What Happens When You Hire a Loft Conversion Specialist?
A local expert will make the most of every inch and keep the planning and build process running like clockwork
Professional advice from: Matthew Ryder of Ash Island Lofts; Deepak Singh Udassi of City Lofts London; Aneliese Deane of LLAC Construction
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“Lofts are our specialist subject,” Aneliese Deane says. “We’re aware of all the nooks and crannies, all the friends and foes of building a loft.”
“A specialist can offer an end-to-end service, from plans and execution to build,” Matthew Ryder says.
Deepak Singh Udassi agrees. “Go to a specialist, because it’s what they do every day and there’s no disconnect between the design and the actual physical build.”
Find a loft conversion specialist in your area.
Many companies offer a number of options, depending on how much help you need. Deepak, for example, says, “We have three options: architectural only, where we produce drawings ready for the client to hand to a contractor; build only, for a client who already has his or her own drawings and wants someone to build for them, and design and build, which is 90 percent of our business. This option is an all-round service, from concept to completion.”
“We do a no-obligation visit and take a design brief,” Matthew says. “Most people tend to know what they want already, but the key is to add value by making the best possible use of their space.”
It’s important, he says, to ask and not be prescriptive. “Once the design brief is done, we put together a fixed-price quotation and take no deposit.”
“A loft surveyor takes a design brief from the client and surveys the property internally and externally,” Deepak explains.
“The second briefing takes into account any design opportunities and constraints that have been highlighted by the survey,” he continues. “We agree a broad specification with the client and then go off. Five working days later, we’ll have a fully written specification for the client.”
Permitted Development rules are set out by local authorities. They allow for building work to be carried out within specified parameters without the need to apply for Planning Permission.
“Each local council may differ slightly – we can advise,” Aneliese says. “Flats always require Planning Permission, as do listed properties or those in a conservation area. Most terraced houses have 40 cubic metres of Permitted Development; semi-detached and detached properties have 50 cubic metres.”
“Any plans need to be drawn up in line with local Permitted Development policy,” Matthew says. “The good thing about working with a specialist is that they’ll know lots of local councils’ policies.
“With Planning Permission, be aware that larger schemes might not be allowed and roof terraces are sometimes an issue,” he adds. “See if a precedent for what you want to do has been set in your area. Councils will take the local street scene into account.”
A crucial first step is to check whether Permitted Development rights are intact for your property, Deepak advises. “Don’t assume they’re a given,” he says. “These rights can be withdrawn and this can change a loft scheme dramatically. If you want a design to go beyond what is permitted, you’ll need to seek Planning Permission.”
“All building work must be compliant with regulations,” Matthew says. “Head height is an important factor in loft conversions. If there’s insufficient, you can either raise the roof ridge (some councils allow this) or, if this isn’t possible, lower the ceiling of the room or rooms below.”
Some homeowners might not realise there has to be a landing and a fire door, plus an interlinked smoke protection system, he adds. “And it’s not only the loft area that needs to be considered. A dedicated hallway space on the ground floor must be intact to ensure a clear escape route. If the ground floor is open-plan, then a sprinkler or mist system needs to be installed.”
Deepak agrees that the Building Regulations that most impact on loft conversions are those concerning fire safety. “There’s so much to consider in this regard that it’s best to go to a specialist, who’ll be able to weigh up all the possible solutions,” he says.
“There are five or six camps,” Matthew says. “Single dormer and L-shaped dormer, single mansard and L-shaped mansard, double mansard front and back, and hip to gable. Ninety-eight percent of our conversions are hip to gable 1930s conversions with a rear dormer.”
A dormer rises from the roof slope with vertical walls and its own roof. Different versions of dormers include gable, hipped roof, flat roof and shed. Fully glazed (rather than tiled) box dormers are also possible.
A mansard is built by raising the walls either side of a property and building the roof in between. L-shaped mansards and L-shaped dormers are possible on Victorian and Edwardian properties that have rear additions or outriggers.
A hip-to-gable extension involves converting a three- or four-slope hipped roof into a two-slope gable roof to maximise loft space. Hip-to-gable projects appear on 1930s suburban properties.
“Some councils prefer a dormer; some a mansard,” Aneliese says. The front elevation of a house can’t be changed except under planning, but that’s highly unlikely,” she says.
“The classics for us are the rear dormer and hip-to-gable on a three-bedroom suburban semi, or an L-section on a Victorian mid-terrace,” Deepak says. “But we also do roofline or Velux conversions, where the existing roof stays intact, as well as bespoke custom conversions for non-standard buildings.”
Our experts follow a similar schedule of providing structural calculations and drawings, which can then be submitted to the local authority for Planning Permission, or a certificate of lawful development in the case of Permitted Development.
“Plans are submitted to the local council and, around eight weeks later, a property planning officer will visit,” Matthew says. “Permitted Development and Planning Permission take around eight weeks, then a letter is sent out saying the plans are approved. Meanwhile, the customer gets the party wall agreements signed.”
Deepak adds, “We hold a one-day technical design meeting with the homeowners to ‘deep dive’ into the drawings – right down to the tiny details. All those details are then added to the drawings.
“When the party wall agreement is cleared, we set a start date,” he says. “Once the local authority has checked the drawings and provided building control notice, we can start work.”
“Most people do live in,” Matthew says. “Obviously, if a ceiling has to come down, they can’t be there for the whole job. The main disruption is when the stairs go in at week three, but even then they just need to arrange to be out for the day.
“Customers often think the stairs go in last,” he says, “but we prefer to do that earlier, before the plumbing and electrics. Most of the work is done via scaffolding for the first fix, with all materials craned in rather than going through house.”
“Eighty percent of the time clients will be able to lead a normal, undisturbed life while the work is being carried out,” Deepak agrees.
“We have endless designs for storage,” Aneliese says. “Pull-out desks and shelves, beds in eaves spaces, fitted wardrobes under sloping rooflines, sliding doors to eaves and storage boxes on runners for easy access. There’s so much you can do.”
Deepak adds, “A design must match the function of the space and be based on a full understanding of what the client wants – right from the beginning of the project.
“For example, if someone wants fitted wardrobes, we can adjust the steel girder positioning to allow for optimum storage space, but we need to know this from the start,” he says. “If that only becomes apparent halfway through the process, or homeowners change their minds, it can be very time consuming – and expensive – to change.”
“Timescale,” Matthew says. “Lots of people ask if we can start on Monday. You need to have a three-month timeline in mind in order to be compliant with the local council. Building Regulations and planning restrictions take time to navigate.”
“Understanding what planning routes are open to you is crucial,” Deepak says. “Will it be a full application or will it be under Permitted Development? Is the property listed, or in a conservation area? These are important early considerations, because they affect everything else.”
“Ensure the company you choose is reputable, comes personally recommended and offers a 10-year guarantee,” Aneliese advises.
“Costs can vary substantially depending on individual properties and homeowner specifications,” Deepak says. “There are other factors, too, such as local authority constraints and sometimes things homeowners would never expect, such as issues concerning wildlife. In the past, we’ve had to fit certain hollowed-out bricks that allow swifts to nest, which had a big impact on cost.
“Similarly, finding bats in your loft space is likely to cause delay and additional expense, and can, in some circumstances, mean a conversion might not be possible,” he says. If you do discover bats in your loft, it’s possible to have a ‘bat survey’ carried out in order to understand your options and how to proceed.
“Our loft conversions start at £60,000 plus VAT and go up to £120,000 plus VAT,” Matthew says.
“Make a spreadsheet at the beginning,” Aneliese advises, “and add every detail, spend and cost. Be thorough. Building control fees cost from around £750 plus VAT, and you may need to factor in upwards of £2,500 sanitaryware and storage.”
Make sure the contract you’re signing is clear about what is and isn’t included. “Ask your chosen company for help and advice about trade discounts,” she says.
Are you planning a loft conversion? Did you find this advice useful? Share your thoughts in the Comments.