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Look up - Part 1

Property purchase:

a roof over your head - Part 1

Or "how to spot future potential in loft space"


Before we begin, let me tell you that I don't believe in the concept of the "forever homes". I have heard the voice in my head many times over. "This is ideal, it's my dream flat/ house". Then experienced that feeling of deflation when an offer did not get accepted, only to find myself loving another property - just as dreamy - the following week. So listen to me when I say: there are many properties out there that may well tick all your boxes today, as long as you can see their true potential. And some of that potential, for you living on top floors or houses, may well be over your head. LOOK UP. Yes, the roof.

"I don't need extra space". Sure. Now. What about tomorrow? When your needs or family grows and you need more space and the only way is up? "I won't need to move, I can extend the attic".

Can you?

Not all types of roofs are suited for conversion into living space.

Learn from my mistakes people, please do. My property, like so many out there has the wrong type of roof. By wrong, I mean the type of roof that needs some TLC to convert into a sixth bedroom (just kidding, we have enough bedrooms already, I don't need any more sleeping space for the 6y old to hide himself or his LEGO in. But I would not mind relocating an existing bedroom in the loft, in order to increase the size of our family bathroom).

If you are currently house hunting, you need to read this post. You can thank me later. And if you already have a loft, get the ladder down, grab a torch and go up to have a look. Even if you are not thinking of converting now or in the next 5 years, at least you'll get an idea of the things you should pay attention to. And it always helps when you talk to builders and it sounds like you actually know what you're talking about.

I didn't bother checking the loft, I was too busy thinking about what I would replace the unimpressive brown carpet with while I was looking at my current home; and while my agent did get the ladder down for me to look in the attic, I remember spending exactly 2.6 miliseconds looking around the darkness with the iphone torch on, before moving on (I guess I WAS a bit scared of seeing something in the shadows). BIG. MISTAKE.

Arguably, if your options are limited (there is only one house on sale close to a good school or your area of choice), whether you can easily convert the loft in the future might not be top of your priorities. But when you are looking at two similar properties, everything counts. Because if you decide to sell on, you will have extra bargaining power.

1/ Those trussed rafters

and what you can do about them


That's us alright. If your house was built from 1960s onwards chances are this is the type of roof you have. They are easy to spot based on their W-shaped webbing shown below. Although once regarded as ‘hard to convert’because of their slender roof timbers (typically only about 30 x 70mm), many lofts of this type have been successfully converted. The key is to ‘preserve the triangulation’ ensuring that the opposing roof slopes are fully supported and tied together at the base.

"It's going to cost me a fortune, I will have to raise the roof to gain headroom, will need to support the roof while I do it...". No, it will not cost a fortune. No, you will not need to raise the roof (unless you need the extra space because you are too tall?). There are ways to overcome this... little obstacle (this is me with positive thinking). But first, let's talk about headroom.


2/ Do I look tall in this?



You will need to measure from the bottom of the ridge timber to the top of the ceiling joist; the useable part of the roof should be greater than 2.2m (because when you add the raised flooring and plasterboards you will lose some of that height).

If the pitch angle is higher, the central head height is likely to be higher too but you will bump your head when you take two steps left or right from the centre - in that case, you can use dormers (££) or have the roof re-designed/ raised (£££). The latter costs more but it will help you increase your floor space and thus you get the money back in value added. It will take time, and involve removing part or whole of the existing roof, and rebuilding it to give the required height and structure. If the whole roof area needs removing then you will also need to protect the house from the weather and that means, yes you guessed it, a covered scaffold structure. Add 5x pound signs to that.

Another (expensive) trick to gain some valuable height is to lower the ceiling in the room below. In my view, this is a desperate measure. It will require all the existing ceilings in question to be removed, causing much mess. I mean, the dust won't settle for months! Don't go for that. If skimming makes a bad mess, removing the ceiling altogether will be traumatic. I don't even want to think about it ("Everybody... We'll be sleeping in the living room for the next two months"). Why did I even mention it?! The last thing I want is you thinking about demolition!

3/ Supporting the roof



Your roof is likely to be a traditional framed type or truss section type. The traditional framed type is typically found in pre-1960s houses where the rafters and ceiling joists, together with supporting timbers, are cut to size on site and assembled. This type is often the most suitable type for conversion. The space can be easily, and relatively inexpensively, opened up by strengthening the rafters and adding supports as specified by a structural engineer.

Most loft conversions employ at least one pair of steel beams to support the new floor structure and the roof slopes at purlin level, and sometimes also at ridge level, e.g. where you’re adding a large dormer. However, manoeuvring long, heavy steels into place at high level can be difficult, necessitating the use of shorter 2m lengths bolted together in situ.

A good alternative are the Telebeams which are telescopic beams (doh!) and which can be installed from the outside in. They are lightweight aluminium based that are slid into place alongside the existing floor joists (by removing the lower three rows of tiles on one side of the house). Costs are reduced because you only need to remove the lower three rows of tiles on one side of the house, so there’s no need to hire a crane to install heavy steel beams. Sometimes it is possible to install them from inside with potentially big savings on scaffolding.


4/ Planning Permission?



Normally, planning permission will not be required for a loft conversion as it is considered Permitted Development. It is advisable to check with your Local Authority in case you are in a conservation area or completely changing the design of your roof and also check whether any special Planning Conditions were imposed on the property when the original Planning Permission for the house was granted.


5/ Building Regulations?


While planning permission may or may not be required, building regulations approval is still required to convert a loft or attic into a liveable space. However the focus is more on health and safety for example to check that the structural strength of the new floor is sufficient

and that the stability of the structure (including the existing roof) is not endangered. Your stairs to the new floor will also be reviewed to ensure they are safely designed.

Photo: Design Milk

Read Part 2 here



* How to select your builders *

* The process of loft conversion *

* Removing the Water tank *

* Ventilation and Soundproofing your loft *

* Windows or dormers? *



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