Converting the Attic

Page 1: Why convert?
Page 2: Getting permission
Page 3: Getting it done

Hannah Shanks - Editor

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Getting permission

Full planning permission is not normally required for internal work such as conversions. The general rule of thumb is that if you live in a building that is listed and/or in a conservation area, you will need planning permission. Flats and masionettes always require full permission and these are the hardest to obtain for technical reasons.

Although you may not need full planning consent, you will still need permission to go ahead with a conversion. Why? Every loft conversion has to comply with the Building Regulations!

These are legal requirements aimed at achieving adequate standards of building work. These requirements are specified in separate 'Approved Documents' as part of the regulations and contain practical guidance. For example, Part A deals with Structure, Part B with Fire Safety and so on.

You are required to achieve compliance with the Building Regulations when considering a loft conversion.

Check the website of your local authority. While procedures vary slightly, the Building Regulations are concerned with:

  • Structural Stability
  • Fire Safety
  • Fire Resistance
  • Resistance to Moisture
  • Ventilation
  • Noise insulation
  • Stairways
  • Thermal Insulation

You will need to submit a Building Regulation application to your local authority for the attention of the Building Control Officer.

You will need to submit either:

  • Full Plans:
  • Building Notice:

Full plans give every detail of the building work that you intend will be undertaken. The Building Notice is a simpler application, emphasising the use of site supervision.

A loft conversion firm or builder will normally submit these on your behalf, but check first!

Check your local authority website for fees and guidelines.

Remember just because a plan is approved by the Local Authority in principle does not mean that the loft conversion can automatically go ahead. A site visit is a very different thing to a paper plan! So make sure you get your plan in as early as possible, especially as Local Authority regulations are subject to change.

Quality and insulation

There are different types of conversion, and each scheme will vary depending on what it is you want. A basic conversion will give you stairs, chipboard floor and window. If you want proper walls and fitted furniture then this will be an additional cost.

  • "Velux" (skylight) conversions use the space you have available
  • "Dormer" conversions use the space available and extend the roof
  • "Mansard" and "Double Mansard" conversions involve creating significantly more space

It is not possible to convert an attic that has less than 2.4 metres height (or approximately 8' height between timbers) so if you are thinking of a small DIY conversion, you will want to bear this in mind. It is better to have some decent storage space than a badly converted attic!

A loft conversion with less height may be illegal, and might require extra supports on the first floor. There is no point having steel supports running through the bedrooms to prop up a bad conversion!

Houses (not bungalows) can be extended by up to 50sq m or two habitable rooms before the serious fire rules come into play.

Every loft conversion will require stairs access. That old drop-down ladder that you use to get the Christmas decorations out will not longer suffice for a proper conversion.

Getting new stairs installed is not as difficult as it sounds. For example, if you are tight on space then you should opt for the "Space Saver" staircase. This has alternating treads, which allow the user to get up the stairs in half the distance of a normal staircase.

Heating & Ventilation:
The Building Regulations only lay down a minimum specification for ventilation and heating, so think this one through. Good insulation used to be seen as a sound investment, but it is now a legal requirement.

Insulation has doubled in standard every 5 yrs recently. As the insulation requirements increase, the available height in the loft decreases, meaning fewer and fewer people are able to reach the minimum height requirement for a conversion. (At least 50% of those who want a loft conversion do not have the necessary height)

A good builder or loft conversion company will also offer advice on airflow management. This is important most attics were not built with long-term occupancy in mind, and many have uncomfortable draughts and fluctuating temperatures. Even if you decide to do the loft conversion yourself, seriously consider outsourcing the technical parts to a qualified builder or specialist firm.


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