Go up, go out: which extension type is right for you?

Lots of us need more space or want to maximise what we already have. Potential savings from a mortgage switch, combined with additional funds could be the way to create a dream layout


Sponsored by Ulster Bank


For many of us, space has become something we’ve been thinking a lot about over the last eight months. Working from home has shone a light on what might be lacking in our everyday environments and an alteration to our surrounds might just be the change that’s needed.

In part nine of our Switch it Up series, we’re looking at ways to extend our homes to make them truly fully-functioning spaces that work for all our requirements, and which everyone in the family can enjoy.

“An extension, even the smallest one, can really open up the property and transform your home,” says architect Denise O’Connor of Optimise Design.

It’s an exciting time, so before taking the leap, good planning is key. “The first thing I would say is that getting the layout of your home right can be life changing,” O’Connor says. Have a good think about what you need – for many, a home office has topped the want list, or maybe an extra bathroom or more living space are what’s required.

Next, look at the types of extension you could build. For Irish homeowners, one of the most common is a rear ground level addition, as happily, this often doesn’t require planning permission.

“You can build 40 sq m without the need for planning permission, as long as your house has not been extended previously,” O’Connor confirms.

“So if the house had a 20 sq m extension built on when you bought it you can only build a further 20 sq m without planning. Two-storey extensions or an extension to the side of the property require planning permission. A good rule of thumb is, if you can see if from the front, then you need planning permission.”

Building the budget

Before you begin, decide on the size and style of extension to suit your home and needs. Photograph: Getty Images

The cost to build an extension has increased in recent years and for an average three bed semi-detached property, budget around €2,500 per sq m for anything being built from scratch, and allocate between €1,000 and €1,500 per sq m for refurbishments.

“That’s for the work you’d have to do to bring the rest of the house up to scratch with the extension,” O’Connor clarifies. “This is the piece people often forget – they’ll budget for the extension but forget all the other work that has to be done to the rest of the house.”

As a stand-alone project and without carrying out any other significant works to the rest of the house, homeowners should allow for four to five months on site for a single-storey extension, depending on the size and complexity of the design and whether or not it needs planning permission.

“A two-storey could take seven to nine months – some people underestimate it. Double or triple the time they think it will take, sometimes it can take a full year to get back in,” she says.

O’Connor recommends that homeowners aim to move out while work is carried out. Staying put can add additional stresses and in many cases it may not be possible to remain in situ if bathrooms are taken out or services are turned off. “It is very hard on the contractor and it does slow the process down,” she advises.

Spend v save

When it comes to the fit-out, buy the best fixed elements you can afford. Photograph: Getty Images

When it comes to investing in fixtures and fittings, it’s worth spending on those that are not so easy to change, like flooring or tiles. “You should spend on any fixed elements. Buy the best windows you can afford and they will pay for themselves over time. You can pull back on things like switches and sockets – people love chrome, but white is far less expensive and you don’t even notice them. By not going for bespoke with certain items, you can also save on cost,” O’Connor says.

She advises clients to choose all items before the builder arrives, in order to save on time and cut out panic buying. “By doing that, you understand the cost so that when the builder is ready for them they are ready to go. It will add cost, time and stress if you have to pick something in a rush and you probably won’t be happy with it. Specialist items like a coffee machine, steam oven or hot water tap require power and water but if you come along at a later date and say I’m going for those items, the builder may have to undo some of the completed works,” she stresses.

Some homeowners attempt to draft a layout themselves and bypass an architect altogether, but often they end up with an extension that is unworkable.

“The honest truth is, you do need an architect. I’ve gotten calls from people who solely engaged with a builder, cut out the architect to save money and ended up with something that didn’t work. We give clients options. Even on a budget you can engage with an architect, there is no need to engage us the whole way.

“An extension, even the smallest one, can really open up the property and transform your home,” says architect Denise O’Connor of Optimise Design. Photograph: Getty Images

“Often people are trying to replicate something someone else has but we take your brief into consideration and come up with a solution. Architects can also help get you ready for planning permission,” she says.

A good architect will expect the homeowner to be upfront with their budget from the start. They will give the best value for money and will advise where compromises might need to be made on a brief.

“We also recommend homeowners get a cost estimate from a quantity surveyor. It’s affordable, costing between €450 and €650 depending on the size of the project. It will give an idea of what it’s going to cost before you do anything like planning, then you can decide if you need to pull back, and we can give you a steer on the best way to achieve that.”

If all of this seems too much right now, O’Connor points to a simple reconfiguration of the property. “When clients come to us, we have them fill out a small booklet- a weekly tracker for the household that shows us what’s causing arguments, what’s working and not working for them, so we can drill into their brief. We once had a lady who did it with her family. All of the family hated mornings, there were constant fights and she thought they needed to extend to create more space. It turns out they had a coffee machine that sat right on top of the cutlery drawer and there were always rows to get to it. The simplest of moves made everything calm.

“And even the smallest of extensions can open up the whole of the house too,” O’Connor says. “You need to think about building flexibility for the future, not just about how you’re living in your home right now.”

About Switch it Up

Switch it Up is a new 12-part series for those who might be considering switching mortgage provider to make savings on their monthly repayments. It is a follow-up to the award-winning Story of Home series, which explored the idea of home through the eyes of creative people who found their dream place to live.

Now, Switch it Up, which like Story of Home is supported by Ulster Bank, looks at helpful information on home improvements as well as renovators’ home tours. Plus, we’ve got helpful answers to your mortgage switching queries: from the incentives to how long it will take (not long!) and what’s involved in making a mortgage switch, read our Everything you need to know about switching your mortgage guide at

Perhaps now more than ever, we want our homes to suit the way we live and work, and being able to explore the potential in our homes offers us flexibility. This series is designed to unlock the ways in which we might Switch it Up in our homes as our wants and needs change.

Switching your mortgage could free up funds to help you make these changes. “At Ulster Bank, we want to be a part of the journey you take in making your home the best it can be,” says Sean Kellaghan, mobile mortgage manager at Ulster Bank.

“We want to make the mortgage switching process as simple and as hassle free as you do,” he adds. Kellaghan understands the stress that can come with making a switch, and he offers reassurance.

“We are here to help you, and the process is a lot shorter and a lot more straightforward than you might think. Get in touch today and we can talk you through the options and process.”

For more information, visit

Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland

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