Loft conversions are one of the most common home improvements and the perfect solution if you need more space but don’t want to move.
With prices starting at around £15,000 for a single room design leading up to £35,000-plus for a full master bedroom with en-suite, it can be cheaper than selling up and moving somewhere larger.
Loft conversions can be used for a bedroom, a playroom for younger children or an office for home working.
Before you start, ask a few local estate agents to value your home with and without a conversion, to make sure you’d get your money back if you did sell up in the future.
As a rough guide, a typical project adds around 20 per cent to the value of your property. Here’s everything you need to know to get started…
Step 1 – Find out if its doable
The first job is to check if your loft space is suitable for converting. Look at your neighbours’ properties and see if anyone else has done it – this is a quick and easy way to see if it’s likely to be a possibility.
Next, measure the available head height. The minimum required is 2.2m so run a tape measure from the floor to the ceiling at the tallest part. This is where a lot of period properties fall short.
You also need to check the roof pitch and structure – whether it has trusses or rafters. If it has trusses or supports that run through its cross-section, it’s possible, but you’ll need extra structural support, which bumps up the cost. Also, check for chimney stacks, water tanks and consider where the staircase could go.
Step 2 – Get permission
Many homes will have an allowance for permitted development so you won’t need planning permission. But you will need it if you live in a listed building, a conservation area or you want to alter the roof height or shape.
Rooflights and dormer windows can be fitted as part of permitted development so long as they don’t protrude from the roof plane on the principal elevation and aren’t higher than the existing roof.
All loft conversions need to adhere to building regulations and a building control surveyor will need to inspect the project at different stages as well as issue a completion certificate at the end.
You’ll also need to notify your neighbours of your plans if they fall under the Party Wall Act for semi-detached and terraced homes. Contact your local planning office before you do anything.
Step 3 – Set a budget
Prices vary considerably depending on the work that needs doing and where you live, but you can expect to pay at least £15,000 for a basic one-room design.
As a bare minimum you’ll need to consider reinforcing the floor, installing skylights, adding insulation, a staircase, electrics, heating and lighting as well as fire safety measures. Don’t forget the furnishings and fixtures too.
Once you start adding dormer windows to increase the floor space and head height, prices rise from around £20,000 to £35,000-£45,000 for a master bedroom with en suite.
Anything more complicated that involves changing the roof structure will push the price upwards of £40,000. Work out your budget and stick to it. Allocate around 10 per cent as contingency for any emergencies and use spreadsheets to keep an eye on costs.
Step 4 – Choose a builder or architect
Even a basic build will require professional help. Ask anyone you know who’s had a loft conversion for recommendations. Once you have a few in mind, look at examples of their work, either as photos or home visits to their customers.
Get at least three quotes that break down costs as well as timescales, but don’t automatically choose the cheapest. You should get a feel for the tradesperson or company and go with someone you feel you’d be happy working with.
Some people also use the services of an architect whereas others will engage a specialist loft conversion company.
Architects can help you find the best builder as well as project manage the whole works and keep within your budget so it’s worth considering, especially if it’s a big or complicated job.
Step 5 – Think about lighting
Make your new loft conversion as light as possible with a good mix of skylights and artificial illumination. The easiest and cheapest glazing option is to use rooflights that follow the pitch line of the roof.
This involves removing the tiles and battens where the rooflight will be fitted, cutting the rafters to make way for the window and then reinforcing the remaining rafters.
Dormer windows on the other hand, not only add light, but also space to your new room. These are installed by opening up the roof and cutting the timbers to size on site.
For other lighting, use a mix of task lights for reading or working, ambient light for good, all-round illumination and accent lights for atmosphere.
Step 6 – Consider heating and insulation
The new loft should be warm and cosy in winter, and nice and cool in summer, so think carefully about its heating and insulation.
You could install underfloor heating although, as it’s likely to be a smallish area, most people have just a radiator or two, which is more than enough in most cases.
If you’re adding an en suite, a heated towel rail is handy for drying towels and you may need to upgrade the boiler to cope with the extra hot water required – a plumber or heating engineer will be able to advise you on this.
The roof structure can be insulated either with a cold-roof method, which is the simplest, or warm-roof insulation, which is usually chosen with a dormer or flat roof. The floor will also need to be insulated as well as party walls if you live in a semi-detached or terraced house.
Advice from the expert
‘To maximise floor space, tuck cupboards underneath the eaves and invest in a corner unit, which can create a convenient place for storage. Custom-made wardrobes can also be fitted to the entire length of the wall, using every inch of available space. Mix cupboards and drawers with open shelves to have storage moulded to your every need.
‘Another tip is to opt for folding or sliding doors. They tuck away easily and can even be arranged so they slide into the wall.’
– Rich Conlin, Managing Director of The Loft Room
Case study: ‘We converted the loft to make more space for three-generation family gatherings’
Jackie and Peter Kirvan moved to Devon with their two young daughters over 20 years ago. The family home suited them well when the girls were growing up, but fast forward to 2020 and, now that the girls are both married with young children, the house is frequently pushed for space when the whole family gets together.
‘We had four bedrooms, but one was just big enough for bunk beds and the fourth was a poky room tucked under the eaves with only a steep and slightly unsafe staircase for access,’ explains Jackie. Two years ago, when the old slate roof of the 18th-century coastguard’s cottage needed replacing, the Kirvans took the opportunity to re-model the upstairs accommodation at the same time.
Jackie Kirvan, who has plenty of experience doing up houses, is justifiably proud of her latest project – turning a traditional seaside cottage into a spacious three-generation family home designed for modern living.
Their plan, to convert the existing loft room into a spacious en suite bedroom, involved obtaining planning permission for a new gable window to create more headroom. They also wanted to remove a redundant chimney breast in order to change the angle of the stairs and double the size of the bedroom at the rear of the house. As with many structural projects, this one was not without its problems.
‘The work started during the worst winter when the village was snowed in and the builders couldn’t get their vehicles in or out,’ recalls Jackie. ‘Then when the snow melted, it leaked through the tarpaulin covering the exposed roof, flooding the bedroom and kitchen beneath.’
As the couple weren’t living in the house at the time, it was a while before the extent of the damage was discovered and the building work could resume. By that time, the layout of the loft conversion had been decided with a portion of the room allocated to an en suite shower.
To one side, there’s space for a double bed, complete with bedside tables and built-in shelving, while the other side is just the right size for a child’s cot.
The walls and ceiling are panelled to contain a high level of insulation and create a seaside feel, which fits well with the pretty blue and white colour scheme. With the family now living in London, Bantham House is available as a holiday let through Compass Quay.
For information on planning permission and building regulations
To find an architect
To find a builder
To find a structural engineer
To choose a pay-as-you-go architect service