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Ask the experts: loft conversions...

Ask the experts: loft conversions...

As far as home improvements go, loft conversions are often considered by homeowners to be one of the biggest projects you can take on. This is perhaps due to just the sheer amount of space that can be gained by converting your loft. 

In practice, loft conversions are relatively fast and not as disruptive as the uninitiated seem to think. However, any home improvement can seem daunting without prior knowledge. So we put some of the biggest questions people have about this kind of home improvement to one of our resident experts, Mitchel Harris. Hereโ€™s what he had to sayโ€ฆ

Can any loft be converted? Is there anything that renders a loft unsuitable for conversion? 

No, not all lofts can be converted. Usually the main restriction on conversion is height. Anything less than 2.2m (in the tallest part) in the existing loft space will be a struggle. There is the option to raise the ridge line or lower the ceilings below if the space is too small, however, this can have significant impact on costs.

Also, a raised ridge/roof will be subject to planning permission. It is worth keeping in mind that a staircase will be needed to access the loft space. Where possible this is often sited over the existing staircase but it is common to lose some space to the existing first floor to facilitate the new access. 

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Do loft conversions need planning permission? 

Yes and no. This is dependant on the type and size of the conversion. Many lofts can be converted without planning permission under 'Permitted Development'. Any alterations beyond the existing front plane of the roof (not including standard skylights) will require planning permission.

It is advisable for a conversion that falls within permitted development to submit an application for a 'Certificate of Lawfulness'. This proves that the development was completed within the guidelines, should the house be sold at a later date or should the development come under question. Further guidance on permitted development for loft conversions can be found here.

What can you do with a loft conversion? Are there any room types that are not suitable to be placed into the attic? 

Almost any room can be installed in a loft space however this needs to be considered at the initial planning stages. Dependant on the room type, there may be planning implications or the structure may need to be designed with the intended use in mind. There may be implications on total loadings imposed on the floor structure and that will more than likely affect the services required. 

What do you think homeowners should first consider when they start thinking about carrying out a loft conversion? 

Firstly you should consider what it is you want to gain from the conversion. Is it worth the cost? Are you prepared to compromise an existing space to provide access? Would it benefit the house? If the additional space is to provide accommodation (i.e bedroom space) are the current bathroom/shower room facilities suitable to serve the additional space? Will the current living space be proportionate to the additional space created? 

Are there any features youโ€™d consider a โ€˜must-haveโ€™ or strongly advise homeowners to include in their conversion? 

Juliet balconies are a nice complement to a new bedroom if the outlook is nice. Most conversions which include bedroom space definitely benefit from an en-suite.

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Is it possible to carry out a loft conversion in a listed property? 

Yes, however this will be subject to permission being granted prior to any work is carried out. The scope of the development may be restricted. 

How stressful is the loft conversion process for the residents of the home? And what can they do to minimise the bother caused by building works? 

Any type of construction work in a home is going to disrupt the occupants. With loft conversions, most of the work is carried out from above within the loft space so does not have an enormous impact on the existing house. The only real disruption will be when the ceiling(s) are removed and staircase installed. However, this is a relatively small part of the job. 

How hard is it to obtain a Party Wall Agreement, and how can you tell if your loft conversion will need one? 

If the property is connected to another building (such as a semi-detached) then a Party Wall Agreement will be required. This is relatively easy to obtain and can be done either by instructing a surveyor to carry out the service, or this can be done informally if you get along well with your neighbours. Either way, it is recommended that a photographic schedule of condition is carried out prior to any works commencing to avoid any issues further down the line. 

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How long do loft conversions take and what would you suggest homeowners do to keep project time to a minimum?

This is dependant on the type and size of the conversion. Most projects will take between six and 12 weeks. To keep project times to a minimum, a clear plan of what is required is important as well as a selection of fixtures and fittings being chosen as early as possible. 

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What are the typical budget ranges for a loft conversion? 

Budgets can vary widely dependant on scale and spec. As a rough guide, expect a loft conversion to cost upwards of ยฃ25k.

If you could give someone who wants to convert their loft one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Consider the above prior to embarking on a project and seek the advice of professionals who have experience with this type of job. Loft conversions can be complicated and if not installed correctly will not meet the requirements of building control. 

A lot to consider...

There you have it. While there's a lot of things to consider with a loft conversion, it's not really such a painful process. If you want to find out more or would like to ask your own questions for the next 'Ask the experts' article, get in touch...

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