.

Side-return extensions usually take around two to three months to build, plus fitting-out time (installing a kitchen, for example), and cost around £30,000 to £70,000, so it’s a big investment, but one that could definitely be worth it.

Product of the week

FrogTape has launched new low-tack Delicate Surface Painter’s Masking Tape, designed for use on surfaces that could be damaged by conventional masking tape, such as wallpaper and freshly painted walls.

Because it’s yellow, the tape’s bright and easy to see, and it contains PaintBlock technology, which forms a barrier against the paint, producing sharper edges when you peel off the tape, so you should spend less time touching up.

FrogTape Delicate Surface is available in two widths.

How-to tip

When you’re in the middle of painting, wrap your paintbrushes and rollers in plastic or clingfilm overnight to keep them from drying out, then you can carry on in the morning where you left off (or between coats at any time). Use a couple of layers of plastic in case it has holes or rips in it.