• Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Break, Add and Build: Know the Rules for Changing a Building

UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Buildings often undergo renovations for a new purpose. For example, if your bungalow cannot accommodate all your family needs, you may change the original plan and add another level.

Although it may sound easy to indulge your imagination and creativity when planning an addition to your home, you need to stay grounded in reality to ensure the best outcome.

Before even digging a single shovel of dirt, familiarise yourself with all the rules and safety requirements for changing an existing building, as discussed below.

Get an Expert

Architect Ambrose Kajubi of KHC Architects says; when changing a building, always hire an experienced architectural consultant to advise on how to proceed. 

Working with a professional consultant is important to determine what is and is not possible, after taking design, aesthetics and safety into consideration.

Kajubi recommends to find a consultant that you can easily communicate your wishes. The consultant should give you a clear picture of the options available for the modifications you desire. They should should show you some design sketches and help you to choose what works and what may not.

Further, you may bump into uncertainties, such as bats in the ceiling, a crack, and water damage in the ceiling or anywhere else in the building. Your consultant can help you to navigate the best path forward. 

The consultant does not have to be on the site all the time as this would not be cost effective, but should make some supervisory visits.

Preliminary Checks

Kajubi says the consultant will do preliminary checks on the building. 

These checks involve finding out if the building can accommodate an extra floor. Also, whether the existing walls can take on extra weight, or if it is possible to add access to the upper floor. 

Lawrence Simiyu, a contractor, adds there are many things to consider when determining if an additional floor can be added. 

For example, if the building was built with a stretcher bond, those walls cannot carry any load above, therefore an additional storey would not be advisable. “If they have used blocks, it is more reassuring if they are solid rather than hollow with a span of not less than six inches. Mud bricks cannot carry much load. However, burnt clay bricks built in a header bond can work,” he says.

Simiyu further says the consultant should vet the distance between walls. 

“If the walls are not so far apart- three metres apart; all around, it makes it easy as one will just introduce beams around, then cast a slab because the span is not so wide apart. However, if the rooms below are, say, 4.5 or five metres apart, introduce columns, walls broken, and the foundation excavated. If the client agrees to it, that is fine, but it comes at a high cost. That said, the building will be structurally sound to carry the extra floor,” Simiyu explains.

Architect Kajubi says before removing any walls, it is important to do structural integrity tests to ensure the walls can be broken without causing catastrophic damage.

He adds you need geotechnical tests are necessary to determine if the ground can carry an extra floor in certain circumstances.

Kajubi says that the architect will also consider other important design factors. For example, if the existing electrical wiring and plumbing can be matched to owner’s desired alterations. Changing the location of wiring and plumbing may add significant cost and time to complete the project, and the client needs to know this. Other, more cost effective designs and options should first be presented, says Kajubi.

Creating a Design

After all the deliberations, the consultant will develop a design in line with the planning guidelines that govern house modifications.

“These designs are the architectural plans that are in line with what you have agreed upon,” Kajubi shares.

Getting Approval

According to Kajubi, you need to get approval from relevant authorities for any modifications before changing the structure. 

The consultant will submit the new plans, alongside the structural integrity drawings, to the physical planning client care centre.

Daniel Nuwabine Muhumuza, the public relations officer at KCCA, said that after submitting the documents, you need to pay assessment fees in the bank.

“For every stored one adds to their building, USh 75, 000 plus 18 per cent VAT is charged. There is also an alteration fee of USh 100, 000 plus 18 per cent VAT, though it only applies if the alterations are being done on approved plans,” Daniel explains.

Nuwabine adds site visits after receiving payment receipts to ensure that what is on paper tallies with what is on site.

“Thereafter, a desk review is done where the planner, environment officer and surveyor review the documents before forwarding them to the structural engineer. It is upon the engineer’s approval that a development permit is issued for the commencement of works,” Nuwabine told the Daily Monitor.


With approval in hand, work out a building plan on whether you will do construction in phases or at once.

“People ignore budgets, but looking at them critically and seeing how to cut them back without compromising your standards is important. For example, the client can look at works they can do by themselves to save money, such as painting, removing debris,” adds Kajubi.

Health and Safety

When altering older buildings, the primary concern should be health and safety. 

During demolition and rebuilding, there will be lots of dirt and dust, hazardous materials, falling sharp objects, noise and lack of privacy. It is best if the occupants  vacate the premises when major construction is taking place. 

It is also vital 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.


To make your dream house come to life, make any alternative decisions within the context of practical and economically sound in an old building. 

When changing a building, ensure it suits the purpose and a cost that will enable you to have a reasonable economic return. Do diligent research about the rules, and build smart.


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