By Chris Torney

The search for space: could a loft conversion be the solution?

Extending upwards rather than outwards has a number of potential advantages – you won’t lose any outside space, and the work may be less disruptive.

Making your next move on the property ladder can be daunting, but proper planning can help you navigate this process smoothly.

If you want additional living space, you have two options: expand the size of your current home, or move. If you don’t want to incur the expense and hassle of relocating, your options for making your house (or flat) larger boil down to building either outwards, with an extension, or upwards, with a loft conversion.

What are the benefits of a loft conversion?

A loft conversion can add a significant amount of value to your home: according to the Federation of Master Builders, you can expect this to be about 15% of the property’s current value, although this can vary significantly depending on the actual size and the work being carried out.

Converting the loft means you don’t have to increase the actual footprint of your home, so you’re not losing any outside space (if you have it). It might even be your only choice if the way the property is sited prevents you from adding an extension.

Generally speaking, you’re probably less likely to have to apply for planning permission either – see more information about the rules, below.

And having work done to a loft may, in some circumstances, be less disruptive: builders don’t need to dig foundations as they would for an extension, for example. And any “knocking through” into the existing house may be limited to the installation of a new staircase between your top floor and the new loft room.

What are the main loft conversion rules?

  • In many cases you will be able to convert a loft into a living space without having to seek planning permission from your local council. Provided the square footage you’re adding is not excessive, your conversion may be considered a “permitted development” by your local council. However, always check before starting any work.
  • If your roof is pitched at a low angle, there may not be enough height to add a room without raising the roof, which means seeking planning permission, as well as significant extra costs
  • So how does a loft conversion class as a permitted development?
  • The added roof space must be a maximum of 50 cubic metres on a semi-detached or detached house, or 40 cubic metres for a terraced house. Speak to your architect or builder to check your plans fall within these limits
  • The profile of the roof that faces the street your home is on will not extend beyond the existing roof slope: so if you want to put a dormer on the front of your house, planning permission will be required
  • There will be no balcony, veranda, terrace or raised platform, all of which also need planning permission
  • The loft will not extend so the ridge height is higher than the current height of your roof. This is an important point to remember if your roof is pitched at a low angle: there may not be enough height to add a room without raising the roof, which means seeking planning permission, as well as significant extra costs
  • The roof enlargement does not overhang the outer face of the wall of the original house
  • Side-facing windows will be obscure-glazed, and any opening will be 1.7 metres above the floor
  • The materials used will be similar in appearance to the existing property
  • Any planned roof extension, apart from hip to gable ones, will be set back, as far as practicable, at least 20cm from the original eaves and will not overhang the outer face of the wall of the original property. In addition, roof extensions are not classed as permitted development in designated areas (such as national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)
  • The property is not a flat, maisonette or converted house created through the permitted development rights to change use
  • The property is not located in an area where there may be a planning condition, Article 4 direction from the local planning authority or another restriction that limits permitted development rights

Even if you don’t need permission from the local council, any work you have done will still need to be signed off by a qualified inspector to ensure it passes official building regulations: your architect and/or builder should be responsible for ensuring that factors such as materials and layouts meet these requirements.

Another issue to bear in mind concerns any walls you share with your neighbours: under the Party Wall Etc. Act 1996, have to inform your neighbour if you plan to do work on a shared wall for structural reasons, for example.

Whether or not you have a legal obligation to consult your neighbours, it’s always a good idea to keep them informed of your plans: after all, any building work you do has the potential to prove disruptive to them as well.

How much will a loft conversion cost?

There are a number of factors at play here, but according to Which? Magazine, you are looking at £20,000 – £65,000 on average, depending on the size and complexity of the project. If you’re based in London or the South East of England, the starting price will typically be higher.

As already mentioned, if you need to increase your roof height, that will add considerably to the cost, as will the number of windows the build requires. Then there are the fixtures and fittings – and the sky is the limit here. En-suite bathrooms, underfloor heating, fitted wardrobes and bespoke features will also add a few more noughts to the final bill.

However, there are a number of strategies you can employ to keep costs down. When looking for a building company, seek quotes from as many firms as is practical – ideally at least three – to help you get the best quote. Ask builders for references as well: there is no point picking the cheapest tradesman if they’re not going to do a decent job.

Some building companies specialise in loft conversions and can help you with your design and any planning issues – this could be a more cost-effective option rather than employing an architect.