Converting the Loft

Why convert?

Why not? When was the last time you really used the loft?

We all love the idea of the loft. You only have to mention the word, and everyone has the same image – dusty toys, old books and cobwebs. Not to mention that ancient yellow insulation! It is a great place for the kids to play, and the perfect location to hide the old junk.

But let us be realistic. Once the children grow up, what is the point in having an loft? Do you really want to store all those things up there? We all love a bit of extra space, and a loft conversion is the perfect answer.

Turning the loft into an office, a spare room or a guest bedroom is much cheaper than building an extension. It makes full use of wasted space, and it enhances the value of your property.

A loft conversion is a very economic decision. According to mortgage lender Abbey, at least 50% of homeowners find the cost of moving beyond them and decide to stay put. Converting existing space offers an affordable way to gain that extra space.

What are you waiting for? Follow our handy hints below and get cracking on that loft!

What can the extra room be used for?

Unless you live in a mansion, the loft is always going to be a bit limited in size, but do not be put off. With a little imagination and some creative design work, the loft can be turned into something of which you can be proud.

Here are a few examples:

TV Room:

This is ideal for households with teenage children. A separate room, set aside for entertainment is a great way to avoid all those rows over who watches what!

Any electrician worth their salt will be able to install a TV point, so getting the power supply sorted is no problem. Most lofts have no windows, but these are legally required for a conversion, so don’t write off the idea because you think there won’t be enough light!

Children’s Playroom:

For most toddlers, the living room floor is a sufficient play area. Once children reach the age of 6-11 years, however, they will certainly need a bigger place to let off steam.

The loft can be the ideal place. It is well away from the main living area, and as space is the important the play area will only need a basic conversion, i.e. no fitted furniture.

Children can run about freely, but you will have to conform to insulation requirements.

Guest Bedroom:

The average, middle-income family home does not have a guest bedroom, so it’s not surprising that this is fast becoming the most popular choices for loft conversions.

A loft bedroom is ideal – it will absorb some of the heat loss from rooms lower down in the house. The size of most lofts is also in keeping with a basic guest room, and most houses will have enough space to include a small basin.

With comparatively little extra cost, a walk-in shower is an ideal accompaniment to the guest bedroom.

Do not forget the wardrobe! Loft roofs slope, so make sure you include space for clothes storage in the plans before you go ahead with the conversion.

Shower/Bathroom:

A surprising number of lofts are being turned into extra bathrooms. These can be a godsend, especially where teenagers and guests are concerned.

Lofts are easily plumbed into the main system, and most lofts will have enough space for both a bath and shower. You will need to ensure that there is sufficient water pressure for the bath/shower to operate effectively. Make sure you leave enough headroom in the shower!

One note of caution though – in many houses the water tank is located in the loft, and this may need moving altogether. While this will present no problem to a qualified plumber, you will want to think about this before designing the room.

If you decide to go with a bathroom, the plumbing is not complex and will simply depend on the labour charges. A plumber in London will cost more than one in Cambridgeshire. This obviously affects the cost of the job. A three-piece bathroom suite will cost anything from £500 to £3,000 more than any other habitable loft conversion.

Office:

Hundreds of entrepreneurs have started a firm from an office in the loft, and thanks to the Internet increasing numbers of employees are opting to work from home part-time. Whether you are setting up your own business or just want a quiet area to work, the loft can be the ideal office.

As most home offices are only laid out with one user in mind, this can be a very cost effective option. You will not need the whole space, so go for a part-conversion here. This saves money, and only utilises the room that you really need.

Getting a phone extension to the top of the house is easily managed, and broadband and computer installation should not present a problem.

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 a loft 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 loft!

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 lofts 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.

Getting it done

Going for the bathroom? Turning the loft into a TV room? Whatever you decide to do, think through your options carefully.

DIY:

If you decide to go DIY, a home office, TV room or play area is easier to manage than a bathroom. Doing-it-Yourself can be cheaper, but do not underestimate the amount of time and energy this will involve.

If budget is a problem, consider getting a builder to do the main work while you take on the simpler (and more enjoyable) tasks like painting or tiling. A bad DIY job can actually lessen the value of your house, so be careful.

Local Builder:

A local builder should be able to manage most (if not all) aspects of a loft conversion. However, you will need to be clear on individual responsibility before you start. Check the following things with your builder:

  • Who will submit the paperwork to the Local Authority?
  • Who will organise a skip for removing rubble?
  • Who will organise any other labourers required, e.g. plumbers?
  • What time period will the work take?

Be warned – a number of “cowboy” builders work in the loft conversion business. If they are prepared to start work without consulting the Local Authority, do not have anything to do with them. You must ALWAYS get permission for your loft conversion.

Specialist Firm:

This can often be the most cost-effective option. A specialist firm will normally offer a one-stop shop, i.e. they do everything in house. They will draft the plans, submit paperwork and oversee the entire job.

There are some national firms specialising in this, such as Econoloft Firms of this nature have significant experience under their belt, and this can prove invaluable. A good loft conversion firm should be able to turn the job around in 6 – 8 weeks.

Costs

Obviously the costs will vary enormously. A shell conversion will cost less than a full Mansard job with bathroom fittings and new plumbing. It all depends on:

  • What you want done
  • Where you live

On average, a loft conversion costs anywhere between £20,000 and £30,000. Most full conversions will only bill for the floor, windows and roof. If you want furniture fittings, expect to pay more. Surfaces and fittings are rarely included in a full conversion quote.

For a shell conversion (bare studwork and felt) expect to part with £16,000.

A small Velux conversion without plumbing can be done for £20,000, which is clearly more affordable than moving home for people in the South of England. Many homes with trussed roofs have space that can be reclaimed, and this all adds value.

The cost of a conversion will depend entirely on location. A small conversion in rural England will cost the owner £16,000. The same thing in London may cost £30,000. An average of £27,000 is reasonable, but the location dictates everything as Rena Trepka from Econloft explains:

“We recently completed two jobs. One was a mansard conversion in Fulham which was a bedroom en-suite, costing mid £40,000. This added £75,000 to the owner’s selling price. We also fitted a semi bungalow in the Bromley area with a bedroom en-suite, gable-up conversion. This also included a balcony, and the job cost somewhere in the high £30,000 mark. This added £74,000 to the property, compared to its attached neighbour.”

Pros and cons

Turning your dusty, unused loft into another room is a clearly a great way to add value to your property, but there are both advantages and disadvantages which you may want to consider first:

Pros:
  • Added Property Value: A conversion will cost an average of £27,000 but may add £60,000 to your property.
  • Extra Living Space: Gain that extra room you need without having to fork out £100,000 – the average cost of moving and upgrading
  • Quick Project Turnaround: An average of 6-8 weeks on a project of this nature is clearly much quicker than an extension.
  • Does not always require full planning permission: An extension will always need planning permission, and this can be a lengthy procedure.
Cons:
  • Location, Location, Location: The value that a conversion adds depends on where your property is based. A loft conversion in central London will add far more value than it would to a house in the North of England.
  • Less Value than Extension: A household extension is less complicated, and will add more value than a loft conversion.
  • Loss of Storage Space: Unless you sell it at the Car boot or E-Bay, you will lose the storage space you have. Hiring self-storage is an expensive business, so be prepared to get rid of those old things you have been hoarding.

The Pros of loft conversion outweigh the Cons, but do think it through carefully before you commit. There is no substitute for an on-site visit by the local builder and/or the loft conversion firm, so make sure you seek professional advice.

If you still like the idea of seeing the loft transformed, then get busy – and good luck!

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