So, you’ve done the most painful part of buying your dream HDB flat – paying for it – now comes one of the most fun parts: renovating and jazzing it up.
Are you going for that open-concept look, or do you want plenty of cosy nooks? Scandinavian-themed or all-out swanky? Do you already know exactly what you want, or are you planning to hire an interior designer?
Regardless, some renovation works require you to obtain a permit from HDB, while some are just minor touches you can get straight into. And some are just not allowed, period.
Read on to get some renovation ideas and also avoid getting into trouble with illegal transformations:
HDB renovation rules and regulations
1. Hacking walls
Hacking down walls to create an open-plan home sounds sweet. For instance, many new HDB homeowners choose to hack down the wall between the kitchen and the living room to create that sense of space.
But the first wall to hack through is getting HDB’s approval. Not all walls can be hacked – some will affect the structural integrity of the entire HDB block and compromise on your safety.
Your HDB floor plan tells you which walls can be hacked, and which can’t:
1. Structural walls (represented by thick, bold lines)
Structural walls are the foundation that hold your flat together, so these are a no-go.
2. Gable-end walls (represented by boxy lines)
Found in corner HDB units, these are walls with short awnings on the exterior to protect your home from sun and heat. These can usually be hacked, subject to HDB’s approval.
3. Normal walls (represented by double lines)
Normal walls are… normal walls lor. These can be hacked as long as you get approval from HDB. (Your contractor should help you get this approval – more on this later. Also, we found some pretty sweet renovation deals on Carousell!)
The end result could look something like this Punggol HDB flat for sale – the kitchen wall has been partially hacked and replaced with dainty windows so that the kitchen flows into the living area, while the open concept area behind the sofas have been transformed into a cosy study area. Sweeeeet.
2. Erecting walls
If I can’t hack walls that hold up the building structure, surely putting up walls are ok, right? If anything, they’re providing support. Right?
Well, you won’t need a permit from HDB for this, but there are still certain rules to follow. First, there should be a direct fire escape route; also, the additional wall should still allow adequate natural lighting and ventilation into the flat/ room.
3. Replacing the flooring
There are 2 ways to rework your floor: overlay laminate tiles atop your existing tiles, or remove the existing tiles altogether and replace them with new ones.
Only the latter requires a HDB permit. Also, because overlaying flooring is much cheaper than redoing the entire affair, many people prefer overlays instead.
Either way, the total thickness of your floor finish cannot exceed 50mm.
4. Renovating the ceiling
You don’t need a HDB permit to install a false ceiling, but you’ll need a minimum floor-to-ceiling height of 2.4 metres.
The standard HDB floor-to-ceiling height is 2.6 metres, which gives you a 20 centimetre leeway to make it fancy schmancy.
Tip: As counter-intuitive as it may sound, installing a false ceiling can actually add perceived height to your home – the gap between the original and the lowered ceiling creates a sense of depth and space:
Also, false ceilings are strictly not allowed in bathrooms; in the kitchen, they should not cover the gas pipes.
5. Renovating the bathroom
Bath time, best time! Like, we’re talking dip-in-the-tub-with-wine-in-hand kind of bath.
If you’re all about that, take note: only ready-made fibreglass tubs weighing no more than 400kg are allowed. Installation of concrete water tanks are not allowed as that might lead to loading issues.
Also, in BTO flats, you can only renovate the bathroom walls or floors after 3 years. Otherwise, the waterproofing works might be damaged, potentially leading to leakages.
In the meantime, though, you can always overlay tiles over the existing bathroom wall or floor tiles (instead of hacking away the existing ones).
And if you do decide to replace the bathroom flooring after 3 years, the same guideline for general flooring applies: the total thickness of your floor finish cannot exceed 50mm.
6. Other fixtures
In addition to applying for a permit, your front door also needs to be fire rated (i.e. able to resist spreading fire).
Also, if you’re intending to use a digital lock for your door, remember to check that it’s got the equivalent fire ratings.
Windows and grilles:
Every HDB project comes with a fixed window and grille design. Which, unfortunately, you’re not allowed to tamper with, or replace with full height or 3/4-height windows.
This is for safety purposes, and also to maintain a unified look of the HDB block’s exterior.
Exposed bathroom or kitchen pipes can ruin the look you’re going for, but you’re not allowed to conceal them.
By that, we mean you can’t permanently box them up such that they’d be inaccessible. But!!! There are still ways to work around it – for instance, work under-sink piping into a built-in cabinet:
You’re only allowed to install raised concrete platforms up to a maximum of 50mm (otherwise, this structural change could impact the stability of the entire HDB building).
But there are other ways to add a platform without laying additional concrete. For instance, it could be crafted out of a material such as timber instead of concrete.
Which is how you get pretty homes like these:
7. How to apply for your HDB renovation permit
Your contractor will submit the application on your behalf.
Engage only contractors from the Directory of Renovation Contractor (DRC) to do your renovations (including even the little things that don’t require HDB’s approval!).
These contractors would have undergone training specific to renovating HDB flats, and have at least 3 years of experience in renovation works.
You can use this HDB e-service to search for DRC contractors.
And once you get your permit, you’ve got 3 months to complete your renovation if it’s a spanking new BTO flat, or 1 month if it’s a resale HDB flat.
In addition, you can only carry out renovation works within certain timings:
- General renovation work can be done from 9am to 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays (no renovation works can be carried out on Sundays and Public holidays)
- Noisy works like demolishing of walls, cutting of tiles or excessive drillling can only be done from 9am to 5pm on weekdays (no noisy renovation works can be carried out on weekends, public holidays and eve of major public holidays)
Also, you’ll have to inform at least 2 of your neighbors of your renovation, at least 3 days in advance.
Renovating your HDB flat
So in a nutshell…
Sounds like quite a bit of do’s and don’ts, but not to worry! If you get a reliable, certified contractor to carry out your renovation works, they’ll also be able to advice you on your renovation plans.
We’ve also put together a handy cost guide to renovating your HDB flat, including how to save on renovation fees.
Ok, but first, happy home-shopping!