Useful Articles

Considering a Loft Conversion


Hints, tips and advice when considering a loft conversion

 

This article was written and distributed by the Federation of Master Builders, the building industry's largest trade organisation, representing over 13,000 small and medium-sized companies throughout the UK. If you'd like to know more about the FMB, or would like to find a reputable builder, try the Find a Builder web site at: http://www.findabuilder.co.uk.
Considering a loft conversion?
With the cost of moving home running into tens of thousands of pounds, it's not surprising that many are opting to move up instead of moving on.

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, an extra floor for your home, but you could also get a handsome return on your investment when you sell, as a loft can add an extra 20% to the value of your home. The work takes about 12 weeks and the builders access the roof from the outside, which means there shouldn't be too much disruption until they break through to build the new stairs.

Is my home suitable for a loft conversion?

Most homes built after 1975 are suitable for a loft conversion. A simple way to check is to see whether you can stand upright in your loft 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.

Know what 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.

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 loft specialist Sashtec, 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."

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. Make sure they are experienced in loft conversion work.

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.

Ask three builders to quote for the job against your 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.

Always use a contract

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 around £35,000 whereas the same job in Lancashire would be around £20,000.
The majority of problems between customers and their builders occur when there is no written contract clearly outlining the full extent and cost of the work to be done. Log on to www.findabuilder.co.uk to download a free contract that can be used for any building project.

It's all in the planning

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.

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 that are shared with other properties. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has explanatory information for householders which is available free of charge (see contacts).

Check with your local council for current planning rules as some loft extensions can be carried out under Permitted Development Rights without the need for planning consent. These rights are typically defined within certain cubic capacity.

There are new proposals on the table with regard to planning permission. The Planning White Paper 2007 aims to define clear parameters as to what requires planning permission and what does not. The FMB is concerned that these new proposals will not reduce the number of planning applications, as suggested in the Planning White Paper, but actually increase them and is lobbying to change them. See www. fmb.org.uk for the latest on these plans.

The Government is proposing an 'impact test' for loft extensions which means that planning permission will not be required for a loft conversion provided the rear dormer window is more than 1 metre down from the ridge and 1 metre up from the eaves and no dormers are to be permitted on the side elevation. However the majority of housing stock does not have ridge heights sufficient to comply with these requirements and therefore planning applications would be required for over 95% of loft conversions. In addition nearly all semi-detached properties have staircases on their flank wall, which means the only way
to convert a loft in such properties is to provide a dormer on the side elevation. This can currently be constructed under permitted development rights but the new proposals would prevent this.

The same applies to single storey rear extensions, whereby the Planning White Paper proposes that these will not require planning permission if less than 3 metres in height. Once again this height restriction will mean that planning applications will be required for the majority of these types of development.

Protect yourself with a MasterBond warranty

People who would never dream of buying a new car without a warranty, or going on holiday without insurance, launch into costly home improvement projects without considering the consequence if things go wrong. While the vast majority of projects are trouble-free, the 10-year insurance-backed MasterBond warranty provides extra back up and the reassurance that your builder has been vetted.

  • The MasterBond warranty* costs just 1.5% of the contract price (plus Insurance Premium Tax) and protects the customer against faulty workmanship and materials for the first two years and against structural defects for a further eight years.
  • The policy provides cover if the building company goes out of business, is declared bankrupt, or if the principal dies.
  • It can be passed on to the new owners if you move house during the 10-year term.

Only FMB MasterBond builders can offer the MasterBond warranty. To do so, they must undergo additional professional and financial checks, and provide three years' business accounts. The FMB's 3,000 MasterBond builders were among the first to be recognised under the Government's TrustMark scheme.

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 such as an FMB member (www.findabuilder.co.uk)

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.


Contacts:
FMB - www.findabuilder.co.uk or call 08000 152522 for a free copy of The Essential Guide to Home Improvement or Sarah Beeny's Practical Tips for Building Success.
DCLG - www.communities.gov.uk 0870 1226236
Local Authority Building Control - www.labc-services.co.uk 020 7641 8737
Scottish Association of Chief Building Control Officers - www.sacbco.co.uk
Building Control Northern Ireland - www.buildingcontrol-ni.com.
RIBA - (Royal Institute of British Architects) - ww.riba.org 020 7580 5533
RIAS - (Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) www.rias.org.uk 0131 229 7545
RICS - (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) www.rics.org.uk 0870 333 1600 or www.rics-scotland.org.uk 0131 225 7078
Heating and boilers - Corgi (Council for Registered Gas Installers) www.trustcorgi.com 01256 372200
Roof windows - www.velux.co.uk 0870 166 7676
© 2003 Federation of Master Builders. You can find more useful articles like this at: http://www.buildingarticles.co.uk.



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