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Planning a loft conversion - what can I expect?

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Planning a loft conversion - what can I expect?

The appeal of loft conversions just doesn’t seem to wane and with a gloomy economic horizon forecast for the UK due to the Coronavirus pandemic, more and more people will be considering the merits of staying put in their own home and extending what they have rather than moving. We've listed several considerations when planning a loft conversion.

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The advantages of a loft conversion compared to an extension

Pound for pound, loft conversions add more value than an extension per square metre and have the added attraction of preserving car parking space and precious garden area as well. Plus, loft conversions don’t always need planning permission; some will fall within Permitted Development making the whole project even more simple and quicker than other forms of home extension project.

How to plan a loft conversion

The first thing you need to establish is how much headroom you have in your loft as this will dictate whether or not you can convert the loft and which type of loft conversion to choose. The industry standard is a central standing height of 2.2 metres; lower roof voids can be converted but the options to do this are more extensive and expensive. Assuming you do have head height then there is a fairly tried and trusted route to follow to plan and organise the conversion which ensures that you don’t fall foul of the law or overlook any significant elements in the design and build process.

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Think about the type of loft conversion you want

There are lots of different types of loft conversion and the decision as to which one to opt for is commonly driven by the use of the new accommodation, the size of the existing loft space and the available budget. Once you have decided the design of the loft conversion then the rest of the planning will flow organically from this. For example, if you have your heart set on a luxury skyline master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom then you might pick a dormer loft conversion with sufficient large dormer windows to offer the maximum possible usable floor area and an abundance of natural light. This design may also trigger the requirement for planning permission. However, you might want to use the space for a home office or even a gym and are happy with streamlined skylight or Velux windows. Unless your home is listed or within a conservation area then this type of conversion should not require planning permission.

Plans and drawings

If your project is extensive and complicated then you will need an architect to draw up plans. Even if you are having a very simple conversion, it is still better to pay for professional drawings as it makes it easier for your builder to accurately estimate for the work and it reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings about the scope and scale of the works at a later date.

So, you have decided what you would like to use the accommodation for, chosen your style of loft conversion based on usability, finance and the current shape and size of your loft, now you need to grasp the nettle of planning permission.

Planning permission

It is perfectly possible that your loft conversion may not need planning permission. Certain styles and sizes of loft conversion will fall within permitted development and so consent need not be sought. However, if your home is listed or in a conservation area then you will almost certainly need to apply for planning permission regardless of the scope of your loft conversion.

The plans and drawings will need to accompany your planning application which is made to the local council. If your architect thinks you are fairly borderline when it comes to planning permission then he might advise you that with just a few simple alterations, you could avoid the need to apply at all.

Planning permission costs around £200 and your application will either be approved without further comment, approved with modifications or conditions attached or rejected.

What next after planning permission?

Planning permission is not the only legal hurdle you may have to jump when designing your loft conversion, there are two others:-

  • Building regulations – these apply to all new builds and conversions regardless of whether the loft conversion requires planning permission or not. Building regulations are concerned with structural integrity and safety and will typically look at the support and reinforcement of the floor, the style of the loft staircase and fire safety amongst other things. Plans are lodged with the Building Control team who will arrange to conduct stage inspections at different pre-determined points during the work to ensure compliance with building regulations. The Building Inspector will usually sign off when the structural work has finished
  • Party Wall Act 1996 – this statute was passed to enable close neighbours who may share a boundary to undertake work to their home which is not detrimental to their neighbours. If you are semi-detached or in a terraced row then you will almost certainly require an agreement under the 1996 Party Wall Act which is referred to as a Party Wall Award. This will be with one neighbour or two different neighbours if your home is terraced. The Award will protect your neighbours from any noise and nuisance associated with the conversion and possible damage to their property

Planning the new accommodation

A loft conversion offers many exciting accommodation possibilities and designing new accommodation is one of the most enjoyable parts of the project. Your choice of interior fitting and design will depend on your needs and requirements but there are almost limitless ideas for a new loft space:-

  • A rooftop gym and exercise studio
  • A large and luxurious master bedroom with a dressing room and en-suite bathroom
  • A kids playroom which can grow with them providing a teenage crash pad in later years, ideal for private space and for when their friends want to sleepover
  • Children’s bedrooms and a family bathroom
  • A media room and rooftop cinema for all the family
  • A self-contained annexe containing a kitchen and living area which can be teamed up with an en-suite bedroom on the first floor to provide a private flat for a family member or even as rental income
  • A home working office or space
  • A dedicated area to run a home business

Planning your budget

A simple velux loft conversion that doesn’t require planning permission and is not housing either a bathroom or a kitchen – these two really bump the bill up – will start as low as £15,000-£20,000 but expect to pay in the region of £40,000 and £50,000 for a Mansard loft conversion or a complex dormer loft conversion.

A budget can be significantly trimmed by altering the interior accommodation so you could split the work into two tranches. Opt for a simple loft conversion to add more essential living or working space – a home office, a studio or a couple of extra bedrooms – and then later on when the needs of the family change, you might want to consider converting the rooms again into different accommodation and perhaps opening up the roof structure with more extensive construction work.

Always discuss the budget with your architect and builder; there will be things they can suggest to lower the cost either by using different materials or changing the design of the conversion. Many people fund their loft conversion using a mixture of savings and finance raised against the equity in the property.

A good quality loft conversion will add an uplift to the value of your home by anywhere from 20% to 25% so will provide a good financial return on your investment. Plus it avoids the expense of moving – estate agents’ costs, stamp duty and conveyancing fees – never mind all the hassle.

It’s not all about the loft

It’s easy to focus on the exciting brand new accommodation above your heads but a loft conversion will also impact on the rest of your home. First of all, there will be a staircase on the new landing to the upper floor but depending on what you use the new accommodation for, it may also free up rooms in other parts of the house which you can then use for a different purpose. A lounge or reception room on the ground floor becomes a home office or is knocked through to form a larger kitchen and open plan living area, a family bathroom now redundant on the first floor can be added to a bedroom to form a luxury en-suite.

The green light

Once you have the correct consents and protocols in place in terms of planning permission, building regulation compliance and the Party Wall Act then it is time to push the button on your loft conversion. Simple loft conversions can be completed in as short a time frame as two to three weeks, more complicated designs which involve extensive changes to the roof structure and fitting out kitchens or bathrooms will usually take around two to three months from start to finish. Click here to see loft conversion costs for a bungalow.

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