When it comes to the perfect home - bigger doesn't always mean better
Q. We recently bought an existing four-bed semi-D. We have a budget that we can either spend on renovations or put into a 40 sq m extension to make a large family space. We are torn - what is best for the house and for us?
A. Your question is a common one but is difficult to address without visiting your home. However, sight unseen, I would guess that either you don't need an extension at all - or you don't need one as big as 40sqm. In my experience, some of the most successful home refurbishments arise where no extension has been added but the existing house has been made to work hard.
Firstly, I would engage a registered architect who works on domestic projects in your area for a consultation. An extension is a big spend item and frequently the most valuable advice in this situation could be not to extend, or to extend considerably less, or even to consider an entirely different solution.
If your existing semi-D is functioning poorly, a new extension, no matter how well designed, will not solve your issues unless you also spend on your original house, something you may not anticipate until too late.
Where to start
I would advise you to look at your existing house to assess where your desire for an extension is coming from. Are your frustrations being driven by a short phase in your life that will change in the next few years, so that clever design solutions could resolve your concerns in the short term?
Is your house poorly laid out or are you not maximising the space currently available to you? Is your need for an extension being guided by not having a proper place for things (such as equipment, clothes) that come along at the varying stages of our lives?
Your requirements may be satisfied by a garage, external store or improved storage in under-utilised spaces in your house. Great potential for built-in invisible storage can be found under stairs, through the use of corner access devices, or through the re-arrangement of the house to utilise rooms or attic spaces.
Clients frequently ask for 40 sq m extensions because of the exempted development regulations, which mean they don't need to apply for planning permission. However, not all extensions automatically co mply for various reasons, including the existence of a previous extension, window requirements, or the location of the extension.
Make sure you get advice from your architect before proceeding, as they will be aware of the restrictions and you will need a certificate of exemption if or when you come to sell your home.
What to bear in mind
If your house is very bright or sunny, a poorly placed extension can significantly reduce the light to the main house and the new project needs to be designed to address the issue of light and connection to the existing space.
Size isn't everything
Forty square metres (430 sq ft) is a large increase in the floor area of most houses - it equals roughly three standard double bedrooms. Just because you can build to that size does not mean you should.
Will the project significantly diminish the open space outdoors available to your house? This is an important consideration if you or your family already use your open space frequently.
The value of private open space is often not fully appreciated until it is gone; this is particular relevant in small urban gardens, where space has been eaten up already by sheds and bikes.
Do consider if you will need an extension of 40sqm when 20sqm would be enough and leave money over for works to the existing house. Or would 20sqm provide enough space alongside a 25sqm exempted shed/garage?
Better value can be achieved from well-designed and well-thought-out spaces depending upon your family composition.
While a new extension can reinvigorate your house, it must respond to your particular needs and needs to be designed holistically to work with the existing design, site and orientation; and most importantly you must have a budget that can fulfil your wishes.
Go ahead, book that initial consultation with an architect - and good luck with your decision.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect, check riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland. Paula M Murphy MRIAI is an architect working mainly in Tipperary and Dublin; paulamurphy.ie and Houzz.ie