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Look up - Part 2

Property purchase:

a roof over your head - Part 2

Or "my top tips for converting your loft into the room of your dreams"


In these Series I will try to give you some insight on things to consider when setting out to purchase a property that looks to have potential for extension upwards. This includes houses as well as flats. Did you know that you could also extend a flat into the roof above you, provided the lease "demises" (grants) the space to you? The lease will specifically state the full extent of the property to be owned by you - and this should be marked in the accompanying plan. For example, the roof space above a top-floor flat. If the space is not specifically demised, you WILL NOT be able to extend the property into that area without the landlord’s consent. So do make sure your conveyancing solicitor looks into the detail for you. Your landlord or freehold owner has the potential to disrupt your plans - even if you are likely to get planning permission, building regulations approvals, and conservation area consent.

"Why does it matter if I can extend my property in the future? It is unlikely that I will need the space anyway".

There you go again. Ready to pass up a good property with extension potential because you cannot see past the magnolia colour on the wall and want to get out, like, yesterday. Did you know thought that compared to moving to a bigger home - when the needs dictate it - converting a loft can give you the extra space for half the cost of buying a house with an extra room? Never mind the emotional stress of moving to a new place altogether (moving homes is the third more traumatic thing after death and divorce, remember?).

So head over to Part 1 and see what things you need to consider when house hunting or when you already have the house and want to know if you can convert your loft!

The loft at Brook Cottage, whose owner Christina Trutt owns Cabbages & Roses. The loft is used as an office away from her London home and has been decorated with vintage pieces that are very much in the style of the brand. Photo credit: The Wicker House

1/ Who you gonna call?


So you can convert your loft. Where do you go from here?

Obviously there are a few options. You can go to a builder, you can go to a specialist firm, you can go to someone who is accredited and offers everything in house (architect, builders, plumbers, electricians, decorators. They can take care of your planning permissions and guide you through the building regulation literature too).

Top tip: Whoever you choose, first check they are insured and second check their past work. Ask for references people! Are they recommended from someone you know? Ask around your neighbour someone who recently converted their loft. A company/builder that is confident about their work is likely to ask a recent client if they can bring prospects around to have a look. I know as I have been on the receiving end (and that was just when I installed plantation shutters in my Fulham flat - next thing you know all of Sand's End had plantation shutters! Which is ok, because all the Victorian houses now look lovely and that made prices on my street go UP. Not that I imply my shutters had anything to do with it. I used BELLA VISTA SHUTTERS by the way. They are a Brighton based firm that I am happy to recommend).

Get comparable quotes. Check references. This is no small task and the cost is considerable. Make sure your builder is not likely to disappear after a month's work.

Top tip: If they have set up a company, check them on Companies House (you can even find their financials for free, just check here). I would never trust a company that has changed its trading name multiple times, this is just bad news. So make sure you check.

Depending on your budget you may want an architect involved (recommended) to draw plans so that each mm of space is used to your benefit. The design of the stairs, the landing, the architect will hear what you're rying to achieve (workspace, bedroom, play room) and will come up with suggestions that go beyond making plans. They can suggest clever solutions for storage, lighting. Best if you choose a firm with in-house architects! An architect will have professional insurance in case anything goes wrong and may also know local officials and their foibles. Once you have the plans ready, and permission has been granted you can proceed with your works.

The floor in this loft conversion has been painted in gloss and reflects the light beautifully. This is ideal where there is not enough natural light and the area is low traffic.

2/ The process, roughly


Prepare for the stripping. First the scaffolding will go up. This means the builders can access the roof from outside for, yes, minimum disruption. Your builders will need to strip bare the loft of all the insulation (you can undertake this as DIY. Dirty job but sounds like the only DIY I would dare).

The water tank: Do you have a water tank in the loft and is it operational or redundant?

My water tank is redundant: Great, it can be removed through the opening in the roof. Good bye!

My water tank is operational: Not the end of the world. You could re-position it (especially if it's in the middle of the loft!) or replace it with a smaller one that can even be hidden in the eaves.

Once the room is clear, the builder will support the rafters before removing unnecessry trusses (remember those W shaped light beams? They're in the way and need to go. before removing them though you need to support the roof and also create a new floor. Your existing ceiling below the loft will not support the weight of another room upstairs.

Steel beams can be used for the flooring support. These can be installed from the exterior in and usually come in 2m length or are telescopic meaning they can increase in length easily. They do the job and are lighter, which also means you do not need a crane to get them up. Once your flooring is ready and the roof is adequately supported, you can insulate the place.

In this photo, telescopic beams have been used to support the new floor. By lifting the bottom three rows of roof tiles they were inserted in place. the roof gets extra support and then the W shaped trusses go for walkies.

3/ Insulation and soundproofing


As expected, building regulations are strict about your roof insulation. Standards change over time but currently you loft conversions require a thick 270mm layer of fibre or wool insulation, about 175mm of rigid board insulation or around 125mm of high performance spray foam. Remember, the Officer WILL check. If you are getting a loft converted now, your builder should be installing at least up to these standards.

Boards, rolls or slabs? The wool-type insulations are cheapest sold in rolls. The polyurethanes and polystyrenes are usually sold as boards: these can be used in any application, but are particularly good under floors. Boards are often fitted in sloping roofs but this requires a lot of cutting (but it means they will fit neatly and you can forget about uneven insulation).Walls can be insulated with boards or slabs, a semi-rigid format which stiffens wool-based insulation.

Natural materials: The use of more natural insulation materials is becoming popular. Sheeps wool is a wonderful material to use in place of the synthetic wools, made of glass fibre and mineral wool which, whilst being very cheap, are not pleasant to work with.

Why not check out Thermafleece.

Your floor insulation will be adequate for soundproofing the loft from the floors below and double glazed windows and stud walls will soundproof your loft in case you plan on playing the saxophone there at night.

4/ Wiring and plumbing



Wiring and plumbing are also going in at this stage. You don't seal anything yet as you should expect a housecall from your local authority for the Building Regulations check. They can check that structurally what they see is as per plan, the stairs and wiring are safe and when they give you the ok you can move ahead with plasterboarding the place and plastering the walls. It can then look pretty much ready.

Make sure you have agreed the plugs and light points with your electrician. If you are thinking about converting this room into a bedroom remember to multi-wire your main room light so you can switch it off from your bed as well as from the room entrance. There's nothing I hate more than having to get up to switch off lights!


Top tip: I have seen some amazing wetrooms and bathrooms in lofts. You can fit your plumbing in the roof but remember that this will work best if your wc is above the bathroom in the floor below.

5/ Ventilation/windows



Two fairly easy options here: Velux windows perfect for the slopped roof. They come with fitted roller blond (including a perfect blackout) and can be opened easily - if they are higer up and you still want to be able to open them they also come with electric opening. I love gadgets. Just don't loose the control! they come in a variety of sizes and also centre-pivoted or top hung. Velux can also give you the freedom of walking out onto your roof with a balcony! Fab!

Dormer windows can adjust to whatever style is appropriate for your home as demonstrated below in this amazing window for a property designed by Robert Dye Architects.

Part 3 coming up


The Staircase





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