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Planning a loft conversion?

Date: 18/07/07


With the cost of moving home running into many thousands of pounds, it’s not surprising that many families are opting to move up instead of moving on, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Converting your loft is certainly a job for the professionals, but if you get it right you not only gain a fabulous light-filled space, you could also get a handsome return on your investment when you sell. According to the FMB a loft extension can add up to 15% to the value of your property.

Can you stand up?
Is your loft suitable for conversion? The easiest way to tell is to see if you can stand upright at its highest point, as this needs to be at least 2.3m. Even if you can stand up, a dormer window extension will maximise headroom throughout the space. Planning requirements often mean that this is put at the back of the house so it doesn’t change the house’s appearance from the street. For this reason, roof windows are commonly used at the front to provide light and ventilation.

Don’t get into hot water
Most people convert their loft to add an extra bedroom and bathroom to their home. The layout will largely be dictated by the position of the staircase and plumbing arrangements for the bathroom, as John Longworth, managing director of FMB London loft specialist John Dutton & Partners, explains: “It can be difficult to put the bathroom at the front of the house as you have to run a soil pipe to the back of the building where the existing bathrooms and toilets are situated. You’ll also need to consider the hot water and heating system. The boiler may not be capable of heating the extra space or providing enough hot water for the extra bathroom.”

It’s all in the planning
There are also structural considerations. New beams will be needed in the roof and in the new floor to take the floor weight and strengthen the roof when the existing rafters are removed. If you live in a terraced or semi-detached house this work will probably require a Party Wall agreement with your neighbours. This refers to walls, ceilings or floors which are shared with other properties. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has explanatory information for householders which is available free of charge (see contacts).

The good news is that planning permission is not always necessary, but as with any extension work, you should contact your local planning office and ask if the work can be done within what is known as, permitted development. If the house hasn’t been extended since 1948 this is likely to be the case, but you must find out in advance. Even if your house has not been extended since 1948, you may be next door to a listed building. In some areas this means you will need permission for any changes which affect the appearance of neighbouring listed properties. If planning permission is required and you don’t apply, the authorities can make you remove the extension and return the building to its original state.

All loft conversions must meet Building Regulations. Your architect and structural engineer should be up to date with these but it is best to submit full plans to your local authority building control department so they can advise on any changes needed before work begins. One of the key areas when adding another storey to a property are the fire precautions required. Upgrading the fire resistance of existing ceilings and doors is usually necessary. Recent changes to Building Regulations require high levels of insulation, which will keep your extension warm in winter and prevent overheating in summer.

What on earth do you want?
A loft conversion is a major job and you will need to get architectural plans drawn up. Make sure you know what you want so that you can brief your architect. Are you considering more than one room? Do you want to include a bathroom and if so are you content with a shower or do you need enough space for a bath? What are the rooms to be used for? Have you thought about storage space?

At this stage it is also worth spending time thinking about lighting and other electrical requirements – if you are going to use the loft as a study you are likely to need more electrical sockets, for example.

Check out the builder
Make sure they are experienced in loft conversion work. Even if you have to compromise on the layout due to structural or cost considerations, many obstacles can be worked round if you really want a particular design. If you are using a building company specialising in this work they may supply drawings, but you may prefer to use an architect to prepare them and ask three builders to quote for the job against these plans. This will give you a better idea as to which company offers best value for money. But remember cost and value is not the same thing. Check out the builder, look at previous work and talk to past clients to find out if they were happy with the quality of their jobs and the way in which they were carried out.

Protect yourself
The cost of the job will vary depending on its complexity and where you live. A straightforward loft conversion for a three bedroom Victorian house in London will start from £30,000 whereas the same job in Lancashire would be around £20,000. If you are investing this much it makes sense to insure the work. MasterBond is an insurance-backed warranty that doesn’t cost the earth – just £150 per £10,000-worth of work - but does provide the extra reassurance you need if something should go wrong while work is in progress and for 10 years afterwards. North West FMB member, Loft Solutions, includes MasterBond cover in all their projects, as sales director, John Siddeley explains: “We are proud of our work and have lots of satisfied customers, but they are happy to pay a few hundred pounds more for peace of mind. And if they sell their house, the warranty is transferred to the new owner which is a very good selling point.”

Use the professionals
Finding a professional company to convert your loft needn’t be a problem. With some 13,000 vetted builders throughout the UK, the FMB’s website, www.findabuilder.co.uk is a good place to start, or get a recommendation from friends and relatives who have had a loft conversion. But be sure to ask any builder how they will access the loft for the early stages of the work. A good builder will erect scaffolding and bring in all structural materials through the roof. By the time they cut the stairwell out and install the staircase, the new room will be structurally complete and ready to be plastered. Some companies cut costs by taking everything through the house, but this can cause a lot of damage and aggravation.

Contacts:


Top tips for lofts

  • Do contact your local authority building control and your local planning department to get a full understanding of the rules and regulations
  • Do get in the professionals – you will need an architect and structural engineer, plumbing and heating advice and at least three quotes from reputable builders
  • Do consider a warranty, like the FMB’s MasterBond, to protect your investment
  • Do make sure your builder and designer explain any changes necessary to your existing house to upgrade its fire precautions
  • Do be flexible – you may need to compromise on the position of roof windows and dormers, for example.
  • Don’t ignore a party wall – you may need an agreement with your neighbours if you are affecting it in anyway
  • Don’t rush your decisions, plan carefully this is an important investment
  • Don’t expect this to be over within a week or two – however good your builder is - this is a major job and it will inevitably be disruptive for a while.
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