21st Nov 2022 -

Loft conversions have become incredibly popular in the UK as a viable way of creating extra living space without needing to extend and take over the garden. For the most part, lofts are generally dark and damp areas, housing Christmas decorations, old furniture or boxes of possessions. But by converting your loft, you will see how they can be so much more than this.

Before discussing how to convert a loft and move into the territory of planning permissions, it is worth noting that a loft conversion is difficult to complete alone. You will need extensive experience in the building industry and be an excellent DIYer. Not to mention that you will most likely need a qualified electrician for any electrical work and potentially even a plumber.

So why should you be considering a loft conversion anyway? There are some amazing benefits in converting your loft and these include:

  • The opportunity for upgrading your home to create more living space.
  • Increasing the value of your home by up to 20%.
  • Avoiding eating up the garden with an extension.
  • Using the extra space for whatever you need, including the popular bedroom ensuite.

Loft conversion planning permissions

With loft conversions, there is the advantage of many not requiring any planning permissions at all. When converting your loft, you would need to consider getting planning permissions if the roof space would be altered. Also, you would need planning permissions if you live in a conservation area. 

However, before getting into loft conversion ideas, it is always worth being proactive. Be sure to get in contact with your local council or planning officer to find out if you require planning permissions.

For many fortunate homeowners, a loft conversion falls under permitted development. This is subject but not limited to:

  • There is no extension of the roof space.
  • There is no extension higher than the top of the roof.
  • All materials used should be in keeping with the property’s look.
  • There will be no verandas, balconies or raised platforms.

There are further rules and stipulations, so if you are still unsure, it is worth getting on the government’s Planning Portal for free and impartial advice.

Types of loft conversions

There are four main types of loft conversion designs in the UK. The one you choose for your home depends on the shape of your roof, as well as what planning permissions are in place.

An attic with Velux window and ladder and timber beams.

Roof light loft conversion

Fortunately, a roof light loft conversion (sometimes known as a VELUX loft conversion) does not involve any alterations to the existing attic space. The process is simply installing VELUX windows on the roofline to create extra living space. 

It is more likely to be approved for planning permissions by your local authority. Plus, the price is approximately 25% cheaper than other types of loft conversions.

Mansard loft conversion

By raising the wall shared with your neighbours (known as the ‘party wall’), mansard conversions are usually installed at the rear of a house and have one sloping outer wall. They allow for more headroom and offer plenty of light. But planning permissions are almost always required and can cost anywhere between £45,000 - £70,000. Prices in London and the South East can sometimes be higher.

Dormer loft conversion

Considered the most popular choice of loft solutions, a dormer loft conversion is a box-shaped structure that sits on a pitched roof. Its walls are at a 90-degree angle with the floor, creating more floor and headspace. Most houses in the UK are suited for dormer loft conversions and are generally cheaper compared to other options. A typical dormer costs anywhere between £30,000 - £66,000. 

Overall, it is fairly easy to build and there are no major changes. You have plenty of added usable space and there is more choice of conventional windows which allow natural light. 

Hip-to-gable loft conversion

More suited to detached and end-of-terrace properties, a hip-to-gable loft conversion is a practical solution for lofts with limited floor space. An inwardly slanted end roof is straightened for a vertical wall to be made. 

Although they can be more expensive than dormer loft conversions (the average price is £50,000) a hip-to-gable conversion blends well with the look of a home. This is also one of the best loft conversion choices for chalets and bungalows.

How long does it take to finish converting your loft?

Typically, converting your loft could take anywhere between four to eight weeks from start to finish. However, the exact time it takes for your loft conversion project to be completed depends on which type of loft you decide to go ahead with. 

  • Roof light loft conversions: Four weeks on average.
  • Mansard loft conversions: Seven to eight weeks on average.
  • Dormer loft conversions: Five weeks on average.
  • Hip to gable loft conversions: Six weeks on average.

Before starting the loft conversion, there are a few things you need to get your head around. Essentially, you need to make a decision on whether a loft conversion is right for your home. The pointers below can help you come to a sound conclusion.

Can the existing structure support a loft conversion?

With a loft conversion, you do not want to be spending over the odds. Work can quickly add up and something you want to ensure is that the existing structure is capable of supporting the added weight. Inspecting the foundations can help you with this.

You need to dig a small hole next to your home whereby the foundations are exposed and a building control officer can then check these. Your home could require underpinning and if this is the case, you can double the budget you need.

It is likely that loft beams also need to be installed to help support the conversion. Whether they are made from steel or timber will depend on the size of your loft. Timber beams are used for smaller conversions, but steel is more commonly used and carries longer durability. 

To support the full structure, beams are generally installed on each side of the loft. Features such as bi-fold doors and windows determine how many beams are needed for the project. 

Enough headspace before converting your loft?

You would not believe how many homeowners convert their loft, only to discover there is not the right amount of headroom for their needs. This should be double-checked before embarking on your conversion and the designer or architect should be able to tell you straight away.

Building regulations for loft conversions

An attic converted into a home office with dark wood cabinets, chairs and book cases.

Building regulations are important factors and you should be aware of all of the rules and stipulations governing a conversion. Hiring a company is the safest option to ensure all bases are covered. But if you want to go alone, just be sure you know exactly what you are doing.

You also need to consider and notify your neighbours, especially if there is a party wall between the two properties. This is all stated in the Party Wall Act 1996.

Building regulations checks are required for any conversion or extension you are considering. Checks typically cover things such as safety, ventilation, fire escape and insulation.

For a loft conversion, building regulations will typically govern:

  • The strength of the new flooring.
  • The stability of your loft conversion.
  • Safe escape in the event of a fire.
  • Permanent stairwell connecting your loft to the rest of the property.
  • The installation of sound insulation.

For these reasons, it is always best to bring in a team of experts. They know building regulations like the back of their hand and will ensure your conversion does not fall foul of the law. 

It is important to be on the safe side. Because any wrongdoing could mean that the local council is within their rights to demand the conversion be returned to its original state, at your expense. If you are unsure of any aspect of building regulations or want some advice on your project, contact your local authority’s building control department.

Bats in the attic or loft

When thinking about building a loft conversion, you have to be particularly cautious of protected species habituating in the space, namely bats in the attic. If there is any evidence of bats using your loft, you need a survey from a professional ecologist. Be aware that your building project will be on hold until the issue is dealt with.

As the population of bats has been dwindling for decades, they have been a protected species since the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. You would be committing a criminal offence by carrying out any of the following:

  • Capturing, injuring or killing a bat.
  • Disturbing a roost or group of bats, such as using an ultrasonic device to scare them.
  • Damaging or destroying a breeding or resting area.
  • Obstructing access to a bat roost. 

In the UK, it is illegal to remove bats from your home. If you do have a bat or bats in your loft, it is best to reach out to a professional to avoid breaking the law. We recommend you get in touch with the National Bat Helpline for advice, including on what to do once a bat leaves on its own accord. They can also advise on how to prevent more from returning.

Change the existing roof when converting your loft

If your plans include extending or altering the roof in any way, you need planning permission to sign off on the proposed work. You also need to factor in additional expenses, while fitting new ceiling and floor joists.

Designing the loft conversion staircase

When it comes to considering how to build a loft conversion, the stairs are one of the trickiest to factor in. Unfortunately, they take up a great deal of space and are covered by building regulations. In order to keep costs down, it is recommended to invest in a standard stair design, while trying to integrate them with your existing staircase.

If you want to alter the design though, ensure to seek the advice of a building control officer. As part of safety procedures, you may need to add a partition wall. This will ensure an adequate escape route in the event of a fire.

Do you have natural lighting?

Most lofts do not have previously installed windows, so a light source is integral to your plans. There are many options to consider in this regard, such as skylights or even dormer windows. A lot will come down to the design and what is best for your finances.

Skylights are often the preferred option for loft conversions as they can be seamlessly integrated into the existing roofline and in most cases, will not require planning permissions.

Factor fire safety precautions

A small fire with flames next to three candles and a pineapple ornament.

When considering how to build a loft conversion, fire safety is another important element. First of all, the conversion will need 30 minutes of fire protection. To adhere to these regulations, you could be required to replaster the ceilings below and fit a fire door. There should also be a means to escape, such as through the windows.

Make your loft energy efficient with loft insulation

Heat loss is a major problem in many homes and can result in you spending hundreds of pounds extra on yearly energy bills. Insulating your loft is one of the most important things you can do to make your home more energy efficient, even when unconverted. This is because heat naturally rises and can easily escape your house.

Protect against sound pollution

Sound insulation is often neglected in the design of a loft conversion, but something you should certainly factor into your thinking. Floor space should be sound insulated, preferably with a mineral fibre quilt laid between the joists. The heavier and denser the material, the better. If there are any party walls, consider both sound and thermal insulation here too.

Loft conversion materials and tools for sale

Whether you are thinking about converting your loft or this is part of a bigger construction project you are working on as a builder, Building Materials Nationwide can help. We can assist you with the right tools and materials to get the job done. From timber to Velux windows and from loft insulation to gutters and downpipes, we have a wide range of building materials to choose from.

By signing up for one of our trade accounts online, you can benefit from a dedicated trade account manager who can help you source everything you need for your next building project. Give our friendly team a call to get started.