With the cost of moving home running into many thousands of pounds, with estate egents fees and removal expenses, it’s not surprising that a lot of families are opting to move up instead of moving to a new house. This is especially the case where children are settled at a good school or the adults in the family work nearby and do not want to commute.

However, converting your loft is certainly not a DIY job, it really is a job for the professionals. Getting it right means that you not only gain a fabulous light-filled space, you could also get a handsome return on your investment when you sell. A well done loft extension can add up to 15% to the value of your property.

When planning your conversion you should think about the following :-

Can you stand up?
Before you get too far with your plans you should check that your loft is suitable for conversion. The easiest way to tell is to see if you can stand upright at its highest point, as this needs to be at least 2.3m (about 7 feet). A dormer window extension will maximise headroom throughout the space, giving you more headroom however planning restrictions often mean that this has to be put at the back of the house so it doesn’t change the house’s appearance from the street (check with the planning office at your local council).

Do you need hot water?
Many people convert their loft to add an extra bedroom and take the opportunity to add an extra bathroom at the same time. You should be careful at this stage to check that your boiler can handle the extra heating and hot water requirements of the new space. Another thing to consider is where your existing soil pipe and drainage is in the house, adding a new bathroom at the front of the house when the existing services are at the back of the house means that you may have problems connecting the new pipework to the old system.

Do you need planning consent ?
There are also structural considerations. New beams will be needed in the roof and in the new floor to take the floor weight and strengthen the roof when the existing rafters are removed. If you live in a terraced or semi-detached house this work will probably require a Party Wall agreement (this refers to walls, ceilings or floors which are shared with other properties.) with your neighbours. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has explanatory information for householders which is available to download as pdf files.

The good news is that planning permission is not always necessary, but as with any extension work, you should contact your local planning office and ask if the work can be done within what is known as permitted development. If the house hasn’t been extended since 1948 this is likely to be the case, but you must find out in advance. Even if your house has not been extended since 1948, you may be next door to a listed building or in a conservation area. In some areas this means you will need permission for any changes which affect the appearance of neighbouring listed properties. If planning permission is required and you don’t apply, the authorities can make you remove the extension and return the building to its original state.

As with the majority of building work, all loft conversions must meet Building Regulations. The architect and structural engineer that you have employed should be up to date with these but it is best to submit full plans to your local authority building control department so they can advise on any changes needed before work begins. One of the key areas when adding another floor to a property are the fire precautions required, for example it is normally necessary to upgrade the fire resistance of existing ceilings and doors. Recent changes to Building Regulations also require high levels of insulation, which will keep your extension warm in winter and prevent overheating in summer.

Do you know what you want?
A loft conversion is a major job and you will need to get architectural plans drawn up. Make sure you know what you want so that you can brief your architect. For example :-

    • Are you considering more than one room?
    • Do you want to include a bathroom and if so are you content with a shower or do you need enough space for a bath?
    • What are the rooms to be used for?
    • Have you thought about storage space?
    • Have you thought about access to the new rooms ?
    • What about lighting and other electrical requirements – if you are going to use the loft as a study you are likely to need more electrical sockets and maybe
      phone lines, for example

Check out the builder
Make sure the builder you choose is experienced in loft conversion work. Even if you have to compromise on the layout due to structural or cost considerations, many obstacles can be worked round if you really want a particular design. If you are using a building company specialising in this work they may supply drawings, but you may prefer to use an architect to prepare them and then ask at least three builders to quote for the job against these plans. This will give you a better idea as to which company offers best value for money. But remember cost and value is not the same thing. Check out the builder, look at previous work and talk to past clients to find out if they were happy with the quality of their jobs, the time the jobs took and the way in which they were carried out.

Protect yourself
The cost of the job will vary depending on its complexity and where you live.

A straightforward loft conversion for a three bedroom Victorian house in London will start from around £30,000 whereas the same job in Lancashire would be around £20,000. If you are investing this much money in the project it makes sense to insure the work. MasterBond is an insurance-backed warranty that doesn’t cost the earth – from about £150 per £10,000 worth of work – but this does provide the extra reassurance you need if something should go wrong while work is in progress and for 10 years afterwards. Many loft conversion specialists will include this, or can arrange cover, if you ask them.

Use professionals
Finding a professional company to convert your loft needn’t be a problem. The best way is to get a recommendation from friends and relatives who have had a loft conversion, or you can tour the area looking for work being done at the moment and ask the householder about their builders.

It is important to ask the builder how they will access the loft for the early stages of the work. A good builder will erect scaffolding and bring all the structural materials through the roof by crane. By the time they install the new staircase, the new room should be structurally complete and ready to be plastered and finished off. Some companies will cut costs by taking everything through the house, but this can cause a lot of damage and aggravation (do you really want roofing beams being carried through your house and up your stairs?).