Chapter 1: Before the project starts

Introduction

Whether you’re looking for more space to avoid moving or you simply must have that home cinema, office or bat cave, you’ve decided you want a loft conversion.

But from planning permission to design, it’s easy to get lost, and with words such as nosings, kite winders and thermal resistance being thrown about, it can all seem a bit daunting.

So read on for the down-to-earth, plain English guide to getting exactly what you want for your home.

Is your property suitable?

Not all lofts are suitable for conversion, so before you spend any money, pop up to the attic and check the following:

  • Your roof should be completely weather tight or have felt under the tiles. If it doesn’t, you’ll be able to see the back of the roof tiles and the battens (the strips of horizontal wood that the tiles are fixed to).
  • Do you have a traditional roof, called a cut rafter and purlin roof, built before 1965, or a modern trussed rafter roof? Your roof may even be a different shape than the typical terraced or Victorian, but with the help of a quality company can still be converted.
  • Measure the height and width of your loft. Is the space high enough and large enough to do what you want?
  • The final thing to consider is if any chimneys or services, such as water tanks, are in the loft. If so, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, as they could be moved.

If you can check off everything on this list, then your home may well be suitable for a loft conversion and you can go on to the exciting part of thinking about what sort of conversion you want and what you’re going to do with all that extra space.

Don’t worry if your look around the loft brings up a problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t continue with your plans. There will be a solution, and we’ll work with you to find it.

Planning Permission

Usually a loft conversion doesn’t need an application for planning permission, as it’s not considered to have a huge effect on either the environment or any neighbours. Even if you don’t need planning permission, it’s a good idea to get that in writing from your local authority. Also, having a proper set of plans drawn up means your contractor can give you a firm price, rather than an estimate.

If you have a detached or semi-detached house, you can extend your space up to 50m3, or if you have a terraced house, you can go up to 40m3. You must also use similar materials to what the house is already built from.

There are some limits though, so check with your local planning office.

If you discover that you do need planning permission, you’ll have to fill in a planning application form, pay a one-off fee and send off three copies of the form and three copies of the existing layout, the proposed layout, the existing elevations, the proposed elevations, the location plan and the site plan.

You can complete a paper copy of the application form, or fill it out online at http://planningportal.gov.uk

Building Regulations

While you may not need planning permission, you will need Building Regulations approval to convert a loft into a liveable space. If you do need planning permission, get it before you go for Building Regulations approval as you don’t want to have to pay out for that, only to find you can’t get planning permission. They don’t do refunds!

Building Regulations approval is there to ensure work is done to a good and, very importantly, safe standard, covering stability and strength of the structure, including the floor, fire precautions and safe escape, design of any stairs fitted and even sound insulation between the new build and the rest of the house.

Contact Building Control to discuss your proposal and get more advice. The Local Authority Building Control (LABC) has an online service for creating and submitting building control applications and you can find the service at: http://www.submit-a-plan.com. You can also get more information at the LABC website: http://www.labc.uk.com.

While work is being done, you will have a Building Control officer who will inspect the project throughout. They should give you a completion certificate on the last inspection, and it’s a good idea to wait to pay your final bill until you have that certificate.

Party Wall Agreement

Sadly, the Party Wall Act 1996 is not about planning your latest barbecue and inviting the neighbours over for a beer.

It is about being a good neighbour, though. If your house is semi-detached or terraced, you will have to notify anyone who lives in an adjoining house about your plans.

It’s all about avoiding any disputes before you start work, rather than after, as depending on what you want to do, your neighbours may find themselves overlooked when they weren’t before.

The Party Wall Act is in addition to obtaining planning permission or getting Building Regulations approval.

Seek advice if you’re not sure what you need to do, and if you want to know more, here’s a link with more info, dispute resolution details and templates to download: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance.

Restrictive Covenants

A restrictive covenant is a restriction on a property from a previous owner or a landlord and can affect what you can do with your property.

If you’re not sure if your house has a covenant in place, check the Land Registry (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/land-registry) to find out as it may prevent you from converting your loft.

At worst case, if there is a covenant, consult your solicitor before you proceed.

CDM Regulations

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) may need to be notified for construction work if the work is likely to last more than 30 days, and they’ll need to be notified in writing before any work starts, so do check with your contractor about timescales.

More into at the Health and Safety Executive website: www.hse.gov.uk/construction/cdm.htm

Protected Species

Bats are a protected species in the UK, so if you find bats living in your loft, you aren’t allowed to disturb them by law, or disrupt their habitat. You’ll need to contact your local Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) for advice before you can carry on with your loft conversion.

Hopefully, the beginning work for your project isn’t looking quite so daunting now, but there is a lot to learn, so do call our experts at County Lofts on 0800 046 1995 if you have any questions.