Loft conversion: where do I start?
Converting your empty attic space into a useable room can be the most cost effective way of adding significant value to your home and increasing your liveable space - whether for another bedroom, office, gym or entertainment room for your teenagers. But where should you start and what do you need to consider?
Why do a loft conversion?
A loft conversion can add a significant amount of money – up to 20% – to the value of a property. Many families choose to convert their loft area as a means of obtaining more space without having to endure the costly and stressful process of moving home. Work taking place in the loft can also be less disruptive than, say, a major extension to an existing living space.
Be careful not to outgrow your road. If you invest too much and extend too far you’re unlikely to see a return on your investment.
Is my loft a useable space?
You’ll want to start by assessing whether your roof space is suitable for conversion.
We went to the Federation of Master Builders for their view. Duncan Binnie, of John Duncan Ltd, a loft specialist and FMB member said “Most lofts can be converted, but there are three main things you need to check to be sure. The first and most important is the internal height of the existing loft, from the top of the ceiling joist to underneath the ridgeboard in the apex.”
Take a measurement from the bottom of the ridge timber to the top of the ceiling joist. You may find you can get a useful room with as little as 2.2m in the useable part of the roof. But Duncan Binnie couldn’t disagree more, “This measurement is critical and needs to be 2,500mm to suitably convert.”
Duncan continues, “The second consideration is the pitch of the roof. In general the pitch is fine from 30 degrees plus.” The higher the pitch angle, the higher the central head height is likely to be.
“The third thing to consider is the footprint of the existing loft space. As a minimum rule of thumb, internal walls should measure 5,500mm side to side inclusive of chimney and 7,500mm front to back. If you are in and around the above as a minimum then you should be able to convert,” says Duncan.
How will I use the space?
Once you have roughly established your home is suitable for a loft conversation, think about how you would like to use it; perhaps an extra bedroom with en-suite bathroom, or maybe a den or playroom for your growing children. How about a space to relax or study?
Or it could be a multi- purpose room with a combination of uses, such as extra living space which doubles as guest accommodation. If you are going to include a bathroom, will it be a shower room or will there be space to include a bath? When you are thinking about planning a bathroom in a loft, remember to leave plenty of headroom.
Also think about storage, as built-in space can often be included, especially in the eaves.
When looking at the floor plan don’t overestimate the space you will get. You may have angled ceilings which restrict movement and the type of furniture you can have. By necessity most domestic loft conversions offer useable space of cosy dimensions, best suited to sleeping, play or office space.
Can I convert the loft myself?
The installation of a loft conversion is a complicated process, which may involve your planning department and certainly require Building Regulations sign off (see below).
Whilst it is possible to attempt a DIY conversion, with expert help for some of the trickier aspects, the large amount of work involved often results in many people choosing to contract a specialist loft conversion company to undertake the task.
Who should I use to do my loft conversion?
There are a few options:
1. Appoint an architect/technician or building surveyor. They will prepare drawings and designs for your proposal, obtain the necessary Approvals and if required they will also help you find a suitable builder and manage the project for you. See do I need an architect? and find a local architect here.
2. Appoint a specialist loft conversion company. These companies offer a one-stop shop for loft conversions: their design department will prepare the necessary drawings and obtain the necessary approvals and their construction departments will translate the designs into reality.
3. Use an experienced builder. Some builders have experience of loft conversions and may well be able to offer you a package similar to the loft conversion companies.
Ask neighbours, friends or search online to find a trusted architect, loft conversion company or experienced builder for your project. Don’t forget to get three quotes and make sure they visit the site and quote based on accurate measurements. Knowing how you want to use the space will be essential to getting a few good quotations.
Ask your contractor how they plan to minimise dust and disruption during the conversion and how they will protect your home from the risk of water damage should works affect the existing roof before you sign up.
Do I need planning permission, building regulations or party wall agreement?
Planning permission is not normally required, unless you are extending the roof space or exceed specified limits e.g. any dormer is higher than the current highest part of the roof or you live within a conservation area. It’s best to check with your local planning department to understand what you are allowed to do.
Building regulations apply to loft conversions to ensure, for example, that the structural strength of the new floor is sufficient, the stability of the existing structure is not endangered, there are safely designed stairs to the new floor and reasonable sound insulation exists between the conversion an the rooms below. There are also fire safety regulations with which you may need to comply. Read our guide Do I need a Structural Engineer?
You will also need to consider whether your loft conversion project is subject to The Party Wall Act 1996 under which you must give adjoining owners notice. Find out whether you need a Party Wall Agreement and let us help you find a party wall surveyor.
Check you own the loft space. If you’re a leaseholder you may need to get permission from the freeholder, landlord and or management company.
- For any domestic building works, protect yourself and your hard earned cash with a RIBA building contract
- Before asking builders to quote, see Going out to tender for a builder’s quote: where do I start?
Possible pitfalls for your loft conversion project
“Stairs to a new loft conversion can prove difficult. There are regulations to abide by, such as the minimum two-metre head clearance under and above the stairs. Fire exits are not needed in a home, as they would be in a commercial building, but means of escape should be considered and fire prevention/detection should also be incorporated,” says Duncan.
“Plumbing will normally be a case of adding on to the existing system; in certain cases after tests and surveys are carried out, the system may require upgrading,” Duncan continues.
“The insulation properties of your home may need to be improved, or certification for the work might not be granted. Building control will always inspect this to make sure the standards are met and that energy-saving measures are at a maximum.”
With a little careful planning and right designs and contractor in place, however, your loft conversion should go smoothly. It’s worth having a small contingency fund in place in case of unforeseen problems or overruns, but in general a loft conversion will be highly rewarding, adding usable space and value to your home.
So just to recap:
- Do an initial assessment of your existing loft space
- Think about how you want to use the space
- Consider who you would like to do the work and get at least three quotes based on measurements
- Consider the planning, party wall and building regulation requirements of your conversion
- Pre-empt the pitfalls with your chosen contractor
- Get a contract in place for the works with your contractor/builder/loft conversion company and architect so you know who is responsible for what
- Once you are ready to commence works, be sure to inform your insurer that you are undertaking building works to ensure your cover is not affected
………………………………………….. This guide was pulled together with input from the Federation of Master Builders, working with one of their member firms, John Duncan Ltd from South Shields in the North East. All photos are from John Duncan ltd portfolio.
This guide was pulled together with input from the Federation of Master Builders, working with one of their member firms, John Duncan Ltd from South Shields in the North East. All photos are from John Duncan ltd portfolio.