Increasing the size of your home by using the full width of its plot is a great strategy.

1 George James Ripplevale Grove 01

 George & James Architects designed a split-level kitchen for this Georgian house in north London

Too narrow for a proper garden, too overshadowed for a patio, a side return might be better used for extra living space, especially for a house with a deep, thin layout. ‘Not only can an extension create full-width space, but there are also opportunities to reconfigure the layout of the house, to flip rooms around, change the circulation or add a utility, WC or dining area,’ says Alex Raher, director of Delve Architects.

Will I need planning permission for a side return extension?

In many instances, this type of extension can be carried out without planning permission. ‘Under permitted development [PD] you can extend 6m from the rear of a terraced house, or 8m for a detached house. This is measured from the rear wall of the main part of the house, not the back of the outrigger – the original portion of the house that extends at the rear,’ says Alex.

‘Under permitted development you can extend 6m from the rear of a terraced house, or 8m for a detached house’

This would allow for the side-return extension of a typical Victorian terraced house. ‘To comply with PD rules, if you’re closer than 2m from the neighbour’s boundary, the eaves will need to be under 3m to gain permission. The maximum height of the extension needs to be less than 4m to comply,’ he explains. You’ll also need a party wall agreement with your neighbours.

 1 George James Ripplevale Grove 07

 George & James’s plan entailed extending along the wall between the garden and street.

Is there a way to extend further?

If you can push out at the back as well as the side of the house, you’ll gain even more space. ‘A stepped extension, coming out 6m from the original rear wall of the house, to include the side infill and rear extension, can be done under PD,’ says Alex. But a full wraparound extension requires planning permission. ‘It is worth speaking to the local council before submitting as some have policies against wraparounds,’ he says.

 Victorian terrace extension and refurbishment

 Cox Architects replaced an existing side return extension with a larger, brighter version with a structurally glazed slot window.

Which materials work best for a side return?

Though masonry is a tried-and-trusted option, consider other possibilities such as timber frame and SIPs (structurally insulated panels), which are fast to build with. Once the structure is up, it can be clad in brick, rendered, or you could opt for metal or timber. Some local authorities restrict what can be used while others welcome an innovative approach. ‘Under PD rights only materials that are similar to or the same as those on the original house can be used,’ Alex explains.

For a terraced home often the only access for building materials is through the house, which can have a knock-on effect on what can be included. As a last resort large items can be craned over.

 Vitra Pivot Door in the Bevel Extension

 When Yard Architects extended a dark basement flat, expanding the cramped living space and bringing in the maximum light were essential

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How will the side return get natural light?

Side-return extensions can be lit from above by a fully glazed structural glass roof, a flat roof with flat skylights inserted or a pitched roof with rooflights. ‘We recently completed a fully glazed one with sandblasted glass to avoid a view of the neighbours’ drainpipes,’ says Steve Cox of Cox Architects.

The skylight of a side return has an important role as the main provider of light into the rear room of the house, which usually loses its garden-facing window when the side return is added. ‘One way around this is to include a small courtyard. This can be a functional solution for a bigger house,’ says Steve.

The skylight of a side return has an important role as the main provider of light into the rear room of the house

How much does a side return extension cost?

According to Design for Me (, a service that matches homeowners with architects, building costs in London can be anywhere between £3,000 and £5,000 per sqm excluding professional fees and VAT. Outside London, they can vary from around £2,000 to £4,000. This does not include a new kitchen or other internal renovations.

 4 Paul Archer Barns 3

 Paul Archer Design filled in the rear lightwell of this 19th-century Grade II listed townhouse, with a playroom extension

Top tips to keep costs in check

Advice from Simon Drayson, director of George & James Architects to keep your project on budget

  • Always try to work with your site’s strengths rather than against its weaknesses. Constraints such as size are often a starting point for the creative process.
  • When choosing your construction method, keep in mind which materials your builder is most familiar with. Timber frames are less expensive, less timeconsuming to build and more sustainable than traditional construction techniques – a triple win.
  • If you have the time and are confident doing so, you can save money by managing subcontractors yourself. That said, the quality can suffer and the build can end up taking longer. Hiring a trusted main contractor alongside an architect is another way of controlling build costs.
  • The golden rule for keeping costs in check is not to change your mind on the design once the building contract has been signed, at least not without discussing it with your architect or builder first. Always set aside a contingency of at least 10 per cent.
  • Glazing is an area where shopping around pays dividends. Some of the mainstream suppliers are beginning to offer more niche products at competitive prices. It’s worth considering alternatives to metal frames such as timber or uPVC.
  • For cladding, rather than use standing seam copper or zinc, consider corrugated steel instead. Softwood is less expensive than hardwood at the outset, but needs more maintenance and has a shorter lifespan. Whatever cladding you use, just be sure to do so in a creative way.

For more Grand Designs homes and self build inspiration, Read the Grand Designs magazine digital edition for free.

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