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Maybe you don't need a house extension

Updated: Feb 25


knocking walls inside a house
Find more space by knocking down walls

Is your house too small. Do you need more space?

Are you thinking about building an extension to solve that problem.


Stop, maybe you don't need to build a house extension.

OK, so this might seem like an odd thing to say. You might think, this guys specialises in house extensions, so why is he telling people they don’t need to extend their house? Well, Ive been doing this for 14 years and Ive seen lots of examples where people could get more value from their homes if they alter the internal layout. Ive also seen too many homes where the extension was just stuck on, and the original layout unchanged, so the house didn't flow. Yes, the house gets bigger but its not any better.

If you need more space and are thinking about building a house extension, let me play Devils advocate and convince you to consider an alternative. A lot of homes, especially older properties, were designed with very difference priorities;

  • Their kitchens were tiny by todays standards, and often in the wrong place.

  • The put a huge premium on having a formal drawing room, lounge, or front parlour, to entertain guests.

  • That drawing room was always at the front of the house, even if the best view was at the rear.

  • They regularly ignored the rear garden as a place to spend time.

  • They had fewer and smaller bathrooms than modern families.

  • Their corridors are wider than todays homes, makings the rooms on either side smaller.

  • And they didn't think about storage space in the way we do today.

Most homes in the UK are old, over 10 million UK homes predate world war 2 and many still have their original layout. If you own an older property I have some tips on how to create more space without having to build a house extension. I am based in the UK but many of these tips will be relevant no matter where your house is. I will say, no matter where you are based, take advice from an experienced local Architect before you commit to altering your home. If you would like to talk to me about your project after watching this video, you can book a consultation on the Real Life Architect website.


First up, let's talk about load bearing walls. Ive lost count of the number of homeowners who believe this is a huge issue. Don't get me wrong, taking down a load bearing wall needs to be done properly but it's an everyday task for any builder. And the cost difference between demolishing a load bearing wall and non load bearing wall is only about 40 to 50%. I made a video going into detail on the cost comparison, if you want to check it out. But the short version goes like this; knocking any wall inside your home will damage the floor, ceiling and adjacent walls, as well as destroy any electrical wiring or plumbing pipes that are in those walls. All this costs money to put right, irrespective of whether the wall as load bearing, or not.

Take it from me, it makes no sense to build a house extension just to avoid knocking down some load bearing walls. There is so much potential space to be unlocked if we can get over this issue. One of the easiest way to unlock space in any house is to reduce the amount of circulation space. Im talking about corridors and vestibules. Take this 1930’s suburban house. Look at all the corridor, it takes up almost 12% of the total floor plan.


suburban house UK 1930's
This floor plan was drawn in the 1930's notice how small and remove the kitchen is

The kitchen is small and even though it is next to the dining room, the food has to be carried down that corridor through two doorways. It also has this tiny bedroom at the back, that is too small by modern standards because the lounge has to be at the front.


Ok, so how to improve this without building an extension. Well this proposed layout shows elements to be demolished in red and new walls in yellow. You can see quite a few of the internal walls have to come down.


New walls are highlited in yellow. Walls to be demolished are shown in a thin, dashed red line

The new layout has an open plan kitchen, living dining space and, I know, its not everyones cup of tea, but bear with me.


Look at how much space I created

The house now has a much larger kitchen with a separate utility room.

The bathroom has become 50% bigger and the tiny bedroom is now an ensuite for the master bedroom. The entrance to the house has been shifted along the porch, so that the large window can be cut down and you walk into the centre of the new open place space. Bed 3 in now at the front of the house, where the lunge used to be. It has a new doorway so that the long wall which used to be in the corridor is now fully part of the living space.


If you think about it, when you demolish an internal partition you gain more floor space. Because the wall was standing on the floor. The internal walls removed took up some 1.5 square meters of space. Not bad when the house only has 95 square meters of internal floor area to begin with. This proposal didn't add more bedrooms but the livings space is more open and modern. If the owners wanted more bedrooms that could be achieved but at the cost of reducing living space. I think the house wants to be a three bed property, any more and the living areas would be too cramped.

So reducing circulation space makes a huge difference. It unlocks significant amounts of internal space for things like living and bedrooms, more bathrooms or storage.


But what other tricks can we pull to get more space. Well here are three good ones, they aren’t as dramatic but they can be worthwhile if your homes has some older features. Like chimneys; Take a look at this floor plan of a house from the 1960’s it has a prominent chimney in the middle of the living space. This thing takes up more than 1 square meter for floor space, about 1 percent of the overall area of the building.

Notice how large the chimney is, its on the left side, near the stairs

Ive been in a lot of homes over the years, and very few people still use traditional fireplaces. If you have a redundant chimney in a wall between two rooms it can be demolished. It's a bit more challenging than taking down a wall but it's a fairly common procedure. Just make sure your builder has a good roofer to close up the hole where the chimney used to be.

Look at the size of the hole in that roof !

Another tip to get more space is to steal it from the external wall. This isn't worthwhile if your home has typical brick cavity wall construction, those walls are only about 30cm or one foot thick. But you your homes has a traditional stone wall, these can been 45 or even 60cm thick, that’s 18 incase to two feet. That’s a lot of space. To do this properly you need to consider creating a large glazed opening, like a patio door. If you take down a wide section of that thick external wall, then fit modern aluminium glazing close to the outer surface, you will gain all that space which used to be where the thick, stone wall stood.


The existing external wall and window (shown in red) have been demolished

Placing the new glazing near the outside of the external wall crates more space inside

You might be wondering, why I haven’t mentioned loft conversions. The short answer is that these cost more and deliver less space than most people assume. If you can do one, great but most attics aren’t big enough.


Of course the big question is how much would and internal alteration cost. Ive made videos discussing the cost of house extension projects in detail and Ive give square meter rates for this kind of project. Unfortunately square meter calculations do not work when pricing internal work to existing buildings. The only way to get an accurate price for this kind of work is to itemise each element of the job and have a contractor price them individually.

The final thing to keep in mind if you are going alter an older property is that it might be listed or in a conservation area. If your property is a flat, rather than a house, its still possible to create more space by altering the internal layout. I did just that with this property and the end results look amazing. But with flats there are added complications with upstairs neighbours and the insurance engineers, contractors and Architects require to carry out such work is expensive.

So there you have it, my case for altering the layout rather than extending your house. It’s something you should seriously consider. As I said at the beginning, always take advice from an experienced local Architect as early as possible. And if you would like to discuss your project with me, you can book a consultation if your property is in the UK.

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