Last edited 22 Jul 2021

Alterations to existing buildings

In its broadest sense, alteration can be defined as: ‘Work intended to change the function or appearance of a place.’ Ref Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance, For the sustainable management of the historic environment, Published by Historic England in 2008.

Existing buildings often undergo alterations during their life to change, modify or improve their performance or the nature of their use.

Common examples of alterations include:

Some alterations may require planning permission. Other alterations may be considered 'permitted developments' for which planning permission is not required.

Examples of permitted developments include; certain enlargements or alterations to houses, construction of some sheds and fuel storage containers, certain porches, doors and windows, and so on. The best way to determine whether a development is permitted or not is to ask the local planning authority.

For more information see: Permitted development.

Responsibility for determining panning permissions generally lies with local planning authorities (usually the planning department of the district or borough council).

For more information see: Planning permission.

The building regulations may also apply to alterations. The building regulations set out:

Building regulations approvals can be sought either from the building control department of the local authority or from an approved inspector.

For more information see: Do the building regulations apply to existing buildings?

On larger projects, the The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM regulations) may also apply. The CDM regulations are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are properly considered during a project’s development so that the risk of harm to those who have to build, use and maintain structures is reduced.

For more information see: CDM regulations.

NB The 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), published by the International Code Council (ICC) defines alteration as: ‘Any construction, retrofit or renovation to an existing structure other than repair or addition that requires a permit. Also, a change in a building, electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system that involves an extension, addition or change to the arrangement, type or purpose of the original installation that requires a permit.’

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