Trends in home extensions in the UK
If you were to visit a typical moderately prosperous suburban estate, built perhaps in the 1930’s 50 years ago the chances are it would have changed little from when it was first constructed. Maybe there would be a few garages, where they were not part of the original, often a ramshackle collection of buildings often made from concrete panels or corrugated sheet materials. There would however be relatively few extensions as we think of them today. Move forward fifty years and most will have been altered significantly. Doors and windows will often have been changed (in many cases several times as different materials and styles come and go). In addition the majority will have some sort of extension and many of the earlier more basic garages will have been replaced by more elaborate matching structures. Admittedly fifty years having passed one would expect a certain amount of change but even looking at estates of twenty or thirty years old today there would still be a lot of alterations. Why are we increasingly keener to change our homes?
The generation who initially bought those new properties in the 1930’s had often come from crowded inner city accommodation so having your own bathroom, kitchen and possibly even a bedroom each seemed a world away form what they had previously known. By about the 1960’s quite a few would have changed hands and even for those that had not, people were gradually acquiring more goods. In the kitchen a fridge and washing machine were becoming common so it was beginning to feel a little cramped. The box room no longer seemed quite so roomy with childrens’ seemingly endless supply of toys. It was also the time when increasing numbers purchased their first car, although they had not reached the build quality when given the choice you might actually leave it outside, unless you wanted to watch it rust before your eyes and not be able to start on a winter morning.
The 1960’s therefore marked the beginning to any significant extent of extending homes. Extensions from this era were often more overtly additions to the building with flat roofs being extremely common and windows would often follow the popular style at the time rather than necessarily match the original building. Prefabricated extensions also became quite popular with walls often of concrete panels or timber and roofs of either corrugated plastic or a felt flat roof and often built as a ‘sun lounge’.
As the 1970’s and 80’s moved on there became an increasing trend towards home extensions matching the existing building. There are several possible reasons for this:-
· Town Planning departments increasing influence on even fairly minor schemes.
· The prefabricated type of extension, particularly when used as a habitable room (as opposed to a conservatory or similar) became more complex to justify under building regulations with increasing requirements of insulation etc. and perhaps a more robust interpretation of them by some councils. Any savings in cost began to diminish.
· Finally and perhaps most importantly there was a realisation by householders that it was generally better to make the extension look a more integral part of the original building. This was partly driven by the increasing value of houses which at times has become a national obsession. The large scale sale of council houses also increased the number of owner occupiers who were often keen to individualise them, no doubt in part to show that they now owned the property.
Changes in building regulations in a couple of areas have also helped certain types of extension. The exemption of conservatories has made it potentially a quicker and easier form of extension (although it may still require planning approval, a point that is often forgotten http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permitted_development). This together with being another product for the expanding UPVC window industry and the introduction of polycarbonate roofing systems has made it one of the most common home improvements of the last few decades. Another important change in regulations was the removal of room height restrictions (other than above stairs). This has made a lot of loft conversions, particularly those with just roof lights viable which may not have been in the past and has become a very popular form of home extension, it is often more economical to build than an extension at ground level whilst often having less impact on the existing house and garden.
I suppose it was predictable that the next trend would be away from rigidly following the design of the existing building to an identity of its own. Often it incorporates elements that have been popular on some individual new houses such as large areas of glazing, white rendered walls and the use of timber externally. On the whole this is a more localised trend, it will often be more expensive to build, it perhaps requires more design skill for it to work successfully so is mainly seen in the more affluent parts of our major conurbations.
What of the future direction of home extensions?
The current economic climate has generally reduced the amount of activity and in particular the more grandiose schemes. However, in the longer term extending property will return to former levels. We are not building sufficient new houses to satisfy potential demand which after a temporary ‘blip’ will mean house prices will continue ever upwards and so it is generally more economical to spend money on your existing property than move ‘up market’. Of the trends we have seen in recent years I would expect the conservatory market to have largely peaked, there will always be a certain demand for them but it will be less mass market. Although sun lounges (large areas of windows but a solid roof) will still be popular. The more contemporary type of extension will continue to be a fairly specialist area but schemes may generally rely more on skillful use of space rather than just a large floor area. There are some new products on the market that may make loft conversions easier, particularly in relation to modern roof trusses, currently they often require enormous steel beams to support the new roof. Basements have become popular in some of the more expensive urban areas, but it is usually a more costly way of extending and so it is not likely to become widespread. It can be worthwhile though where there is some form of existing cellar to the building to convert it to useable accommodation.
As the use of alternative energy systems (solar, heat pumps etc.) becomes more common extending the home may be increasingly seen as a good time to incorporate such products. Likewise cladding an existing building with a different material (render, tiles, weatherboarding etc.) can be a way of increasing the insulation and improving the appearance of a bland house. It also means that an extension built at the same time can blend seamlessly with the rejuvenated existing parts. There are a lot of properties from the 60’s and 70’s which are not particularly attractive but often good value in comparison with some other eras whilst being soundly built and often with larger floor space and gardens than later properties. These would often benefit from a facelift plus an extension to improve the appearance and facilities.
There may also be an increasing trend of using alternative materials such as green roofs (grass or other plants) and some of the highly insulated forms of construction including SIPS (structural insulated panels – insulation sandwiched between two sheet materials) or the even more eco-friendly methods such as straw bale walls.
Open plan layouts will probably remain popular but in more restrained form, perhaps keeping a separate living area that can be shut off rather than trying to create a single open space. Trying to read ‘War and Peace’ whilst someone else is playing the drums is not always a good mix! In addition, although an open plan kitchen has some advantages, watching you pick up the dinner from the floor or having to see heaps of washing up possibly calls for a more skilful ‘open but not open’ approach. In other words perhaps partly open plan but offering some degree of enclosure.
Detached garden rooms have become increasingly popular in recent years often being used as ‘home offices’, gyms or music rooms – uses where some degree of separation can be a positive advantage, the recent permitted development (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permitted_development) changes mean they are no longer included with other extensions for town planning purposes when close to the house. It will be interesting to see whether this will be used as a way of circumventing the rules on home extensions in some cases.
Once economic activity improves we can be sure of the arrival of more skips in our residential areas as home improvements and extensions regain their previous momentum.