When most houses are built, chances are that the attic is left unfinished and is not suitable for anything more than storage. The issue with this is that it means you’re missing out on valuable living space and, since the hunt for additional square footage never ceases, many homeowners decide to convert their attics or lofts.
If you’re living in an area where houses are close together and have a limited budget, a home extension may be out of the question, but turning your attic into a bedroom, living area or office is an appealing and more affordable possibility.
In fact, in the UK, attic or loft conversions are among the most popular home improvement projects. This article is meant to serve as a basic introduction to the most important elements you need to keep in mind if you’re considering making the most of your home’s current floor plan.
Permits and Regulations
You’re probably wondering whether you need planning permission when converting your attic. The answer is not necessarily. In most cases it will fall under Permitted Development as longs as your design adheres to the specified criteria. If your project requires changing the structure of the roof, such as altering height or shape, you may need to apply for planning permission.
You will also receive an inspection from a building control surveyor at different stages to make sure you follow fire and electrical safety regulations, you can easily escape through the stairway, and that the project does not negatively impact the structural stability of the house.
You’ll want to be careful when choosing your contractors as you will rely on their expertise to pass the final inspection and get a certificate of completion.
The cost of your conversion project will depend on the extent of remodeling work needed. This, in turn, depends on how suitable the existing structure of your roof is and how easy it is to accommodate the new staircase. Keep in mind that even though this will not be as expensive as adding another level to your house or building a home extension, it’s still not a small DIY project. You will need a contractor or several subcontractors that will have to rent equipment such as a spider lift. They’ll also have to extend the electrical wiring, heating, and cooling systems and add insulation.
The costs start at about £15,000 for the most basic “room-in-the-roof” and can go up to approximately £55,000. A basic project will include fire door and smoke alarm to comply with fire safety regulations, reinforcement of the floor to support the added load, insulation, standard staircase, and a couple of skylights.
Dormer loft conversions tend to be more expensive as they require more work to install the dormer windows, but this will add height to the room and increase usable floor space.
Since building regulations require a minimum of two meters (that can be reduced to no less than 1.8) above the staircase, the ideal location would be in line with the roof ridge. In most cases, the location will have to be adjusted to the layout of the floor below, and some modifications are possible to still meet the height requirements, such as using dormers or skylights.
The staircase also cannot have more than 16 steps, but most installations already have only 13. The step size cannot exceed 220 mm, and you’ll need balustrading of minimum 900 mm in height with a distance between spindles of maximum 100 mm. As you can probably tell, these are all safety precautions to increase the speed with which you can exit the house and decrease the risk of accidents.
When converting your attic or loft into living space, the amount of natural light the structure provides is an important consideration. It will not only make the room more enjoyable, but it will make it look larger. There are two window options for this type of project, which we have already mentioned: skylights and dormer windows.
Skylights are the easiest and most affordable option as they follow the pitch line and are fitted by removing some of the tiles and battens.
Dormers are more expensive but give the room more natural light and add space. Typically, they’re installed by cutting through the required timbers and opening up the roof. To increase the speed of installation, many contractors will make them off-site in a workshop and then just lift them into place. Since dormer windows project out, they create that perfect little seating nook you see in interior design magazines.
Heating and Ventilation
Converting your loft or attic means that you’re extending your living space, which, in turn, increases the load on your heating and cooling systems. If properly insulated, this may require very little extra capacity. However, you still need to have a professional take a look at it and determine whether it can support another room. Energy-efficient heating options include a combination of radiators and underfloor heating.
As for ventilation, you should have your contractor install rafter vents so air can flow behind the added insulation to protect the integrity of your roof.
As you probably already know, the roof is one of the main places that cause heat loss in your home and increases your utility bills, so making sure it’s properly insulated is beneficial even when you’re not converting the attic to living space.
Building regulations have become stricter over the years, and that means that attics or lofts that were converted ten years ago most likely don’t meet current standards that require a U-value of 0.18W/m2 or lower. Just to clarify, the U-value measures how much heat can move through a square meter of material per hour, and the lower the value, the better the material is at insulating. If you’re using fibre or wool insulation, to reach this number, you’ll need a layer of about 270 mm in thickness. For rigid board insulation, it will be approximately 175 mm, and high-performance foam will require 125 mm.
Insulating a standard attic or roof is pretty straightforward, but it will, unfortunately, reduce the available space, and it’s not exactly cheap. The good news is that it will help you save a lot of money on electricity and will make your home, including the converted space, more comfortable to live in.