A Loft Conversion Beginners Guide


For many people, a loft conversion is the ideal way to create additional living space. A loft conversion is a great alternative to building an extension onto your home, which is why it is a great way to make the most of the existing space you have. However, many people who want loft conversions need some general guidance concerning how to best use this space, advise on rules and regulations and project timelines. If you are a homeowner who is considering having your loft converted into usable space, this guide may answer some of the questions you have about loft conversions.

Determining If Your Loft Is Suitable for Conversion

There are many factors that must be taken into consideration when determining if a loft is suitable for a conversion. These factors include the structure type, available head height, the pitch of the roof and any obstacles that may be present potential problems, such as chimneystacks or water tanks.

There are two primary types of roof structure – the traditional framed type and the truss section type. The type of roof your home has will affect how much work needs to be done in order to covert the roof space. The framed type roof structure is most often found in homes built prior to the 1960s. With this type of roof the ceiling joists, rafters and supporting timbers are cut and assembled on-site. However, this type of roof is often ideal for a loft conversion because strengthening the rafters and adding in supports can easily open up the overhead space available.

After the 1960s, roofs for houses were typically constructed using factory-made truss roof sections made of thinner, cheaper timbers that were then supported by braced diagonal timbers. These pre-made roof sections proved advantageous to homebuilders as less time was spent constructing the roof. However, when a loft conversion is done on this type of house, more work is required, as steel beams need to be inserted between load-bearing walls. This type of work requires special knowledge and equipment that only a skilled professional can provide which means it is probably best to forgo any DIY project plans and instead hand over the supervision of your project to an experienced builder.

Always remember that the available head height in your loft area needs to be greater than 2.2m in order to be suitable for a loft conversion. To calculate available head height, measure from the bottom of the ridge timber down to the top of the ceiling joist. If the usable portion of the roof is less than 2.2 meters, you may wish to consider raising the ridge but any planning department should be made aware of this suggestion during the planning process.

Problems with Roof Space

To gain more roof space for your loft conversion it is possible to remove the existing roof hips and in some cases purlins in order to construct a gable end build up to the side of the property.  This will create more space but removal of these timbers will require structural calculations by a structural engineer who will in effect redesign the whole roof in order to comply with building regulations.

Optimising the Loft Space You Have

The slope of the roof or pitch angle is a factor that determines how much usable space will be available in the new room. The higher the pitch angle, the more head height there is likely to be. If the pitch angle is low, Velux Roof Lights can be installed to allow additional light into the loft or the roof can be re-designed to provide more space in the room.

When planning a loft conversion, it’s important to think about is how you are going to actually use this new space. Maybe you have a growing family and need an extra bedroom or playroom; maybe you are starting a business and need an office.  How about a spare room for guests or an art studio?  One thing to consider is whether or not you would like an extra bathroom. If you plan to create an en-suite/bathroom in your loft, having an extra bathroom would be convenient and perhaps even something you’d consider essential, either way, it will certainly increase the sellable value of your property.

Storage is another consideration and especially if you have many items stored in your loft now. In order to get the most out of your new room whether it will be a bedroom, home office or playroom, you’ll need to have some storage space available for all your belongings. A great idea is to use some of the space under the eaves for cupboards. If you are creating a bedroom, you may require taller storage space like built-in wardrobes to hold your clothing.

There are endless reasons why you might need extra storage space in your home.  However, most people waste the extra space a loft conversion can provide by sorting junk and empty boxes.  Put your loft to better use by converting it into a habitable room that will add value to your home.

Access to your new living space is a major consideration. Ideally, a full staircase that lines up with the roof ridge is the way to go as this would make the best use of the available height above the staircase. Building regulations state that the maximum number of steps in a straight line is 16. This is generally not an issue as the typical staircase installation usually only requires 13 steps.

Rules & Regulations

Your loft conversion must be in compliance with building regulations that cover things like fire safety, energy efficiency, lighting and insulation. You will need to send your building plans to your local authority for approval, which takes about 8 weeks from submission of plans. Planning permission is generally only required for a loft conversion if you plan on building a dormer or if your house is within 26 meters of the road or if the house has been substantially extended in the past. You can expect your builder to handle all aspects of the planning application to ease your way through the process.

Permitted Development

In some cases you can take advantage of permitted development whereby you can get planning permission granted within 48 hours providing there is a presence of other loft conversions in your street/road.

Completion Time

Generally speaking, a loft conversion can be completed in 5 to 7 weeks, depending upon the size and scope of the project. The key to keeping your loft conversion on track is good project management. The time needed to gain relevant approval for your conversion needs to be factored into this as well as your project must be approved before any building work commences.