Loft conversions: 10 top tips before you begin

Loft conversions are on a lot of our wish lists, but be honest: when was the last time you went into your loft? I can tell you the last time I went into mine: just before and just after Christmas to get down and put back my stash of decorations. I can also tell you that while I was up there I rediscovered a box of old DVDs I’d forgotten about. And I also realised the winter coat I thought I’d taken to the charity shop was actually up there gathering dust.

Like you, I know there’s a way to better utilise the space up there. I truly believe my dumping ground for neglected items could become my dream bedroom with an ensuite to rival a top hotel. Maybe it’s the dreaded clear out that’s holding me back? In an effort to get going, I’ve rounded up 10 things you need to know about loft conversions. Doesn’t sound so daunting when it’s broken into easily digestible sections, does it? So, here goes…

1. Head height is important

Firstly, check out the head height. You’ll probably need a friend to help you with this bit to save you wrestling the measure. Ideally, you need the highest point to be at least 2.2m. There should be enough space to fit a new staircase – preferably within the existing landing area on the first floor – and a new landing into the loft room.

Loft conversion with floor-to-ceiling windows

For this Essex property, Clear Architects planned a master ensuite bedroom within a loft conversion.

2. You’ll have to get familiar with your roof

Secondly, measure the slope. It sounds boring, yes, but is crucial nonetheless, so bear with me. You should look at the gradient as this will dictate the type of loft conversions you can undertake. The higher the pitch, the taller the ceiling, and the more floor space you’ll have to work with, which is exactly what we want. Anything above 30 degrees is workable. If you don’t have much head height, it’s still possible to convert – either by lowering the floor, raising the roof, or altering the shape of it by extending. However, it will cost more.

3. Moving the boiler (and other things) could be worth it for the space

Thirdly, think about relocating a water tank if this is housed in the loft. However, you may need to install a new boiler or water system if your existing plumbing can’t cope with additional rooms. Loft got a chimneybreast? You could remove it, but don’t do this yourself – always seek structural advice.

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Loft conversion advice

4. Remember: there are different styles of loft conversions

Oh yes, it’s not just a case of working with the space you’ve got (although that is one way), but if you’re thinking there isn’t room to swing a cat in your loft, there are still options.

Katherine and her husband Antony Yiannaki saw how big the loft space was and realised the potential it had to become a master bedroom with en-suite. The couple had already decided they wanted to have Velux Cabrio balconies and to maintain the period features of their Edwardian home they opted for a conservation roof window in their ensuite.

Rooflight conversion: Basic and and often most cost-effective, no major structural alterations, existing space is converted, insulated, plastered, and a rooflight and stairs fitted.
Dormer: Flat-roof extension projecting vertically from the roof.
Mansard: Replacing one or both slopes of the roof with a very steep side and placing a flat roof on top.
Hip to gable: Extending the side roof so the hipped (or sloping) side which formerly sloped inwards becomes a vertical wall.
Modular: A new room is designed and made off-site, before the existing roof is removed and replaced with the new structure. Literally, crane lifting a room onto your house.

Ensuite bedroom in loft conversion

The owner of this home in Richmond, south-west London, wanted to create two additional bedrooms and a bathroom, so designers at Simply Loft suggested a rear dormer extension. The loft conversion cost around £54,000.

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5. Planning permission may also be avoided

Which, if you procrastinate about admin like I do, is good news. Under current laws, a loft conversion doesn’t normally require planning permission, as most fall under permitted development (PD). You will need to apply if you alter the roof and/or exceed conditions set out for your property type or the area you live in. Visit Planning Portal for rules in your area.

Stairs to loft conversion

This Victorian three-bedroom property in Reigate, Surrey was purchased with a view to completely transform it, including a new loft conversion. In order to incorporate the latter, designers at Upright Construction designed a scheme which saw the property’s existing roof completely removed. The space offers generous room for a bedroom/home office benefitting from glazing from three out of four sides. A similar project would cost around £70,000.

6. You will always need to think about building regulations

If you’re still with me, well done. By converting the loft, you’re changing its use into a ‘liveable space’. This means it needs building regulations approval by a qualified building control inspector. The regulations cover:

  • structural safety
  • energy efficiency
  • electrics
  • access and fire safety
  • insulation
  • drainage
  • door and window efficiency
  • the placement and style of the stairs. (Wherever placed, stairs must have a minimum of 2m head height. They must also form part of an escape route in case of fire, with a fire door included.)
Kids room in loft conversion

Utilise every nook with clever thinking and bespoke solutions – like in this loft conversion featuring built-in storage by Barbara Genda. A seating area beneath low eaves is a nice place to play or relax. It’s also practical, since the bench contains cupboards. Meanwhile, the made-to-measure desk sits perfectly within the roof slope. Prices start at £720 for a fitted desk.

More loft conversion tips

7. Insulation and ventilation will become regular talking points

Cold feet in bed are the worst. I’m the person in my house who is always nudging up the thermostat. So, I’ll happily tell you that a key objective is to ensure you maintain a comfortable temperature all year. This should provide a balance between good insulation and sufficient ventilation. This is a must if you’re including a bathroom – mouldy grout and an afternoon with mildew remover, no thank you!

Bathroom with sloped roof

Velux rooflights fitted along the roof’s slope to bring in plenty of natural light to this ensuite bathroom. Built-in wardrobes ensure every inch of space is utilised. The conversion by Build Team cost £45,600.

8. Planning the layout is fun and challenging in equal measure

Throw in sloping ceilings, alcoves and varying head heights and you have what I like to call an interior conundrum. Now, don’t be put off, because this can work. However, do think carefully about what your room will be used for and where furniture will be placed from the start. And I mean the very start, before you’ve even thought about buying that bed you saw on Instagram and have your eye on. Decide on the exact room layout, down to the location of furniture, the bed and storage, well before any construction begins. This will help you plan the location of the plumbing and electrics. Don’t forget smaller details like plug sockets and light switches.

Large loft conversion

For this Essex property, Clear Architects planned a master ensuite bedroom within a loft conversion. The space has a wall of sliding doors, with a feature balcony and different window treatments to the side. This makes the most of the height and views and adds a design feature. The bath is placed in the centre of the bathroom to ensure there’s enough head height. A similar conversion would cost around £50,000.

9. The right team is everything

There are a few options when getting help with your redesign.

Architect or architectural technologist
: Produce bespoke drawings and create a tender document to hire builders, plumbers and electricians as well as a structural engineer.
All-in-one design and build: Take on the entire project for an all-inclusive price.
Do it yourself: Work with a builder on the plans, hire a plumber, electrician and decorator separately, and project manage yourself.

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Full disclaimer: always check any contractors are part of a trade association and seek at least three quotes for any trade or designer.

Small loft conversion with ensuite bathroom

A loft conversion with en suite in this end-of-terrace house in Morden, Surrey. Adding a dormer extension to this loft provided the additional floor area needed for a sufficiently sized ensuite master bedroom. Designed by Econoloft, it features a skylight and a Juliet balcony with French-style doors. A similar dormer extension and conversion would cost around £45,000.

10. Your budget plan needs to go from shell to sanctuary

Lastly, expect to pay out for the design, structural engineer and party wall surveyor. Then there are planning permission fees if the work isn’t allowed under PD, building regulations approval, labour and materials for the build. The latter includes any fixtures, furniture and storage within the finished space.

Right then, who’s ready for that clear out?

Featured image: A loft conversion featuring roof windows by Velux.

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