Loft conversions: top five essential considerations

publication date: Mar 1, 2017
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author/source: Guest article - Coreco

Guest article by Andrew Montlake, director of award-winning mortgage brokerage Coreco www.corecogroup.co.uk

The conversion of an attic from a dusty space for storing 20-year-old knick-knacks into a bedroom or other liveable space is one of the most popular methods of increasing space and adding value to a property. It’s estimated a loft conversion can add 10% to the value of your property, so financially speaking it’s a great investment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ideal for everyone. There are several factors to consider before going forward with a loft conversion, and we’re here to offer our top five.

If you're converting your loft as part of a buy-to-let project read our financing a BTL checklist.

1. Understand the space
One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is if you can actually fit in the loft once it is converted. Talk to your designer and ask them to give you a clear idea of what to expect. Designs on paper usually struggle to portray how the space will actually feel. This is particularly important for head height, as a bedroom that you can’t stand up in isn’t especially appealing. You’ll need to make sure there’s at least 2.5m of vertical space before the conversion to allow for comfortable headroom. You also need to consider floor space because some of it will be taken up with the stairs leading up to the bedroom. These stairs, incidentally, will themselves require some forethought because they have to rise from an existing staircase or hallway, not another bedroom (that would defeat the point of a new bedroom a bit).

Understanding space in the attic isn’t just about what will be there, but also about what’s in there now. If there is any plumbing or a water tank it’ll need to be moved and accommodated elsewhere.

2. Approval
You’re going to need approval for any conversions in your loft under Building Regulations. This is separate from getting planning permission, which itself is not normally required unless you are extending the roof space, but you should check with your local planning department to be sure. It will be in your best interest to have a full plan approved with Building Regulations before approaching a builder because there will be reduced risk in the work and will allow the builder to give a fixed quote, rather than an estimate. There is also the Party Wall Act 1996 that requires you to notify your neighbour of the construction if you live in a terraced or semi-detached property.

Need to serve a party wall notice? Read our how to serve a party wall notice checklist.

In addition, you’ll need to deal with your Building Control officer, who will be inspecting the work at various stages and will issue a certificate upon final inspection. They will also need to inspect the foundations and any load-bearing beams that will be required to carry more weight before you start any work. If it turns out your house needs underpinning to support the added weight, it could have a drastic impact on the expense of the conversion.

Ready to hire a builder? Here's how to choose a builder.

3. The roof
One of the more obvious differences of renovating a loft rather than any other room is that the ceiling also happens to be the roof. One of the first things to consider before starting work on your loft is the pitch of the roof. It’s recommended that your pitch is no less than 30°. Then you need to consider the internal support struts supporting the roof in the loft. These need to be replaced to make space for the new room and replaced with new, less imposing struts. Speaking of support, the joists in the ceiling (for the room below) won’t be appropriate for the joists required for your new floor. Floor joists will need to be put in alongside the ceiling ones.

4. Lighting
Getting light into your loft is essential, of course; no one wants to wake up to a pitch dark bedroom every day. You’ll likely want to put in some windows, but which kind should you go for? A skylight has the advantage of fitting in between rafters in the roof. This means there won’t be too many structural alterations. However, you might prefer dormer windows which can offer increased headroom and usable space. These will need to be built into the roof and construction on the windows is more complicated than that of skylights. You’ll also need a way to stop the outside elements from getting into your loft while the construction is going on, since it may take some time to finish.

Dormer windows at the back of the property might not need planning permission since they could fall under ‘permitted development’, but anything at the front surely will.

5. Insulation
One of the important features many of us keep in the roof is the insulation, which saves money for your house by keeping the heat in. Naturally, the insulation in your new floor won’t do, so it’ll need to go into the roof. Insulation for a sloping roof can be done in two ways – from the exterior between the ceiling and the roof, or internally by adding another layer to the ceiling. The former would be ideal if you are re-roofing and need to take the tiles out anyway, but is more expensive. Insulating internally would be cheaper, but since you are effectively creating a ceiling twice as thick, it will have an effect on the headroom available in the room – something that it likely to be limited already. Insulation is certainly something to plan for during the conversion since retrofitting will take time and be significantly more expensive.

Those are our top considerations when planning on a loft conversion. If you can get through the construction unscathed, you could make a significant increase to the value of your property. Just be sure you’ve got somewhere to put all that storage you had up there, or your house will end up pretty cluttered!

If you're converting your loft as part of a buy-to-let project read our financing a BTL checklist.


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