Questions and answers on Lofts and the new planning regulations

The questions and answers have been arranged in a logical sequence rather than in order of frequency.

1

Is it true that carrying out a loft conversion has been made easier?

Yes, following changes to the planning regulations effective from 1October 2008, loft conversions have become easier and less costly to complete.

2

Why are they easier?

Under the changes to the planning regulations set out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in its Planning Portal www.planningportal.gov.uk the Government has removed the need to apply for planning permission for certain types of loft conversions.

3

What types of loft conversions are involved?

Under previous legislation it was necessary to apply for planning permission for many loft conversions. Now most loft conversions can be completed without planning approval.

4

What are the conditions for not applying for planning approval?

Any loft conversion not exceeding 40 cubic metres in volume for terraced houses and 50 cubic meters for detached and semi detached houses will not require planning permission on condition that:

  • the conversion is no higher than the highest part of the roof
  • the materials are similar in appearance to the existing house
  • that there are no verandas, balconies or railed platforms involved
  • no extension of the roof beyond the plane of the principal elevation that fronts the high way. This means that only roof windows can be installed on this roof slope whilst a dormer may be constructed at the rear (or side elevation – under further restrictions).
5

How big is 40 or 50m³?

50m³ would provide a loft area approximately 18' x 12' (5.5m x 3.7m), subject to roof pitch.

6

Are there any further restrictions on these new freedoms?

Yes, if the property is a listed property or is in a conservation area. In addition, certain minor requirements include:

  • side facing windows to be obscure glazed (only if they are dormer windows)
  • any opening to be 1.7m above the floor level.
7

Why does all this save me money and time?

A planning application may cost as much as £1,000 to complete. It will take time and may not always be granted. Now the cost and doubt has been removed.

8

Do I still need to comply with Building Regulations?

Yes, all loft conversions must comply with the Building Regulations. More information about this is contained in The Loft Shop’s 'Guide to Loft Conversions and the Building Regulations'.

9

Why has the Government changed the rules?

We believe that under the previous rules, bearing in mind the increasing popularity of loft conversions, Planning Departments all over the UK were clogged up with such planning applications. Removing the need for planning approval will take pressure off the departments.

10

Do I need to tell my insurance company if I complete a loft conversion?

Yes, so that the additional space is covered in the event of a fire or other problem.

11

How can I tell if my loft is suitable for a conversion? Are there any height restrictions inside a loft conversion?

As a general rule the steeper the slope (pitch) the greater the potential living space. Houses built before the 1960's are easier to convert because roofs were usually constructed from individual rafters (the traditional rafter and purlin roofs). This is ideal for a loft conversion as it usually has a reasonably steep pitch and relatively clear space between the supporting framework.

Since the 1960's most roofs have been built from 'trussed rafters'. These are factory assembled triangles which result in a lower pitch with more struts. Converting a roof constructed like this is a more complicated process as it requires timbers to be rearranged or the roof raised.

Although there are no regulations governing height, aminimumheight of 2.3 metres approximately is needed over half the floor area to make a conversion worthwhile. As the existing joists were designed to hold up a ceiling, not to support a floor, it will probably be necessary to fit new joists (youmay need to install steel joists to carry the new load) between the original ones and then to screw chipboard sheets to the new joists raising the level of the floor (at least 100mm), resulting in less headroom.

12

Where can I get a quotation for completing a loft conversion?

The Loft Shop Partner Scheme is designed to provide you with a list of builders who specialise in this work and who use Loft Shop products. Go to www.loftshop.co.uk/loftshop_partners.asp to find this regionalised list of partners' websites. It is important to compare quotes carefully. Check what is not included such as bathroom fittings, planning and building control applications, engineers fees, flooring, tiling and decoration making sure that you compare like with like.

13

How much is a loft conversion likely to cost?

The cost depends on the type of property. The average loft conversion costs £20,000 - £40,000 depending on the design and how difficult the house is to convert. A property with a spacious loft and an existing entrance hall is a good start and it is worth bearing in mind that fitting roof windows usually costs about 70% less to install than the equivalent dormer windows and that a roof window provides significantly more light in a room than dormer windows except in the months of December and January.

14

How long will the work take?

The work will take around 4 to 5 weeks for the main construction, as long as the conversion is straightforward.

The Loft Shop have a RoofWindow and Loft Ladder Fitting Service or you can telephone 0870 604 0404

15

Will a Loft Conversion add value to my house?

A loft extension can cost £30,000 to £85,000 and may add at least £25,000 to £50,000 to the value of the house. Sometimes it could add a lot more providing it creates sleeping space with an en-suite bathroom.

Estate agents too say that a fourth bedroomis the singlemost valuable feature a family house can have and usually converting a loft is simpler than building an extension. Also leading mortgage lenders cite a loft conversion as the single best way of increasing a property’s value.

The Nationwide building society backs that up saying that 300 square feet of loft space converted into an en-suite bedroom could add more than 20% to the asking price when you come to sell and according to the Federation of Master Builders making use of the loft space can add as much as 15% to a property’s value.

The most important point to bear in mind is that a loft conversion should not look or feel like an add-on because if it does it will add less to the value of the house. The staircase is the key to making a conversion look as though it is part of the original house. Wherever possible the staircase should be a natural continuation of the original staircase so that the transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’ is seamless and within the conversion itself the style should follow that of the rest of the house ie skirting boards, architraves, picture rails, ceiling heights etc.

16

How much of the work can I do myself?

Structural work and alterations such as installing a staircase or strengthening the floor are best left to the experts but if you have the time and inclination huge savings can be made by doing some of the work yourself.

The modern roof window, that is one that lies flush with the roof surface, is designed to be installed from within the roof space, with no exterior scaffolding necessary. This puts the job well within the scope of a competent DIY enthusiast and an added advantage of this type of window is that you do not need planning permission. Laying floor coverings, building plasterboard walls and ceilings and doing the final decoration can also be done by a good DIY-er.

With any large home improvement project, savings in cost should be weighed against the fact that your home will be disrupted for longer which could be crucial if you have young children or the work is to be open to the elements.

17

How do I decide on the best product for gaining access to the loft space?

Safe, convenient access to a loft is a must and there is a wide range of loft ladders to chose from, with widely varying prices. They range from a basic aluminium ladder through space saving concertina and timber folding ladders to luxurious electrically operated custom built ladders.

The popular range of larger timber loft ladders come complete with timber lining, door, operating pole, finishing architrave and handrail and, with their deep wide treads, offer a sturdy and attractive alternative for safe and easy access. If the loft is used for storage a large hatch is an advantage as it allows easy access for larger items. All Loft Shop hatches are insulated.

Finding space for an access stairway for your proposed loft conversion is an important early consideration because, although retractable loft ladders are adequate for hobby rooms, building regulations demand a permanent staircase for access to bedrooms or bathrooms. Stairs which extend from your existing staircase are the best solution but if the landing space is already cramped, spiral staircases, space-saver stairs with alternating treads, and nonretracting ladders that have a permanent handrail are all permissible alternatives. Loft Shop staff can advise you as to the best option.

18

How do I decide on the best model of roof window?

The Loft Shop offers a choice of timber or PVC roof windows. If you are converting your loft into a bathroom or the room has a high ceiling a PVC window would be a good choice as PVC is unaffected by high humidity and is virtually maintenance free. When it comes to timber windows The Loft Shop gives the customer who cares about protecting the environment the choice of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) roof windows. All timber in this range comes from FSC certified sources. Other ranges include Velux roof windows. Check out the range at www.loftshop.co.uk

19

What is the best use of loft space?

A master bedroom with an en-suite is the most popular arrangement and will add the most value but remember bathrooms should be located as close as possible to existing waste pipes. Studios, studies and offices are also favourites but think about installing extra sound insulation if peace and quiet is high on the list of requirements.