When it comes to the problem of not having enough space in the home, one of the most budget-friendly solutions (certainly when compared to the enormous cost of selling up and buying a bigger house) is to expand your existing space, perhaps by moving on up, instead of moving on out?

The moment your thoughts turn upwards towards the loft, you could be well on the way to answering questions of where and how to extend accommodation; the loft conversion process can be far quicker, simpler and less expensive than a traditional or in-fill extension on a lower floor.

Especially in areas such as London, where property is particularly expensive, four out of ten homes across many boroughs now have a loft conversion, growing evidence that loft conversions are ideal for expanding accommodation where possible …

So, is it possible?

Every loft space, from rafters and roof above to floors and stairways below, is different, so the best way to identify if your loft offers the potential for conversion is to seek a free consultation from a loft specialist. They’ll survey the space to see if it meets the space and access requirements of current local building regulations, and will be checking:

1) Ceiling height
Head height is the major consideration in a loft conversion. To accommodate a room, the highest point of the roof should be 2.3 metres high (measured from floor to ceiling). Sometimes the roof space meets this height requirement but has an overall shallow pitch, which means everything feels low hung. In this case, your options may include a dormer window conversion, to help build in some additional headroom.

When measuring from the floor, it’s worth bearing in mind that loft conversion also affects the floor, which will need reinforcement and insulation to make it fit for purpose as actual accommodation. Supporting the floor may affect overall height, so if the measurements seem close, do take further advice.

If your attic height doesn’t measure up to 2.3 metres, it doesn’t mean that you can’t convert your loft, it just means that there may only be certain ways to do so, as the design will need to create this extra headroom. This means loft conversion design which includes raising the roof or lowering the ceiling below, both of which are more expensive options.

2) Support structures
As well as housing our Christmas decorations, a loft is usually home for the major supporting structures of the building. A quick look up into the roof space will identify if there are:

  • Attic trusses with a ‘cut roof’ structure. These trusses mean that a loft conversion with an open layout may be possible after reinforcement and access have been added.
  • W-shaped trusses known as ‘fink’ trusses, commonly found in homes built after the 1960’s. Fink trusses have a vital role in structural support, so converting these lofts into habitable rooms will involve more major structural work. Because of the additional work and regulations involved, converting this type of loft space is likely to be more expensive, even if the room design itself is basic.

3) Access
For the loft conversion to provide actual accommodation which counts as a room (rather than being an elaborately boarded and insulated loft) then the staircase must be integral to both the new accommodation and the rest of the house: this means a proper staircase and not a pull-up or temporary ladder. This means stairs must adhere to planning requirements, with:

  • A maximum pitch of 42 degrees;
  • Minimum 1.9 m of head height at the stairway centre;
  • Minimum 1.8 m at the sides;
  • Minimum of 600 mm wide for practicality purposes.

If measurements or overall space for the stairs presents a concern, it’s wise to seek a free consultation from a loft specialist. There are some beautiful and innovative staircase designs available for even the tightest of staircase spaces, so do take advice on space-saving designs.

Is it permitted?

Once you know your options in line with the space up there, it’s important to consider the process which may be involved, as aspects of planning may also impact on what you can actually do when it comes to converting your loft. Basics which you’ll need to consider to ensure your potential conversion is compliant with planning requirements are likely to be:

  • Party walls
    The Party Wall Act is relevant for any property with walls, floors and ceilings adjoining another property in some way. So, anyone whose home is semi-detached, terraced or situated over someone else’s property will need to check whether the Party Wall Act applies to their loft conversion. If walls, floors and ceilings shared with a neighbouring property will be involved in the conversion, then you must comply with the Act’s requirements by obtaining a ‘Party Wall Agreement’ approved by those neighbours affected. It’s worth knowing that simple Velux conversions and dormer conversions which do not affect party walls will not usually require an agreement. There’s plenty of additional information available in our party wall article.
  • Planning permission
    Thanks to changes in planning processes, planning permission for a loft conversion is not always required, but maybe if the property is a Listed Building, lies within a conservation area, or if the roof’s existing ridge-line needs to be raised.
    Although planning procedures can be a scary prospect for many householders, the process has become much more streamlined, with many applications being approved – in the London boroughs alone 79% of all applications were granted in the year April 16 – 17 (Government planning data). Generally, chances of approval tend to be good and are significantly improved when using the services of an architect or professional loft conversion specialist to do so. To help you further, there’s additional information on our Planning Permission FAQ page.
    Overall, whether you actually need planning permission or not, it will be necessary to ensure that all structural work carried out complies with building regulations and that the proposed accommodation and access to it complies with fire and safety regulations. Again, your loft conversion specialists can ensure that all work is in full compliance.
  • Conservation areas
    If you are living in a conservation area then planning permission for the conversion is required and may be offered subject to additional restrictions (such as minimising the impact on roof line).
    You can find out if you live in a conservation area by checking with your local council, as most individual council websites now include online mapping tools which show local conservation areas. If you find that you are in a conservation area and are unsure how you should proceed, a professional loft conversion specialist will be able to advise you, or you could check out our conservation area page.

In most cases, converting the loft is a real option for increasing accommodation and in all cases should be carried out in compliance with planning permission and building regulations. Remember, a free site survey from your loft conversion specialist will also answer many of your questions and can help to bring your conversion ideas one step closer to a reality!