There are 5 things to consider when doing an attic conversion to create the additional space you need in your home. You may be an expanding family, or just want additional space. When converting lofts there are five main things to consider in the practicalities of converting the space.
- Do you have enough space in the loft ?
- Can you create a suitable access to the loft ?
- What modifications do you need to do to the roof ?
- How is the floor going to be supported ?
- How can you meet building regulations ?
The majority of homes which require loft extensions have a small overall building footprint and the only option for increasing the size of the property is to expand into the loft. But there is little point in creating loft space if you cannot access the space or it leaves you with little room to swing a cat. We have also seen a number of loft conversion attempting to cram an en suite, walk in wardrobe into a space only suitable for a double bed.
In relation to headroom, if you have approx 2.4m between the ceiling joists and the rafters at apex, then you will have enough headroom to create a suitable habitable space.
Planning your space, and the available headroom, is important as beds don’t want to be restricted to areas within the room nor do you want to be crawling from the bed to the middle of the room so you can stand up. Having an accurate survey done and drawings produced to assess the options are important and when combined with assessing the access arrangements to the space, then true picture of the available space can be identified.
Access to the Loft
Access to the loft can be tricky, there are regulations around the staircase which is servicing the loft in relation to width, rise (vertical lift of the individual stair) and going (horizontal distance on the tred of the stair), so if you have a high 1st floor ceiling, then the number of stairs needed to get from this level to the attic is going to increase. With this increase, there is also an increase in the overall length of the stairs. There is also some limited access options such as space saving stairs which appear as a good solution, are generally not practical to create a good living space in the attic.
Luckily there are many options for the staircase and access for a loft, and stair solutions can be developed for layouts appropriate for the property. Three examples below are of stair options assessed on a property we were supporting the design of. The available space was small and eventually, one of the solutions was adopted, but there is a big difference to the space within the loft space by adopting 1 solution over another.
There are headroom restrictions to the access to the loft space, and in general, there needs to be a minimum of 2m between stair treads and the overhead walls or ceiling. This may require careful planning and design to ensure this is met before construction commences.
Roof modifications can be expensive. Generally they are not designed to accommodate living space and have trusses, purlins and other structural items in the way of the available space. Modern rooves in particular can seem like a forest of timber trusses and can be costly and expensive to undertake remove without taking off the roof and introducing an alternative roof construction to the home.
Luckily there are ways to engineer new solutions to these issues, with the incorporation of new beams, support to the existing trusses before the removal of existing supports and timbers.
One of the biggest modifications which can be undertaken on a roof is the incorporation of a dormer window to the property, this may be to create additional headroom space or to create a feature window in the property. Dormer windows when designed properly and incorporated into the property can transform the space, however when they are done poorly, they can impact on the look and value of the property, Creating a dormer window into an existing roof requires careful consideration of the stability of the existing structure, which elements can be safely removed and which new elements of the structure are required to be introduced.
Existing ceiling chords (as they are called) which span across the loft floor are not designed to accommodate bedroom or living space loads. They are designed to stop the walls and trusses of the property from movement and supporting the finishes such as plasterboard to the living space beneath the loft. Many people assume that they can use these for the new floor, however this is a poor misconception and ceiling chords cannot be modified extensively without having an impact on the existing structure.
Therefore a new floor to support the attic conversion is needed and this requires support. Internal walls beneath can be assessed to identify if they can accommodate loads from the new joists, or other solutions developed to support the floor of the new attic conversion. This may be extending any new joists back to existing external walls (and an appropriate assessment conducted) or the use of steelwork to support new joists.
Sometimes the floor support and modifications required to the roof get complex and a structural engineer can support the project to identify the most pragmatic solution for the requirements of the property.
Building regulations are a standard requirement for any attic conversion. Ad hoc conversions undertaken in the past may not meet any building standards or regulations. The main issues around the compliance with the building regulations when undertaking an attic conversion are fire safety and the overall structure. In the previous sections we have addressed the structure, however the fire safety and compliance against Part B of the regulations is a bit of a minefield. Principally if you are undertaking an attic conversion then you are required to have a fire safe route between the attic and the front door of the property. This means that upstairs bedroom doors are required to be changed to a 30 minute fire door, as are any doors leading from the ground floor into the hallway of the access route. There is also a demand for a fire door either at the bottom of the attic conversion (if a single room is present) or at the top of the stairs of the attic conversion. If in doubt with the compliance against the building regulations, get some professional advice or contact the local building control department who can assist you.