The side return is the name for the wide path that runs down the side of the kitchen in many terraced properties built in the first half of the previous century and the latter half of the nineteenth century. They were particularly predominant in semi-detached or terraced homes built during the suburban expansion of all major cities in the UK around those times.
History of the Side Return
The main purposes of the side return were to provide access to key services that needed to be outside, namely the coal store and toilet, and allow light into the dining room at the rear of the house. But as glass is so much cheaper now than it was in those days, a side return extension or covering can have a glazed roof and little light will be lost.
In fact a side return, if it is considered wasted space by homeowners, is often the focus of a fully fledged extension, sometimes removing the kitchen wall and occasionally the dining room wall, to create a large open plan space with greater integration with the garden.
Here, we will be focusing on the use of the side return as a site for a shed or summer house type extension, possibly using the walls of the kitchen for support in a lean-to fashion. We will assume that the dining room wall, with it’s window, will stay as is, in which case it will be important to make sure that as much light as possible reaches that window.
The main issue with a side return shed is to decide what it is to be used for, as to a large extent that determines the construction. Although glass is now much cheaper in real terms, it is still the most expensive part of a garden building job. So if the lean-to is to be used purely for storage, you’ll probably only want a glass or clear plastic roof, to allow the maximum light into the dining room, while making the walls out of wood, the cheapest material.
If you want your garden building to be more of a summer house or even conservatory, then you might consider using glass or clear plastic for the walls, or part of them, as well as the roof. You would probably want to pay more attention to the quality of the materials used for the frame as well, if you are going to be sitting in it whenever possible.
Insulation and Damp Proofing
If you do go down the route of using the side return for a living space rather than storage or garden use then you will have to pay more attention to insulation and damp proofing. Again, we’re not expecting full cavity walls and damp-proof courses as this isn’t an extension building website.
But placing panelling on the inside of any wooden walls, with insulation in between the outer and inner panels, will help. A raised floor will help combat both damp and insulation and guttering is a must to channel rainwater away.
If the roof is glazed, either plastic or glass, having it double-glazed will help enormously. But plastic double glazing will cut down on the light coming into the dining room and glass double glazing will be pretty heavy, so you need to make sure the structure is up to the job.
Make it What You Want
We have only been able to graze the surface of what’s possible with a side return in this article. It’s a good idea to visit your neighbours as many of them will have had an extension or a garden building grafted on. If you have ample budget the extension is a great idea but if you just want a cheap and cheerful addition then the summer house or shed model is the way to go.