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We've big ideas: Do we need planning?

Architect's clinic


Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Query: We're stuck at home - like everyone - and have been using the time to think about long-needed renovations. We have big plans, the most ambitious one is to go all out and extend the rear of the house as well as create a raised patio area. But we also have a garage that could be converted, and potential attic space. What sort of planning permission, if any, would we need?

Answer: The coronavirus pandemic and all this time at home means that many of us are realising our homes don't fully meet our needs and it might be time to consider renovations and possibly an extension. Initially, it is recommended that you discuss your requirements with an RIAI -registered architect who would be best placed to advise on the overall considerations, implications and costs involved.

Depending on the size and complexity of your renovation or extension works, it is worth knowing when a planning application would be required as well as the extent of the works that can be done without the need to make a planning application.

Firstly, if you intend to build a new house or an extension to a house that exceeds 40sqm in floor area, you must apply for planning permission. Permission would also be required for certain landscaping works such as raising a garden level by more than a metre or widening a vehicular entrance. There are also planning requirements related to the height and materials used for front and rear boundary walls of domestic houses.


Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Break out space with an extension but be sure to check about planning permission as the first step

Generally, if you intend to carry out internal renovations to an existing house, you don't need to apply for planning permission, unless, however, it is classified as a protected structure. With protected structures, works that would materially affect its character, even minor changes such as knocking internal walls, replacing doors or windows require planning permission. It is worth checking if your own house or a house you are considering purchasing, is on the record of protected structures before considering any renovations or making an offer. The list can be accessed through your local council's website.

If you hope to carry out renovation or extension works that would not require an application for planning permission, your architect could advise you at an early stage of the different elements which would classified as exempted development under the Planning Acts and would, therefore, not require planning permission.

It would be permissible to build an extension to a maximum floor area of 40sqm without permission, as long as two conditions are met. It must be to the rear of the house and you must retain 25sqm of rear garden area.

With a terraced or semi-detached house, 12sqm of the extension can be located on the first floor at a minimum distance of two metres from a boundary.

With a detached house, 20sqm can be at first-floor level. You can also add a 2sqm front porch to your house or convert your garage without permission. Garage conversions provide excellent space for a generous utility room, pantry or home office.

It should also be noted that any existing extensions on the property must also be included in the overall floor area calculation as the 40sqm total allowance is cumulative.

Converting an attic is another economical way of adding additional accommodation and it doesn't always require planning permission. Converting the interior and adding rear-facing rooflights, solar panels, satellite dishes would all be considered exempted development.

However, adding a dormer or positioning rooflights to the front or side of the house will require planning permission. It is also important to understand the building regulations in relation to habitable rooms in attics. If the intention is to create an additional bedroom or living space, a minimum head height of 2.4m over two-thirds of the floor area must be achieved and the attic staircase must be 800mm minimum width with a clear head height of two metres. There are important fire regulations relating to loft or attic conversions, including the requirement for fire-resistant walls and self-closing fire doors particularly if the building now becomes a three-storey structure. Without considering these additional requirements, the converted attic space may be classified as 'non-habitable', which comes into play if you plan to sell in the future, so it is worth knowing this before getting started.

When it comes to planning permission, there may be instances when it is unclear whether works require a planning application. If you are unsure, you can apply for a Section 5 Declaration or Section 57 Declaration in the case of protected structures, whereby the local authority will determine if the works are considered exempted development.

The planning process typically takes 12 weeks and any planning appeals can delay this by a further six months. As more public services go digital, there is now an option to apply for planning permission online. You can also view planning drawings or check the status of an application via your local authorities website. This is a helpful database to check out what a neighbour has previously been granted and gain a little inspiration and insight before purchasing that fixer upper you have your eye on.

An RIAI-registered architect is well placed to assist you in developing your thoughts and ideas and also the preparation of a planning application and can act as your agent, should the planning decision be subject to an appeal. They will also provide certification of compliance with planning, which will be required for future conveyancing. It's also worth noting that your local area planner will be happy to assist you with any queries you may have, and a pre-planning consultation can be arranged to discuss your proposal.

  • If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Find one on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
  • Courtney McDonnell is the principal architect in Courtney McDonnell Studio; courtneymcdonnell.com

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