Loft Conversion: add essential living space
(and significant value to your property)
There are many ways in which converting your loft space can be of benefit, not least because it will almost certainly add value beyond the cost of the work involved. According to a survey carried out in November 2018 by Nationwide Building Society, a loft conversion incorporating a double bedroom and bathroom can add around 20% to the value of a three-bedroom, one-bathroom property.
But remember that if it is your home that you are considering extending then the first priority should be how it benefits you in the here and now, rather than the next purchaser at some point in the future.
Well-designed, well imagined, extra spaces can provide practical benefits for a growing family. An additional bedroom, bathroom, study or home working area (or a combination of those) can add greatly to quality of life.
But before you embark on any conversion, you would be well advised to get some professional advice as to the options available so that you can maximise the benefits of the project and ensure that it fulfils your ambition… and comes in on budget.
The structure and the configuration of the room, the position of any windows, and the potential energy efficiency of your loft space all require attention to detail.
Types of loft conversion
ROOFLIGHT CONVERSIONS are the simplest, and cheapest, option where an existing loft space allows for the installation of roof windows, skylights and roof lights.
DORMER CONVERSIONS are the most popular and easiest way to provide increased roof space with full headroom. The roof structure is altered to add a flat-roofed ‘box’ window area.
HIP-TO-GABLE CONVERSIONS are usually situated on the side of end-of-terrace or semi-detached properties. Sloping side roofs (or hips) are removed so that the end wall can be built up straight into a new vertical gable.
GABLE-TO-GABLE CONVERSIONS require a ‘box’ extension that spans the space between each end of the roof. In some instances the height of the gable end walls need to be increased to accommodate the extension.
MANSARD CONVERSIONS require the replacement of one of both roof slopes and steep sloping walls are added with a flat roof over the top.
MODULAR CONVERSIONS are manufactured off site and delivered and installed as a complete unit. This is often the when the existing loft space is not suitable for conversion. It does require the existing roof to be removed and replaced once the modular unit has been installed.
Is your loft space large enough for conversion?
Roof spaces suitable for conversion generally require a minimum head height of 2.3m, but the pitch of the roof, chimney breasts and water tanks etc can have a bearing on the extent of the potential extension.
However, if the head height your loft space is less than 2.3m, there are other options available. It is possible to raise all or part of the roof level, although this will, of course, require planning permission and add to the cost of the work. It is also, in some cases, possible to lower the ceiling of the rooms below but, again, this will add to the cost.
Remember that if you are planning an en suite bathroom, in particular a shower unit, it would not be possible to compromise on the required ceiling height of the space. And even the position of pieces of furniture should be taken into account. You don’t want to find yourself jumping out of bed and banging your head on the ceiling!
Finding a well recommended designer or architect, and potentially a structural engineer, is every bit as important as engaging a competent building contractor. Working with a specialist designer, you can ultimately create the ideal solution for your needs and maximise the space available. You will then be able to offer the plans to a number of builders on a competitive tender basis.
Alternatively, you could hand the project over to a design-and-build contractor, who may well have design and engineering staff in-house. A fully inclusive option offering an all-inclusive price could be a way of saving money.
Window options: Maximising daylight
The size and position of windows in any loft space is an important consideration in the design. If you hope to maximise natural light your glazing should take upwards of 20 per cent of the roof area.
Not withstanding planning consent issues such as whether or not your new window installations will overlook neighbouring properties, the shape of the roof can determine the position of the glazing. If the space does not allow for windows to be evenly situated along its span, a narrower, deeper room might require one large fitting.
The range of roof windows now available offers a very much wider variety of options. For example top-hung windows, assuming they are in arm’s reach, can offer an unspoiled view and greater headroom.
Centre-pivot windows, which are operated by rods or remote control, are the best option if the window is not so easy reach.
The most popular type of loft conversion is a flat roof dormer. This generally requires less dramatic changes, as it involves a structural extension which projects vertically from the slope of the existing roof, creating a box shape. And this allows for the installation of conventional windows.
Floor-to-ceiling glazed panels or French doors overlooking a balcony, can be a very attractive and practical solution to the requirements for natural light, and (of course, depending on the surrounding area!) offers the advantage of providing great views.
Standard and black-out blinds for roof windows can also be remotely operated. These can be designed to fit the exact shape and size of the window spaces.
From playroom to guest room to home office
In most cases, loft conversions provide the property owner with extra living space, particularly additional bedroom(s) to accommodate an ever expanding family. Quite often it also offers enough scope to provide space for an en-suite bathroom. But the options are endless. Guest room. Space for the nanny or lodger. A playroom for the kids or somewhere for the grown ups to indulge… for the sauna, the home cinema, the snooker table or the train set!
But with ‘mobile working’ now much more common for off-site staff, a home office can provide a number of benefits in order to maximise productivity and cut down on travel time and expense. In such cases, referring back to the text above about window spaces, make sure that there is plenty of natural light.
Don’t forget storage space
We all have a tendency to clutter our attic spaces with boxes of memorabilia and things we think “might come in useful” which, in most cases, rarely ever do. However, it is worth making an allowance for storage spaces as to lose it all together can just mean that your clutter will find it’s way into other living spaces.
The indulgence of having a designated dressing room may be beyond your aspirations but the odd shapes that loft rooms can sometimes conjure up, perhaps where the pitch of the roof limits headroom, can be very useful for built-in wardrobes, clothes racks, shelving and drawers for clothes, bedding and towels etc can prove to be invaluable.
The type and location of the stairs you choose to access the new loft space is a key consideration and there are options aplenty. Ideally the stairs to the loft should replicate the style and quality of the stairs from your ground floor to the first floor. Matching bannisters, handrails and paint or wood varnish finishes, carpeting, skirtings, wall coverings etc can turn what could look like a disjointed afterthought into a natural addition that looks as if it had always been in place.
When it isn’t possible to find the space to install a staircase that mirrors the main flight, you might consider a spiral or helical staircase. Spiral stairs form a complete circle within the diameter of the staircase and require a fixed central column. Curved or helical staircases form a graceful flowing arc which feature two rolled stringers with treads attached between them.
In very restricted spaces one possibility is the ‘alternate step stair’ which requires you to walk on alternate feet for each step. Not the best option if you are less than nimble footed, but a great space-saving solution which could be the difference between extending upwards and giving up on the idea.
In order to maximise the space you have available, the positions of the doors at the top of the staircase (and at the foot if required) can make all the difference when planning the available space.
Planning Permission or Building Regulations? Or both?
Most loft conversions are classed as permitted development, which means planning permission is generally not required. However, it is regarded as a material ‘Change of Use’ which means it must comply with local authority Building Regulations.
‘Building Regs’ cover issues relating to safety, such as minimum headroom (particularly above the staircase), the strength of the floor, electrics compliant with NIC relations, plumbing, gas supply, glazing, thermal efficiency and insulation, fire escapes etc. Preparation for compliance with Building Regulations is usually part of the brief for the designer or architect.
A loft conversion is considered to be permitted development, not requiring an application for planning permission, subject to the following limits and conditions:
- A volume allowance of 40 cubic metres additional roof space for terraced houses*
- A volume allowance of 50 cubic metres additional roof space for detached and semi-detached houses*
- No extension beyond the plane of the existing roof slope of the principal elevation that fronts the highway
- No extension to be higher than the highest part of the roof
- Materials to be similar in appearance to the existing house
- No verandas, balconies or raised platforms
- Side-facing windows to be obscure-glazed; any opening to be 1.7m above the floor
- Roof extensions not to be permitted development in designated areas**
- Roof extensions, apart from hip to gable ones, to be set back, as far as practicable, at least 20cm from the original eaves
- The roof enlargement cannot overhang the outer face of the wall of the original house.
*Bear in mind that any previous roof space additions must be included within the volume allowances listed above. Although you may not have created additional space a previous owner may have done so.
**Designated areas include national parks and the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites.
Take the opportunity to improve your home’s efficiency
The installation of insulation in your loft space, or the improvement of existing insulation, is one of the requirements to comply with Building Regulations. Building Control inspectors, who may be from your local authority, will determine which of two types of insulation your property requires.
10cm of insulation is required in total, 7cm of which is foam used to fill the space between the rafters. The other 3cm is slab insulation which is attached to the inside of the rafters. To allow for adequate ventilation, a 5cm gap must be left between the roof felt and the insulation.
This requires 10cm of foam insulation to be fitted over the rafters before any capping, tile battens or tiles are added. This is a less common option, usually opted for when a dormer is installed and the roof covering has been stripped. 10cm-thick slabs of foam insulation are used to insulate dormer walls, and 10cm-thick quilts of insulation are required between plasterboard attached to either side of internal partition walls. A 10cm-thick insulation is also required between the floor joists.
How will your extension look to the neighbours?
It is also worth bearing in mind that your loft conversion should be seen to blend in with the existing style and era of your property otherwise, as no doubt many we have all witnessed, it may look like an eye-sore.
Whether you prefer for your extension to match in with existing brickwork (many builders’ merchants will have brick libraries and can supply reconstituted bricks and tiles), or opt for a more contemporary render or cladding, it is worth having a serious discussion with your designer or architect to ensure that the finished effect is appealing.
You may well be on the inside looking out, but the aesthetics can also have a bearing on re-sale value.
In any case, period properties may be in a conservation area which will require such specifics as brickwork blending in not just with your property but with the rest of the neighbourhood, and that windows sit flush with the roof.