Side Return Extensions - Your Guide







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Side return extensions knock into the narrow alleyway to the side of your home, extending your living space by several feet. A side return is normally a small, wasted strip of land and is a great use of space for an extension, transforming the rear of your home without using much of your garden. They are very popular in densely populated areas, particularly on Victorian and period properties. 

Often combined with a rear extension to create a wrap around extension, a side return extension can transform a small kitchen into a large open plan area. A side return extension is perfect for modernising your home and dramatically changing your living space, even if it's only by adding several feet.

We chat about all things to do with side return extensions, as well as showcase some of the best ones out there to give you inspiration!

If you are thinking about a side return extension in the near future and need some help with where to start with your project, try our renovation advice session.

Renovation Advice Session

Kitchen by the London Kitchen Company

What is the cost of a side return extension?

To get the best estimate of your side return extension cost, check out our extension cost calculator. You simply need to enter some details on the size, your location and the rooms you are renovating, and our cost calculator will give you a high level view. We have included everything in here, including VAT, finishes and professional fees, so it should give you a good indication of cost ahead of working with an architect.

Once you have a high level view, your architect and builder will guide you as you go to give you a firm view of the costs. This cost will vary depending on your design, product specification, individual property and location. For example, if you are looking to install a high end kitchen then the costs will be considerably more than if you are re-using your existing kitchen.

Extension by Loud Architects

How long does a side return extension take to build?

You should allow between 3-4 months for the construction of a side return extension, this is assuming that you have things such as planning permissions and party wall act already agreed. This time will allow for the actual build as well as fitting the kitchen, doors and finishings. A side return can be carried out quicker than this but this is dependent on everything going smoothly and the builders having no weather issues or delays on other projects, so it's best to allow slightly longer to keep your sanity and manage your own expectations!

In terms of planning a side return extension, it may take around 3-6 months to engage with an architect, apply for planning permission (if required) and tender a builder. Many good builders have long lead times of around 6-12 months, so you should factor this into your timescales when planning your side return extension.

Stunning side return from @this_e17_life

Do I need planning permission for a side return extension?

Side return extensions are normally within permitted development provided that they meet certain criteria. Where you are extending beyond the side elevation of the original house, your extension must satisfy the following:

  • Your side extension does not exceed more than 4 metres high
  • It can only be a single storey
  • It must be no more than half the width of the original house

These are in addition to the criteria for a standard rear extension which include conditions such as the exterior extension must be in a similar appearance to the original house. 

Other requirements to look out for are whether the property has previously been extended before, as you can't extend more than half of the area around the original house. 

One of the main things to look out for is whether you live in designated area such as a conservation area - if this is the case, you will require planning permission. As side return extensions are popular for Victorian properties then there is a higher chance that your home is in a conservation area and therefore will require planning permission, even if the size falls within permitted development. We advise that you speak to your local planning department and architect to get more advice.

Also, it's worth noting that the side return extension must be single storey and you will always require planning permission if you are looking to build a double storey side extension.

For the full list of permitted development criteria then visit the planning portal.

If you think that your extension is within permitted development, then you can pay your local planning department for pre-planning advice. For a fee, they will be able to suggest whether your home is within permitted development and changes you could make to your plans to keep it within permitted development.

You can also apply for a lawful development certificate which will prove that your side return extension was indeed lawful and within permitted development. This is particularly helpful when you come to sell your property when paperwork is required.

Side return extension with a floor to ceiling window in the home of @insidetwentyfive

Are there any other regulations that I need to be aware of for a side return extension?

There are several other main regulations that you must be aware of when considering a side return extension, all of which are separate to planning permission.

The Party Wall Act applies to homes in England and Wales and are common when you are carrying out any type of rear extension, particularly in terraced and semi detached properties.  If this does apply to you, then you must serve a Party Wall notice to your neighbour(s). If you need to find out more, read our expert advice article.

Another consideration is your neighbours Right of Light when you are building a side return extension. This is another regulation that applies in England and Wales, where your neighbour is entitled to an amount of light into their home. Many homeowners choose glazed extensions to help with the right of light issue, where their side return extension will still allow light to flow through into the neighbouring property. If you would like more information on the Right of Light then read our expert advice article.

You will always need to comply with Building Regulations. Building regulations ensure that your building work meets a minimum standard and building control approval is always required, even if you don't need planning permission. If you want to find out more, then we have a really useful guide to building regulations.

If there is a manhole where you plan to build your side return extension, then you will need to move it and divert the sewer which will add to the cost of the build. Similarly, if the work is within 3 metres of a public sewer then you will need a build over agreement from your local water authority.

Side return extension in the home of @mycasainteriors

Do I need an Architect for a side return extension?

Whilst side return extensions are typically straightforward extensions, you may find a good architect will be key to planning your side return extension.

Firstly, they can help with the design and how it flows with the rest of your home and also consider the glazing for your side return extension. They can also design the exterior, whether it's a contemporary side return extension or one that's sympathetic with your home.

They will also be able to carry out any applications including planning permission (if it's required), building control approval and the Party Wall Act. So although you don't need an architect to help with your side return, you may find your extension will be carefully thought through and run smoother by using an architect.

Exterior of side return extension by CCASA Architects

How do I maximise light in a side return extension?

As a side return typically joins on to a wall, there is no option for a window where you would have previously had one. So you have to make sure you allow as much light as possible to flood in, or the room may feel really dark. 

Simple adjustments are to add in several skylights, which is the cheapest option. A really popular and modern look is a glazed ceiling or glazed extension which will maximise the light coming in, and also helps let more light into your neighbours home. Floor to ceiling windows are also an ultra modern look that allow more light in.

If you are choosing to extend to the rear at the same time, this is a great opportunity to incorporate large sliding or bi-fold doors to maximise the light.

Aside from glazing, there are other ways to keep the place from appearing dark. Light walls and flooring will automatically brighten the space, even if you are choosing a dark kitchen. Keeping the space open plan all the way through to the hall will allow more light to flood in naturally too.

Beautiful side return from @number_thirty_two_w13 on Instagram

Does a side return extension add value to your property?

It is thought that a small kitchen extension can add up to around 12% of your homes value. However, if you are looking to sell your property in the not too distant future, it's worth speaking with a local estate agent as to whether a side return extension will add value in your area. With construction costs increasing, it may make it harder to recoup your investment. 

If you are planning on living in your home for several years' then you will find the added width that the side return extension will bring will change how you live in your home and will be worth the investment.

Alternatives could be knocking through from the front middle room to create the feeling of space and maximising your current layout within your home.

Any other advice?

It's best to get your neighbours on side early in the process as your side return extension will likely have an impact on them, even if it's only the construction of it. Chat to them ahead of submitting plans and work with your architect to look at how your extension will get the support of your neighbour, minimising issues! 

Side return extension by Ask My Architect

If you are thinking about a side return extension in the near future and need some help with where to start with your project, try our renovation advice session.

Renovation Advice Session

Published: May 18, 2023

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