Published: 30/11/2020Spending so much more time at home this year has left many of us looking at our living spaces in a whole new light. Every spare corner has been pressed into service as a home office, classroom, gym or art studio, often juggling multiple roles at the same time.
But one space that remains underused, is the attic. Most homes with a pitched roof have some sort of roof space that can be converted into practical, comfortable and even luxurious rooms, but lofts are often reduced to storing dusty suitcases and Christmas decorations.
If you’re exploring how to add value to your home, converting your loft is a proven and effective route, adding extra bedrooms or spaces to attract more affluent buyers. But a loft conversion can also give you the home you want in the place you’re already settled and love: if your children are happy at school, or you have good friends and neighbours around you, a move might not be right just now.
From an estate agency point of view, taking people up into a skilfully converted loft is often the icing on cake at viewings, garnering oohs and ahhs from the mixture of character, light and surprise: there’s something about being in the roof space that makes people smile.
So this week’s article takes a detailed look at the types of loft conversion you might consider, along with the practicalities, procedures and permissions in taking that empty and space at the top of your house roof to a whole new level
WHAT’S YOUR TYPE?
Keeping it simple
You don’t have to spend big money on a loft conversion, especially if you’re only looking for a study, playroom or occasional spare bedroom.
The simplest and most affordable loft conversion is an open room, where a staircase runs directly up into your roof space without a landing or door. You’ll need to install proper insulation, draft proofing and boarding, with at least one window for natural light.
If you do want to add permanent bedrooms, you’ll need to create a landing with doors and windows for each room.
Even if you’re not installing a shower room at this point, future buyers might want one. So if you’re going from say, three to five bedrooms, it makes sense to future-proof your home by extending the plumbing to a convenient point, so a shower room can be easily added at a later date.
For more space and comfort, adding a dormer will maximise the usable floor area and transform your attic into a full-height room with plentiful daylight.
The dormer can extend across the full width of the house and accommodate either floor-to-ceiling windows or French doors with a Juliet balcony to add more natural light and a bright, airy feel. You may even find yourself looking at impressive views over the neighbourhood.
By adding an en suite shower room you can create a self-contained penthouse-style suite away from the busier part of the house: your own personal sanctuary now, and a big hit with future buyers. Fitting bespoke, built-in wardrobes and storage cupboards within the eaves will utilise every last inch of floor space without the need for bulky furniture.
Upping the game
Creating a high-end look is often about the materials, fixtures and finishes, but an extra feature to consider is the introduction of a hidden roof terrace. By cutting a section into the existing roofline, or building out onto a flat roof, you’ll be able to enjoy your own private suntrap that’s perfect for morning coffee, or a well-earned sundowner.
While a roof terrace can add spectacular outdoor space, it may be trickier gaining planning permission due to the potential for overlooking neighbours’ homes and gardens, and you may be required to install a solid or obscured glass balustrade.
Back inside, skylights can be upgraded with electric or solar-powered automatic climate control, while sensors can automate windows, blinds and shutters according to temperature, carbon dioxide levels, rain or even humidity.
CREATING A LOOK
Even if your roof is tiled, you get a brand new slate with a loft conversion when it comes to interior design. With no rules to break around which original features to highlight and what to modernise, you are free to create exactly the environment you wish.
If you're a fan of clean lines and sharp contemporary details, opt for pristine plastered walls and ceilings, underfloor heating, shadow gap skirting and engineered wood flooring to give you a seamless modernist space. You could even install audio visual cabling and concealed lighting for a cable-free utopia.
For something more cosy, rustic or even industrial, leave some of the original building fabric exposed – like brick walls and roof timbers – to inject warmth and raw energy. These can be paired with surface-mounted wiring in galvanised conduit, school-style column radiators, and reclaimed old floorboards.
WHAT'S THE PROCESS?
Loft conversions often qualify as permitted development if the work meets certain guidelines, making them fairly hassle-free in terms of paperwork.
However, permitted development rights don’t apply to conservation areas, and you’ll definitely need planning permission to add a terrace, or to extend higher than the roof. You’ll normally have more flexibility at the back of the house where you won’t affect the street scene.
Whether or not planning permission is required, building regulations approval is mandatory. This covers the stability of the structure, the safe design of the stairs, the strength of the new floor, a means of escape in case of fire, and adequate sound insulation.
If you live in a semi-detached or terraced house, or in an apartment, you will probably need to issue a Party Wall Act notice to tell your neighbour(s) about the proposed work, and you may need to improve the sound insulation to any shared walls.
You also need to consider protected species when planning a loft conversion, since work on a loft can affect, wait for it, bats. If you suspect bats are using your roof space, you may need a specialist survey and to incorporate a bat roost into your design.
This might sound like a lot, but the good news is that experienced professionals, from architects and designers to specialist loft conversion companies, can handle much of the application and permission process.
Nothing gives as much comfort as a good recommendation, so ask among your friends, family and colleagues. Local social media groups can also be excellent sources, and if you’ve seen neighbouring homes with converted lofts, either knock on their door or leave them a note to ask if they’d recommend their contractor.
If you’re looking for a bespoke design, you’ll need to work with an architect or designer, as well as a structural engineer and a main contractor. A good tip is to look for a contractor with access to electricians, plumbers, plasterers and decorators, otherwise you’ll need to find and employ them as well.
TIMESCALE & DISRUPTION
The building works in loft conversions generally take around 6-8 weeks and you can minimise disruption by having the majority of the work completed from the outside, accessed by external scaffolding. The internal staircase can be fitted in the final week or so, and only then will builders need to walk through your house.
Try to make all your design choices before building work starts on site. Made-to-order items, like a staircase or bespoke windows, can take some time to produce and cause delays if they’re not ordered promptly. An experienced architect or contractor can help you make decisions in good time about any bespoke or special-order items.
Make sure to establish the working hours from the outset. Try to avoid early starts, late nights and weekend working, and let your neighbours know when to expect noise and deliveries. Tell your builders what areas are ‘off limits’ and whether you have children or pets that mustn’t be let out - cats in particular do love a rooftop wander!
Summer is a popular choice for building works, due to the better weather and longer daylight hours, but your contractor may have greater availability and lower prices during the winter months. Consider what timing is best for you – maybe you can go away to avoid the worst of the noise and disruption? – and try to be flexible to get the best deal from your builder.
Converting your loft and creating extra rooms at the top of your house is an exciting way to increase and design your living space. You’ll have more room to spread out, you can stay in the neighbourhood you love, and you can add extra value to your home into the bargain: instant gratification and long term benefits all rolled into one.
As with any successful project, proper planning is the key. Use experienced professionals to help you make the right decisions, from initial design, to gaining the relevant permissions to choosing fittings. And feel free to ask your estate agent about what buyers are looking for to see if you can incorporate those qualities into your design.
If you’d like to discuss how to optimise the value of your home with a loft conversion or any other improvements, contact our sales teams for expert advice.
Berkhamsted office: 01442 863000
Tring office: 01442 820420