Loft / Attic Conversions Advice - Things to Consider
The first thing to decide when considering a loft or attic conversion is what sort of loft conversion do you want? What will you use the extra space for? It could be simple storage, or a bathroom or shower cubicle. Alternatively you may want a studio for painting, photography etc., a dark room, an office, play room or extra bedroom(s) with or without en suite. There are many possibilities. You need to know what you will want to use the additional space for to come up with the right design.
A loft conversion which uses the space already available is called a roof light or Velux conversion. If the conversion includes a roof extension, that is a Dormer conversion. A Velux conversion probably won't need planning permission, but a Dormer will change the design of your house and will almost certainly require planning permission.
Is My Loft Suitable For Conversion?
You will need to know whether your loft or attic is suitable for conversion. You should consult an architect to establish this, but you can do some initial investigations yourself. Firstly, go into the loft and look for wet or dry rot. If there are any signs of either of these they will needto be treated first. You then need to check the overall size of your loft, and the space between the purlins (horizontal beam which supports the rafters) and other parts of the roof structure. If there is 3 metres between the main purlins on each side of the roof, the loft may be suitable for conversion. If there is less you may still be able to have a loft conversion but may only have enough space for stairs and a small room such as a bathroom or office.
If your house was built after 1964 you will need to look at the construction of the roof. If it has trussed rafters, a loft conversion may still be possible, but will be more complicated as the roof will have to be raised, or the timbers rearranged.
A trussed roof is made of factory assembled triangles as shown on the left. It has rafters attached to ceiling joists by galvanized steel tie plates, and with a higher number of struts.
The next thing to look for in your loft is bats. The usual evidence that there are bats living in your roof is the presence of their droppings. Bats and their roosts are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulation 1994. By law you must obtain advice from English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or Department of the Environment (Belfast) for advice on protecting the bats and their habitat before you start work. This applies not just to the bats themselves but to their habitat, so if there are no bats actually living in your roof at the present but there are signs it has been used previously you must still inform the authority for the area in which you live. Do not attempt to catch the bats yourself as some of them carry a rare form of bat rabies for which there is currently no cure.
Heating and ventilation
Good ventilation is essential in a loft or attic, as many people are aware that as the heat rises in the summer months it does get quite hot and stuffy in a loft. On the other hand most lofts are well insulated to keep the heat in during the winter months which means you will need some way of warming the room throughout that part of the year. In April 2006
new Building Regulations relating to Ventilation, Conservation of fuel and power, and Electrical Safety were introduced. The
U-values for new pitched roofs with insulation between rafters or at ceiling level are unaltered but all others are reduced.
Where more than 25% of the surface area of an element is being renovated, the whole of the element will need to be upgraded to achieve the desired U-values. Details of which can be found on the Leeds Council Website. More details about heating and insulation can be found on our Heating or Insulation pages.
There will be a need to think about the extra wiring necessary for lights and power sockets in this new room.
You will also need to consider what type of flooring is best for that new room.
Once you have checked out your loft, you need to consider where the new staircase will be located. Ensuring there is enough headroom is critical. You want to avoid the new stairs looking like an add on and the stairs should be in a similar position and of a similar design to the original. In some cases it is necessary to lose a room, or part of a room from the existing building to accommodate the staircase to the new storey.
New floor joists may be required on the existing 1st floor may need upgrading to ensure they have 30 minutes of fire resistance.
Some useful information can be found on our section on Loft stairs and Shaw Stairs Ltd.
Check whether there are any covenants imposed on your property, restricting the work you are able to do on your home. It is also wise to consult your neighbours and tell them your proposals. If your loft extension overshadows a neighbours window or gives a view into their garden which you did not have previously they may have cause to complain. They are likely to be concerned whether the work you are doing will affect them, just as you may be concerned if they did any work which might affect you. Disputes can often be avoided by discussing the issues at an early stage and putting everybody's mind at rest.
You are now ready to look for a suitable architect and builder and to draw up plans for your loft conversion to submit to your local authority. See our Planning page for more information. Please bear in mind that you can't just go ahead with the work, as you do need to check with the Building Regulations, and you may even need Planning Permission. If you're in any doubt, contact the Planning Department of your local Council about this. The Building Regulations are there to ensure that a reasonable level of health and safety is maintained.
Before work starts you should also inform your Mortgage Lender and Insurer that you are having a loft conversion done on the property
UK Building Regulations For Loft Conversions by Craig Ellyard
If you are planning a loft conversion then you need to know about the building regulations. Nothing to do with planning permission, the building regulations are the minimum allowed standards of construction and design. These standards must be adhered to when building a loft conversion and failure to meet them will result in your local building control office refusing permission for the work to be carried out. The building regulations apply to all building work but, for loft conversions, they fall into five main categories:
For anything other than light storage solutions you will need to install new ceiling joists and will more than likely have to double them up. That new room in the loft is going to have to carry some serious weight and the loft conversion building regulations insist that joists and load-bearing walls are strong enough to support that extra weight, this will almost certainly mean that new steel beams will be required to support those new joists.
It goes without saying that the loft conversion building regulations on this point are very strict and rightly so. Loft floors and walls must be able to resist fire for thirty minutes and glazed door panels must be made of fire-resisting glass. Escape from the loft in the event of fire must be addressed with each new room in the loft having an escape window that is at least 450mm x 450mm. Mains operated smoke alarms, linked to others in the property, must also be installed.
New loft conversions need rapid and background ventilation. Rapid ventilation simply means a window which is equivalent to 1/20th of the floor area. The new roof void needs to be ventilated to prevent condensation and you may also need to ventilate at the eaves level and ridge. There must also be a minimum air space of 50mm between the roof covering and the insulation though this may not be necessary in older houses with no roofing felt.
Ladder access is not acceptable for a loft conversion were the new room is an habitable one. Again the fire regulations apply and the staircase must be enclosed with fitted fire doors also necessary in most cases
The loft conversion building regulations insist that your loft, including new internal walls, must be fully insulated. Though they sound complicated any professional architect or builder will be able to guide you through the red-tape when you make your building regulations application.
If in any doubt contact the building control department of your local council.
Craig Ellyard is a staff writer for http://www.loft-conversion-uk.com and has written extensively on the rules and regulations surrounding loft conversions. The loft conversion UK website is an independent resource for anyone planning a loft conversion with information on DIY, design and building regulations.
Why not visit our resources page to find some details about some useful websites which might help you on your project. House Conversion Resources