Loft conversions are the easiest way to increase your home's existing livable space and it's market value. It is also a less stressful process and more cost-effective when compared to a kitchen or basement extension. So why not take the opportunity to covert that extra space into functional rooms, an additional bathroom or your own personal yoga studio that you always dreamt about?
The reason we particularly like loft conversions is they don't require too many structural changes, and usually has the added benefit of taking less time. A typical loft conversion will take anywhere between 2-4 months, depending on the complexity of the design and any additional work that might be required. Costs are also generally lower and can vary between £25,000 to £60,000+, depending on how you wish to plan the space, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you can add, or if any structural changes need to be carried out to the existing roof or walls.
Once you have developed your budget we advise our clients to build in at least an additional 10% for unexpected costs, this can cover replacing your old plumbing system if need be, an air-conditioning system (as lofts do tend to retain heat in summer), or a new boiler, as the old one might not be able to cope with the new demands. Below, we have set out some tips when thinking about developing your loft space.
1. Head Height
When planning your loft you should always consider ceiling height first, and keep in mind the need to have usable space, as local building regulations may mean you will have an angled roof taking up much of the space. The loft height should measure at least 2.2m from the floor to the roof at the tallest part. Pre-war buildings with steeply pitched roofs are often the easiest to convert, but there will always be structural considerations.
It’s very important to understand in the beginning how much standing space you will have, as this not always is covered on plans and can cause a disappointment once the walls are up. Plans do not project angled ceilings which might restrict the movement and position of the furniture, therefore it is very important do not overestimate space when looking at plans.
We always create a 3D model of the loft space for our clients, and would highly recommend you ask for this as well. This allows you to accurately visualise the space and make the right decisions. Once this exercise is done you should be able to plan the key elements of the staircase, bathrooms and each bedroom.
2. We Love Eaves!
Loft conversions are very practical as they create eaves which are a fantastic opportunity to maximise your storage. They can not only store your new water tank or megaflow system, but also you can also convert into great storage spaces. Example of this are pull out shelves, a bank of drawers, headboards with beds side tables build into the wall, or if the height is right, a wardrobe with hanging rails.
Even simple shelves under the slope of the roof will help you to organise your books or boxes of kids toys.
We measure the eaves precisely so we can come up with the best bespoke solution for our clients, so we would recommend you to speak to a professional carpenter or bespoke furniture company to get an understanding of what can be achieved with the space available.
3. Where to Locate the Bathroom?
We always try to plan bathrooms under sloped ceilings as they require less headroom and leave the full height space for larger rooms such as bedrooms. We also look for space with the windows for additional light and ventilation. To plan your bathroom well, you should install the shower in the tallest part of the room, where you can fit comfortably the shower head. We suggest going for a wet room with walk-in shower with a partly installed glass screen rather than a full enclosure. This will make even the smallest bathroom appear quite airy and spacious.
You might not be able to stand below the slope, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the space for storage. Wall hung vanity units are great for loft bathrooms, they not only look smaller, allowing you to easily clean floors under them, but they can also be extended, reaching less accessible spaces under lower parts of the ceiling and this way maximising storage in your bathroom. Mirror and mirror cabinets can be also extended in an angular shape and this will helps to reflect limited natural light and make the bathroom appear larger.
We advise you to go for a simple design with the toilet if space is limited, therefore look for a compact version. A good position for loo can be below the skylight to make the most of the lowest part of the usable space, just make sure before, that you have enough room to stand in front of it and ask your builder about the position of plumbing and waste as sometimes they need to be re-routed or extended which can add cost to your budget. We advise you to choose a wall hung version for the toilet, with the cistern hidden behind a false wall.
Where space is limited and new stud walls are planned to be built, we would also recommend pocket doors for your new bathroom. They can slide into the wall allowing more space in the bathroom or bedroom again maximising your useable space.
4. Preparation - Legal Regulation and Safety
Most loft conversions that are not rising existing roof height as well as changing the front of the house significantly, they can be built under the permitted development. However, they can not extend 50 cubic metres of space that is planned to be added to a detached or semi-detached house and 40 cubic meters for terraced houses. These figures must take into account any previous loft additions.
If your home is listed or in a conservation area, there are additional rules and guidelines you need to consider, for example, you will need listed building consent or planning permission for dormer windows or any extension. The planning process can add more time to your building schedule as well as extra costs due to the planning application fees. If you are planning to make changes to the roof structure or your loft size exceeds cubic meter limits or you're planning to add a balcony or terrace, you will have to apply for planning permission.
It usually takes up to 8 weeks to receive the decision and you will need architectural drawings of your loft to be submitted to the council. You might also need to appoint a structural engineer, who will determine the strength and durability of the structure and provide specifications and calculations for the loft design, as well as suggesting the required building materials.
Whatever your situation, you will still need Building Regulations approval and possibly a Party Wall Agreement with your neighbours. If you are a leaseholder you should also check that you actually own the loft space. In addition, you will also require permission from the freeholder or the landlord, or in some cases the management company. If you do not own the loft, which is surprisingly common in England, you will need to purchase it first and this will add time and cost to your budget.
5. Appointing an Architect, Interior Designer and Builder
You will need all of them in order to make your project happen. They will prepare the necessary plans, elevation and design proposal to obtain the necessary approval and help to manage your project during the entire process. You can either hire a builder with previous experience in building lofts or a specialist loft conversion company, these usually have all the essential specialists under one roof, that will translate your design into reality.
We advise contacting at least 3 companies or builders to obtain quotes based on accurate measurements. This will allow you to compare the costs and what they are offering to make the right choice.
Safety in your new loft is very important, therefore we advise:
1) Install smoke alarms in your new loft. Each smoke alarm should have backup batteries, at the very least you will need to fit a smoke detector in hallways.
2) Your new doors around the staircase should be able to provide a minimum of 30min fire resistance. Glass doors should have fire rated glass only. The staircase leading to your loft should be as wide as the steps on the lower flights. Stairs that are less than 1m wide should have a handrail on one side if the staircase is wider than this there should be one on either side. If planning a bespoke staircase, you should get approval on the design by the building controller to ensure that it will comply with building regulations and its should be fitted only once approved.
3) Consider additional insurance during the building process. Some insurance companies offer packages covering existing elements of the property as well as renovation works during the building process. if any damages happen during the work such as part collapse, the renovation insurance will cover it. Don’t forget that renovation insurance needs to be in place from the moment you plan to start works on the property and should continue to the point the project is completed.
4) Before you sign the contract, speak to your builder or the loft company you are thinking to hire about how they will protect your home from the risk of water damage, and how they plan to minimise dust and disruption to your neighbours and street traffic.
6. Maximising Possibilities
Depending on the current state of your home and your available budget, a loft conversion can be a good opportunity for additional improvements. While planning your new space you might also consider replacing the roof or changing the structure of it by raising up the ceiling hight, as well as adding new windows, dormers, skylights or even a balcony.
Choosing the right windows is very important, and ideally, if you speak to the architect initially about your plans as some of the structural changes, especially to the front view of the house will require the approval of the council, therefore you should consider the additional cost of planning permission and architects fees. From all windows options, we prefer dormer windows and skylights. They both significantly increase the amount of natural light flowing into your new rooms.
Skylights are very easy to install and require less maintenance, just keep in mind the need for electric blinds if you installing skylights into the ceiling as they will be likely to be less accessible. Skylights are also a great option above the staircase or landing as these areas are often lacking in natural light.
Dormer windows are great for that little bit of extra space and additional headroom, however, they usually change the visual structure of the roof and therefore planning permission will be required.
7. How Many Windows?
The number will depend on your lifestyle, however, we advise to have at least one window per bedroom and bathroom if possible. In some cases, a Juliet balcony with floor to ceiling windows are allowed and this is a great opportunity to improve the appearance of your home.
While you’re in the process of building your loft, we advise looking for other areas in your home that can be improved during ongoing works. Perhaps the family bathrooms need re-vamp or time to change your boiler? Maybe your home needs a new coat of external paint or main door entry needs refreshment? This can be easily done when scaffolding is still up and you’re able to negotiate better rates by giving more work to your builder. Just make sure you plan it all before the works start as your builder might have another project schedule after yours.
if you need a help to plan your loft please contact us: email@example.com