Vertical extensions could alleviate housing dilemma

Adding vertical extensions to existing buildings could help alleviate the UK’s housing crisis and meet net zero commitments, according to new research from Sheffield University.

Vertical extensions
Image: University of Sheffield

A study led by Charles Gillott, a Grantham Scholar in the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineeringhas revealed how the strategy could deliver 175,000 additional homes in Sheffield alone and that the plan could be rolled out across the country to lower house prices, reduce carbon emissions and meet government housing targets.

With house prices soaring to record highs during the pandemic and housing demand growing rapidly, the government has raised housing targets for England’s 20 largest cities by 35 percent.

In Sheffield, the 35 percent increase has raised housing targets to 55,000 homes, and the council plans to create 20,000 of these in the city centre. They hope this will meet housing demand, while boosting the high street and supporting business in the city center. A similar strategy is being considered by city councils in the UK.


The study analyzed building data from a geographic information system and determined that vertically extending suitable buildings with just one or two storeys would create 175,000 new homes in Sheffield.

Expanding buildings vertically would help to reduce CO2 emissions as more buildings would be redeveloped rather than demolished and replaced with new ones. Vertical expansions can also reduce the number of new homes to be built on green in urban and rural areas. According to the university, this would allow people to live close to important services and amenities, reducing reliance on cars.

In 2020, the government introduced new legislation to allow the addition of up to two storeys to existing homes, condominiums and commercial buildings without the need for formal planning permission. They predicted this would create 9,000 new homes a year, but a Sheffield University study found fewer than 200 new homes have been built through this plan to date.

In a statement, Gillott said: “Adding new housing over existing buildings offers the opportunity to rejuvenate city centers while meeting net-zero targets and growing housing demand.

“This will help create low-carbon mixed-use cities where people live close to the services and amenities they rely on. While many buildings are unsuitable and efforts must be made to ensure the quality of the completed housing, this study highlights the potential for vertical expansion of housing at scale.”

Abhishek Maheswari
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