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Grow with the times

A good extension or conversion not only creates much needed space but, if well planned and executed, will add considerable value to your home. It is well worth doing a little research before rushing ahead. Take the time to draw up a list of your requirements in order to get a clearer idea of the type of space required.

Look through magazines and brochures to see what solutions are available and, if possible, check out similar properties to see how they have tackled the problem.

If your garden is a reasonable size you may be happy to sacrifice a proportion of it in order to build an extension or conservatory. Alternatively, in a terraced house you could consider utilising dead space down the side of your home, or in a semi or detached property you might want to use a little of an extensive driveway. If exterior space is limited, you may prefer to convert an empty loft, utilise a vacant garage or even develop that damp basement. You will also need to address practical issues such as heating and lighting requirements, the positioning of windows and doors and access points to the new rooms.

With so much to think about, this is a job that’s best left to the professionals. A qualified builder with experience will be able to draw up any plans for you, or you could opt to employ a specialist company, qualified surveyor or architect. Whatever your choice, make sure you provide them with a detailed brief to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Planning permission
Whether you need planning permission will be dependent on the type of work you are undertaking. As a general guide, you will not require planning permission if your plans do not increase the size of the original building by more than 15%. This is known as permitted development. However, all local councils and planning departments have varying criteria, and listed buildings, homes in conservation areas and new development may well be exempt.

You will also find that planning permission may still be required if you intend to drastically alter the appearance of your house or if you plan to work on or near a boundary or party wall. Even if you think you do not require planning permission, it is always advisable to contact your local authority beforehand otherwise you could find yourself financing the removal of illegal works. If you do not require planning permission then a Certificate of Lawful Development will be issued, which states that your plans have been legally approved.

If your proposed expansion does require planning permission then you will need to submit detailed plans to the council and complete a number of forms. A non-refundable deposit is payable on application and your plans are then put on the Planning Register and your neighbours informed in writing. The council must rule on an application within eight weeks and if you are turned down, you have the right to appeal or modify your plans. Should your plans be refused then you can submit new ones, free of charge, at any time within the next 12 months. The planning department will also recommend ways in which the original plans can be modified in order to pass.

Building regulations
Regardless of whether you require planning permission, any work will have to pass strict building regulations. The building inspector should be informed of your plans prior to the work, ideally at the same time as any plans are submitted. You will be issued with a number of cards that need to be filled in and sent to the inspector at various stages of your build, to ensure that he visits the site. Alternatively, you can ring a telephone number provided and he will usually visit within 24 hours. Once on site, he will inform you as to whether the work meets the required standard. It is then up to you to ensure that any problems areas are put right.

The areas of inspection will be dependent on the project, but may include footings, damp course, structural supports, drainage, insulation, windows, fire regulations and ventilation. In addition, you must show that any electrical installations have been carried out by a registered electrician and that you have been issued with the appropriate certificates. On a successful final visit you will be issued a completion certificate.

How best to invest

If it has a proper staircase, good head height and storage, then a loft conversion can reap rewards when you come to sell.
Utilising the space for additional bedrooms can take you into the next price bracket.

Although it will clearly create more space, how much value an extension will add depends on the use of space and
how well it has been integrated with the original house. When
it comes to selling, a well-designed, single-storey extension can double your initial outlay.

It may be the most costly but because in many cases it gains the most space, it can often be the biggest profit earner when it comes to selling.

A well-designed conservatory may add value to your property but probably not as much as you think. It will, however, create that ‘wow’ factor when selling. For top rewards ensure it can be used all year round by extending heating, lighting and drainage systems.

Garage conversion:
This may help you gain additional space but if you have no other parking facilities, converting a garage can, in some cases, leave you out of pocket.

Through room Knocking down walls may provide extra space but decreasing room numbers can devalue a property. Take advantage
of the trend for open plan living and stick to kitchen/diners and through living areas; or join a separate toilet and bathroom.
Avoid losing bedrooms.

Your building checklist

Check with your local planning office as to whether you require planning permission. Contact your local authority and establish what building regulations apply to your project. Consider employing an architect or surveyor on complex projects. Always consult a good structural engineer. Inform your neighbours of your proposed plans well in advance. Obtain any party wall agreements before work begins. Use an established firm, specialist company, or reputable builder. Before hiring any contractor get at least three written quotes. Always ask for quotes. Unlike an estimate, this is for a fixed amount and once it has been accepted it is a legally binding contract. Make sure your finances are in place before you start the work. Build in a contingency budget of around 5% to 10% for unexpected costs. Agree a schedule of works and payments. Establish exactly what you are getting for your money. This will alert you to any hidden extra costs, such as skip hire. Do not start work until your contractor has confirmed the job in writing and provided a written quote. Do not pay a deposit and always pay in instalments. Never hand over money until you are happy with the work. Taking out a Minor Works insurance will cost around ’10 and cover you for any work up to the value of ’25,000. Ensure that your contractor supplies full guarantees for all works. Before paying the final instalment make a thorough inspection of the finished works and withhold payment if you are not satisfied. Always ensure you obtain the appropriate planning, building and electrical certificates or you may have problems selling your home.

5 tips for finding a good builder

Try and get a personal recommendation. Consult at least three builders and ask for written quotes. Never rush your decision and remember, cheapest is not always the best. Look for tradesmen that have membership of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and ask to see references from similar jobs to yours. Avoid builders who will not provide references or ask for cash payments.
A good builder will take the time to go through the details with you, and provide written quotes and guarantees for the work carried out.

Going up in the world – Loft Conversions

Converting a loft into an extra room is often the simplest solution when it comes to gaining valuable living space

Getting planning permission
As a general rule you will not need planning permission for a basic loft conversion as it usually falls within permitted development. However, this is not the case if you are fitting a dormer or you live in a conservation area or in a listed building. Whatever your circumstances you should always check with your local planning office before starting work.

When it comes to building regulations there are strict rules governing all works. You must ensure that any roof extension does not add more than 40 cubic metres to the volume of a terraced house or 50 cubic metres to any other house. You will also have to pass strict criteria regarding fireproofing and ventilation, and ensure that there is at least 2.3m from the top of the ceiling joists (the floor) to the apex under the ridge of the roof. Electrical installations, windows and roof insulation must also meet stringent government guidelines. Finally, you will have to obtain a party wall agreement from any neighbours.

The costs and work involved
A loft conversion can be fairly straightforward if you simply wish to add a few Velux windows, or it can involve building an impressive, yet complicated dormer. You will find that houses built prior to the 1960s have a much higher roof pitch than newer buildings and are ideal for all types of conversion. In new houses you will often need a dormer in order to gain enough head height.

The average loft conversion costs around ’16,000 to ’20,000 and takes around six to 12 weeks. It is only when you get into the realms of dormer windows that structural costs start to escalate as this requires the removal of structural timbers, which if not done correctly can result in a weakened and dangerous roof structure. In all loft rooms, you will need to re-inforce existing ceiling joists so that the floor is able to support the new load. It is therefore vital to budget for a structural engineer who can advise on the structure of your conversion.

Although a basic conversion is not a particularly complicated job, it can be very messy, so be prepared for some disruption on the floors below. However, once the floor has been removed in preparation for the staircase, most work is confined to the loft space itself.

Design considerations
When designing your loft conversion you will need to consider external as well as internal appearances. If you are working within permitted development then you cannot change the appearance of your home, so will be restricted to Velux windows. Any dormer will usually have to be sited at the back of the house and requires careful planning to ensure that it blends with your existing home.

When it comes to interiors, loft conversions make ideal offices or bedrooms but if you are adding to the number of bedrooms in your home, consider installing an en suite, as this will be expected by any future buyers. As well as the design of your loft space, consider the floor area below, as incorporating a permanent staircase is an obvious must. Find out if your existing landing offers the solution or whether you will need to borrow additional space from another room. One space-saving idea is to install a spiral staircase, but remember that you will not be able to carry larger items up into the room.

Going Underground – Basement Conversions

Forget climbing the property ladder ‘ turning your basement into usable space can increase your living area by up to 50%

Money matters
A basement conversion is by no means cheap, with costs ranging from ’20,000 to ’100,000, but as a way of gaining additional space it can prove cost effective in the long run. This is not the time to opt for a cheap fix, as you are dealing with an area that provides structural support to your entire house. You must therefore budget for the use of a large, reputable firm, a good structural engineer, architect and experienced damp specialist.

Rules and regulations
Check with your local planning office whether your proposed works require planning permission. Unless there are no external alternations and excavation works required you will probably require planning permission. In all cases you must adhere to building regulations governing window sizes, electrical installation, fireproofing, drainage, insulation and ventilation.

In addition, if any of your basement walls are connected to another house in any way then you will have to obtain a party wall agreement from all neighbours. Formal permission from your neighbours must be put in writing two months prior to the building work. Each neighbour has the right to hire a surveyor for which you must bear the costs, and should a neighbour fail to respond to a request for permission then it is possible for you to appoint a surveyor on their behalf.

What it involves
As your basement holds the entire weight of your house and is constructed from supporting walls, you will need to ensure your home remains correctly supported. A 2.5m headroom is also required, so you may also have to dig down in order to gain height. This can disturb the foundations, making underpinning necessary (around ’1200 per metre). The main problem with any basement is damp, as walls are often holding back tons of earth. The solution is to line or tank the walls to ensure that the room is damp proof (around ’40 per metre). Finally, it is also worth remembering that basements tend to be much colder than the rest of your home so make sure you incorporate an adequate heating system.

Lightening effects
One of the main issues that you will face is how to get light into your conversion. You may be lucky enough to have windows or a light well in place or can utilise an old coal shute or ventilation grid by replacing it with a window or glass bricks. If this is not the case you should consider applying for permission to have a light well installed. This involves excavating a column of earth beyond the exterior wall in order to fit a window. Alternatively, you could extend the basement underneath the garden area and build a terrace above complete with roof lights or inexpensive sun pipes. In the basement itself, consider opening up an enclosed stairwell with open treads and use reflective metals or glass to help reflect much needed light from above.

bring on the experts

A structural engineer will advise you on foundations and moving, removing or altering walls.
An architect will get the most out of the available space and create designs and plans that meet your needs. Contact The Royal Institute of British Architects. A damp specialist is required for any basement conversion since they are prone to damp and in many cases will require waterproofing (tanking). A builder must have extensive experience in this type of work, so check out large, reputable and specialist firms that can provide you with written guarantees. Get written quotes and ask for references and examples of their work, before making a decision.

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