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Loft Living

As more and more people choose to expand their current home rather than go to the expense of moving, they are turning their dusty loft into a source of untapped living space.

With house prices at a premium, and the cost of selling and moving home running into thousands of pounds, it can often make financial sense to stay where you are, and utilise lost living space by converting that spider-infested attic into a bright airy room.

The key to any successful conversion is to ensure that it looks as if it has always been a part of your home. The transition between the original house and your new loft should be as seamless as possible, so whilst still in the planning and budgeting stages do remember to allow for those all important details such as matching staircases, handrails and floor finishes.

© Redcover/Brian Harrison

LET’S TALK MONEY

The average conversion costs around £16,000 to £20,000 and on a basic conversion the work, although messy, is relatively straightforward. It is only when you get into the realms of dormer windows that the structural costs can start to escalate.

A structural engineer is vital on both loft and basement conversions.

He will be able to advise you on moving, removing or altering basement walls, and on all matters concerning foundations. Whilst in the loft he can suggest ways of reinforcing the structure of your roof.

An architect will be able to get the most out of the available space and create designs and plans that meet even the most demanding needs. To find a good architect in your area contact The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and ask to see a portfolio of work.

A builder should have extensive experience of the type of work you are undertaking, so look to large, reputable and specialist firms that can provide you with written guarantees. Never be tempted to go for the cheapest option and make sure you get written quotes and are shown examples of their work before making any decision. Look for tradesmen that have membership of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and ask for references from similar jobs to yours.

A loft conversion can be fairly straightforward if you just wish to add a few top-hinged 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 new builds and are, therefore, ideal for all types of conversion. However in new houses you often need a dormer in order to gain enough head height. Once converted, your loft makes an ideal office or bedroom. If you are thinking of adding to the number of bedrooms in your home, do consider an en suite as this will be expected by any future buyers.

What is Involved?

© Redcover/Nick Carter

Although your basic conversion is a particularly complicated job, it is very messy, so do be prepared for some disruption on the floors below.

A dormer, on the other hand, can prove a different matter altogether, as it requires the removal of structural timbers which if not done correctly can result in a weakened and dangerous roof structure.

Your dormer will also require careful planning in order to ensure that it blends well with the exterior of your existing home.

In all loft rooms, you will need to reinforce the existing ceiling joists so that the loft floor is able to support the new load to which it will be subjected. You should also consider the floor area below, as incorporating a staircase is an obvious must.

Check 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. They will need to be built in situ.

As a general rule you will not need to obtain planning permission for a loft conversion unless you are thinking of fitting a dormer window or live in a conservation area. However you should always check with your local planning office before starting work.

When it comes to Building Regulations 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.

Roof insulation must also meet stringent government guidelines and this involves lagging the actual underside of the roof, whilst still leaving a ventilation area between the actual insulation and waterproof layer beneath the roof tiles.

Finally, as with basement and cellar conversions, you will have to obtain a party wall agreement from all affected neighbours.

TOP TIPS

CONVERSION CHECKLIST Inform your neighbours of your plans well in advance. Check with your local planning office whether you require planning permission. Always consult a good structural engineer. Employ an architect who is familiar with such projects. Obtain party wall agreements well before work begins. Use an established or specialist company to carry out the work. Before work starts, make sure you have the job confirmed in writing, along with written quotes. Agree a schedule of works and payments. Ensure your contractor supplies full guarantees for all works.

Storage

For many, storage can be problematic in a room that is full of shallow angles and sloping walls. However, with a little thought and planning there is a lot of potential space available to the would-be hoarder. Many people block up the shallower area under the eaves but open up this area and you can use custom-built storage to make the most of the space. Oversized tapered drawers are ideal and can be fitted with castors for ease of use. If wardrobe space is required, made-to-measure units will not only make the most of a pitched wall but can be tailored to suit your individual requirements.

Finally, take a tip from the latest compact living spaces, where if the only usable wall space is taken up by a bed, a shorter false wall is placed in front, parallel to the first. The bed is then sited on the new wall whilst wardrobe and storage space can be fitted behind.

Five Design Ideas

Keep colours light and airy and, where possible, install at least two windows. Avoid busy patterns and lots of different colours as they can simply overpower a smaller attic room. Painting walls and ceilings in the same colour will detract from awkward or low areas, as your eye will travel uninterrupted around the room. Lighting can be difficult under sloping eaves, so consider a simple line of recessed spots that will not impede headroom and provide good overall lighting. Opt for simple window treatments such as plain blinds or shutters.

Contacts book

Royal Institute of British
Architects 020 7307 3700,
www.architecture.com
Federation of Master Builders 020 7242 7583, www.fmb.org.uk
Institute of Structural Engineers 020 7235 4535, www.istructe.org.uk
www.planning-applications.co.uk for advice on planning permission

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