In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to consider when converting a loft or attic space into another room in your home. Typical examples include an extra bedroom, a hobby room or a home office.
Converting a loft isn’t a simple DIY job you could do in a few hours nor is it one you could do on a whim over a weekend. It needs planning and thinking through.
Could you do it yourself?
Yes, you could do it yourself if you have the skills. But many people choose to hire a professional to take care of the work for them because many things can wrong. Which could result in damage to your property.
So even if you consider yourself a competent DIYer, think about your skills before you go ahead and tackle a job like this on your own.
Let’s start with the first question you need to ask yourself if you want to know how to convert a loft.
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Can you convert your loft into another room?
Not all lofts are suitable for conversion. Some are too small and some properties are structurally not strong enough. The minimum height for a loft conversion is 2.2 metres. You’ll need to get your tape measure out to check the height between the floor and the highest point in your attic. If you have 2.2 metres or more, you’re off to a good start.
You might like: Building a House Extension: A Step-by-Step Guide
Check the pitch of your roof
The term ‘roof pitch’ refers to the slope of your roof. You don’t need to know the exact pitch of your roof at this stage, just take a look at it and picture yourself moving around inside. Will you be comfortable? How many steps can you take from the centre point outwards before you need to duck? Can you stand upright without bumping your head or leaning to one side?
Some roofs require additional structural support
Homes built after the 1960s may require structural support because builders started using roof trusses instead of old-style timber-framed roofs. To make the loft conversion work in a house with a roof truss, some parts of the truss need removing, hence the requirement for additional structural support.
What does the term ‘structural support’ mean in this situation? It usually means reinforcing the floor and making sure load-bearing walls and the foundations can take the extra weight of the loft conversion.
Houses built pre-1960s typically used rafters. You can tell which kind of roof you have simply by looking at it through the loft hatch. If you see a timber-framed structure filling most of the space, it’s a roof truss.
Watch the video below by Robin de Jongh for a detailed explanation about how to deal with a roof truss when converting a loft or attic space. It’s not very long and clearly explains the process of removing the trusses and strengthening the remaining structure and rafters. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time if you’re researching loft conversions and how the work.
For similar videos, check out Robin de Jongh’s YouTube channel, Structural Engineering How-To.
Have a look at similar properties in your area
If you’ve looked at your attic space and still aren’t sure if your loft can be converted, have a walk around your neighbourhood. Look out for houses similar to yours with loft conversions. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell, but any with a skylight window is a likely contender for a successful loft conversion.
Next, we’ll look at the different types of loft conversions so you can think about which one best suits your situation.
What are the different types of loft conversion?
- Roof light loft conversion – your bog-standard loft conversion that doesn’t involve any kind of structural alterations. The name comes from adding one or more windows to the roof to introduce natural light into the converted attic space.
- Dormer loft conversion – there are a few different types of dormer loft conversion but typically they’re a box-shaped extension of the existing roof that creates additional headspace and floor space inside the loft area. Dormers work best on houses with small lofts because they create additional space.
- Mansard loft conversion – is the one to go for if you have the budget and want to dramatically transform your home. A mansard loft conversion effectively adds another storey to your house. The roof slope will change from the current angle to an industry-standard 72 degrees and the conversion spans the entire width of your house.
- Hip to gable loft conversion – this kind of loft conversion work for detached and semi-detached houses by making use of the space between the edge of the hipped roof and the gable end of your house. The new loft is created by increasing the height of the gable wall and extending the hipped roof to meet the new wall.
Do you need planning permission to convert a loft?
Usually, you don’t need planning permission for a loft conversion unless you extend or alter the roof space and it exceeds specified limits and conditions.
Most homes come with something called ‘Permitted Development Rights’ which means you can convert your loft without planning permission. ‘Permitted development rights’ generally apply to houses but not flats or maisonettes.
See the list below for more information.
The following list is lifted directly from Planning Portal.
- A volume allowance of 40 cubic metres additional roof space for terraced houses*
- A volume allowance of 50 cubic metres additional roof space for detached and semi-detached houses*
- No extension beyond the plane of the existing roof slope of the principal elevation that fronts the highway
- No extension to be higher than the highest part of the roof
- Materials to be similar in appearance to the existing house
- No verandas, balconies or raised platforms
- Side-facing windows to be obscure-glazed; any opening to be 1.7m above the floor
- Roof extensions not to be permitted development in designated areas**
- Roof extensions, apart from hip to gable ones, to be set back, as far as practicable, at least 20cm from the original eaves
- The roof enlargement cannot overhang the outer face of the wall of the original house.
*Bear in mind that any previous roof space additions must be included within the volume allowances listed above. Although you may not have created additional space a previous owner may have done so.
**Designated areas include national parks and the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites.
You can find all the information you need to start planning a loft conversion by visiting government and local council websites. We’ve listed a few reference points at the end of the article.
Can you convert a loft yourself?
You could do a simple loft conversion yourself, but anything more complicated than a rooflight type and you’re best hiring experts to either help you or carry out the work for you. They’ll have gained the experience you don’t have and will complete the work in a much shorter timeframe and (possibly) to better standards.
How to find a reputable loft conversion company.
- Hire an architect or building surveyor
- Hire a specialist company
- Hire a reputable builder
Do you need architect’s drawings for a loft conversion?
You don’t need architect’s drawings for a simple roof light loft conversion but you will need them for more complicated conversions such as:
- Flat roof dormer loft conversion
- Mansard loft conversion
- Hip to gable loft conversion
How long does it take to convert a loft?
You know I’m going to say ‘It depends’, don’t you?
To do the physical work usually takes around 4 – 8 weeks depending on the size of the loft and the work that needs doing. A roof light loft conversion should take less time.
But you also need to take into consideration other factors:
- Researching and planning your loft conversion
- Finding a reputable company to carry out the conversion for you
- Hiring an architect to draw up plans
- Applying for planning permission and going through the application process
- Fitting into the schedule of the company you choose to hire (be weary of builders and loft conversion specialists that don’t have a full calendar and can book you in next week!)
All of this could take many weeks or months, depending upon the works that need doing.
Disclaimer: This guide was written after undertaking intensive research from around the web. You should always check with authorities and local councils before undertaking any kind of building work on your home.