I want a loft conversion – what are the rules?

A few weeks ago, I published a blog about CDM regulations after my friend had mentioned she was considering a loft conversion. As you can imagine she had many questions, especially around rules and regulations. Here we publish some of those we think might help you in your next big project.

Do I need planning permission?

Many loft conversions may be built under the ‘Permitted Development’ rules, which specify the sizes of additional space that can be built without planning permission.

You can also have dormer windows to increase height in your conversion, as long as they don’t sit higher than the highest part of your existing roof, or extend forward of the roof plane at the front of the house although if these are visible from the highway, consent may be required.

You must always double check the need for planning consent with your local planning authority. If you live in a conservation area, a listed building, already have extensions to your house, or if there are specific rules in your area, you might need to apply for planning.

Do I need to get permission from my neighbour?

Not permission as such, but you will need to have a Party Wall Agreement if you’re converting a loft in either a terraced or semi-detached property and doing work affects the party wall – perhaps by inserting steelwork or raising it to form a dormer. You must notify your neighbour of any planned works under the Party Wall Agreement etc Act. Your neighbour cannot use the party wall act to prevent you from doing your work, but it is important that the right notices are served and process followed otherwise your neighbour could stop the work and delay it until the right agreements are in place. These delays can be long and costly.

For a further look at Party Wall Agreements and loft conversions, take a look at our blog from 2012 – not that much has changed.

Do I need a structural survey?

You can use a chartered surveyor to advise you, or even project manage your loft conversion for you, or you may use an architect or a loft conversion company. In these cases, they will start by carrying out a detailed survey of your loft and walls to make sure the conversion is structurally viable and to check for any potential problems. If you use your own builder you should ensure that the structure is properly assessed to avoid problems when the build is underway. Generally speaking, older roofs can be easier to convert than modern roofs with complicated factory built roof trusses – it can be done, it’s just harder and more expensive.

What if there is asbestos in my roof space?

If you have asbestos then a fully qualified and certified contractor must remove it and dispose of it safely before your work can commence. Make sure you are aware of any asbestos before work begins. This should be highlighted by your surveyor or architect. Asbestos may be in the insulation, the fascia and gutter boards, or in a water tank.

What building regulations must I follow?

Your work must comply with the building regulations. Your architect or designer will advise in this, but you will probably follow a process known as ‘building notice’ where the local authority is notified of your work and inspects at key stages. If you don’t get building regulation approval, the local authority may take enforcement action and your property could be harder to sell as surveyors check for this when they inspect a property for a purchaser. The building inspector will be interested in matters including the structural work, fire separation and control, thermal performance, staircase and windows.

What about health and safety?

This leads on from my previous blog about CDM Regulations. There are a lot of regulations that must be heeded. Health and safety on building sites is very important as well as the health and safety implications of finished projects – fire hazards and escape routes being key considerations. (You also don’t want anyone doing this on your site!)

Are there rules on where the stairs must be?

As long as the project meets building regulations and adheres to health and safety law and planning, then the stairs can be fitted where they best meet the project’s needs. The only rule is that there mustn’t be more than 16 stairs in a single flight, but most conversions only require 13 anyway. More importantly, head height must be at least 2000mm for the length of the flight, there must be a door at either top or bottom with a set distance (usually 400mm) between the door and top bottom tread, and the pitch or slope should be 42 degrees.

Can I have an ensuite shower/bathroom?

You can put what you like in a loft conversion – as long as it’s feasible. So it could be a bedroom with a small ensuite and no shower if the height doesn’t allow, or if you have a dormer fitted then in all likelihood a shower will fit. Remember though – a loft conversion doesn’t automatically have to be a spare bedroom. It could be a relaxing lounge area, a home cinema, a play room, or a study – I’ve even seen occasions where a kitchen has been installed in a loft conversion!

And finally, how much am I likely to spend?

Generally, in the South East and London, you might be looking at £35-40,000 depending on size and complexity, affected neighbours, etc – but if you want to go all out with the Laura Ashley and Farrow and Ball, you’ll be looking at more – depending on how you want to finish it all off.

For advice on surveys for loft conversions and help with Party Wall Agreements, contact us today.

(Originally published by Steven Way, 14 June 2017)