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Choosing the right loft conversion for you…

A loft conversion is a much more cost-effective option than moving home, especially when an additional bedroom is required.  There are no estate agency fees, no solicitor’s fees, no moving costs and no stamp duty to pay.  It’s also a relatively  stress free process and that’s why here at Econoloft we are busier than ever as people recognise the cost savings and of course, the financial gains associated with a well-built loft conversion.

Most property experts agree that a loft conversion is the home improvement that will add most financial value to your house, adding up to 15 – 20% to its market value depending on where you live. However, how do you know which loft conversion is suitable for your property and your family?

With over 30 years experience, we have an unrivalled knowledge base to guide you through every stage of your loft conversion. From planning your new space – right through to the final plaster stage – the expertise of our in-house structural engineers and experienced staff will guarantee your peace of mind.

First, you need to check the height of your existing loft, as a guide, the ideal measurement would start from 2.4m at the highest point (Apex).  Assuming you have the height required, you now have to decide the type of loft conversion you need.

Hip to gable

The hip to gable loft conversion is one of the most popular choices for semi-detached properties and can provide maximum space.   A hip to gable conversion extends your home on the sloping side of the property – the side that is not joined to your neighbour. It essentially exchanges the sloping roof and extends it to the outside wall where we build up what is known as the gable wall.  The space created becomes maximised and is usually where the new staircase is placed above the existing one.

Rear dormer 

Dormer loft conversions are also becoming increasing popular on semi-detached properties.  This structural extension is developed from the plane of the roof and is the option often preferred where the existing loft space is of insufficient size for the proposed conversion. It can create additional headroom for both the staircase and the proposed new living space. If a new bathroom is also included in the plans, the increased height created by the Dormer provides extra headroom and manoeuvrability within the new loft room .

Dormer loft conversions are really popular thanks to the amount of space and light they can create in your new room and are feasible in most properties even those with limited space or headroom.  As well as semi-detached properties we build successful dormers on terraced and detached homes making it a flexible option for many homeowners.

Mansard

A Mansard loft conversion may be the preferred loft conversion type in areas where planning could be sensitive.  It will usually require a lot more actual planning and design than most other loft conversion types but will result in bigger living space as the conversion can actually be built across the entire roof space of your home building on to the existing Party Wall in brickwork.  This means it is ideal for terraced properties, especially across the inner London, where space is at a  premium, as the sloping roof becomes almost vertical with vertical windows.

Roof light/Velux

This option is usually suitable for those contemplating a smaller loft conversion contained within the roof line.  A roof light or Velux conversion is suitable for something like a single bedroom, playroom or study where adequate height is available within the existing loft space. Roof lights can then be installed with a minimum of disruption. Conservation Velux windows can also be fitted to comply with local planning if necessary.

Planning and Building Control

Once the loft conversion type has been agreed, we will advise clients about the legal requirements necessary for a loft conversion.  Planning is the most important part of your loft conversion; you need to ensure that all planning is done correctly so that the process can run smoothly. Most houses now have separate permitted development rights for the roof of their house as planning laws were relaxed in 2008. However all flats, some new houses and properties in conservation areas must still file for planning permission. If you live in a semi-detached or terraced house then you will also be affected by The Party Wall Act 1996.

The beginners guide…part II

The Staircase

The ideal location for a staircase to land is in line with the roof ridge: this will make best use of the available height above the staircase. The minimum height requirement above the pitch line is 2m, although this could be reduced to 1.9m in the centre, and 1.8m to the side of a stair. In practice, the actual position will depend upon the layout of the floor below, and where necessary the available height can be achieved using a dormer or adding a rooflight above the staircase or, if appropriate, converting a hip roof end to a gable.

Maximum Number of Steps: The Regulations specify that the maximum number of steps in a straight line is 16. This is not normally a problem, as a typical installation usually only requires 13 steps.

Step Size: The maximum step rise is 220mm, whereas the step depth or ‘going’ is a minimum of 220mm; these measurements are taken from the pitch point. The step normally has a nose that projects 16-20mm in front of the pitch line. However, the ratio of size must not exceed the maximum angle of pitch requirement of 42°. Any winders must have a minimum of 50mm at the narrowest point. The width of steps is unregulated, but in practice the winders are likely to limit the reduction in width.

Balustrading: The height minimum is 900mm above the pitch line, and any spindles must have a separation distance that a 100mm sphere cannot pass through.

Windows & Dormers

The loft conversion will require a means of getting natural light and ventilation, and the most straightforward method is to use rooflights that follow the pitch line of the roof. This type is fitted by removing the tiles and battens in the position that the rooflight will be fitted. The rafters are cut to make way for the rooflight after suitably reinforcing the remaining rafters. The rooflight frame is then fitted within the new opening, and flashings added before making good the surrounding tiling. This type of window is the most economic, and more likely to be allowed without planning permission, under your PD (Permitted Development) rights. Conservation rooflights, which are slightly more flush to the roofline and are made of metal, can also be specified.

Dormers not only give natural light but can add space to a loft conversion; they can be at the ends or sides. They are particularly effective where the pitch angle is high, as the useful floor area can be increased. The mansard type (ABOVE) will give maximum conversion roof space because it projects the maximum available head height, thus giving a greater usable floor area. A hip to gable conversion has a similar effect.

Dormers and other similar conversions are normally installed by opening up the roof, and cutting the required specified timbers to size on site. They normally involve compound angle cuts (SEE BELOW) so may not be a task that a DIYer would like to undertake. Care also needs to be taken with the roof and side coverings, to get a good weatherproof structure.

Some loft conversion companies will make the dormers off site in their workshop and lift into place. This process allows quick installation, and quick weatherproofing.

Dormers can have gabled or hip roofs, and with careful design can enhance a roof line. In practice, a mixture of the available types can result in the maximum light and space, and provide a fire exit.

Fire Safety

The plasterboard ceiling in the upper rooms will delay the spread of fire to the roof space in an unconverted house. However, when an opening is introduced for the staircase the risk is shared with the conversion — therefore, safeguards must be in place to reduce the risk.

All habitable rooms in the upper storeys served by a single staircase should have an escape window with an obstructed openable area of at least 0.33m², a minimum 450mm high x 450mm wide, and not more than 1.1m above the floor level. For loft conversions to existing two storey houses, more stringent provisions apply, due to the greater risk associated with escape via high-level windows. These require a new 30- minute fire-resistant floor to the loft conversion, and a protected 30- minute fire-resistant stair enclosure discharging to its own final exit, with fire doors to all rooms (except bathrooms and WC). The fire doors do not need to be self-closing.

At least one mains-operated smoke alarm with battery backup must be installed in the circulation space of each storey. All alarms are to be interconnected.