At RE/MAX, we are often asked about attic conversions, the benefits and what one can or cannot do. The people over at www.atticconversions.ie – experts in attic conversion – have answered the majority of frequently answered questions that are put to us on a weekly basis.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET ATTIC CONVERSIONS?
3 MAIN GROUPS:
- Those who work at home, either running their own business or as employees who are able to work away from their normal place of employment. Fed up with paperwork and files cluttering up the dining room or spare bedroom, it makes sense to have a separate room dedicated to office work, away from the domestic areas.
- Bedrooms for the younger family members. Kids grow bigger, their possessions increase dramatically, one room is no longer suitable for two or more siblings. Young adults stay at home for far longer than their predecessors, each needs his own room.
- Family rooms for general use. Students study area/computer room/teenager hangouts/ doubling up as emergency guest bedroom with bed settee. College kids tend to bring friends home to sleep overnight.
The cost. An attic conversion will cost less than half the price of a ground floor extension.:
Less Hassle. These rooms are exempt from planning permission. In most cases you don’t even need architectural drawings.
Space saving. You are not taking any valuable space from the garden, you are simply making better use of the space you already have within the four walls.
Minimum disruption. A good contractor will complete a standard conversion in the average house in ten to twelve days.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Do I need planning permission?
Most attic conversions are exempt from planning permission because the ceilings are not high enough to qualify as “Habitable Accommodation”. However, if you wish to erect a dormer window, or to put your Velux windows to the front, then you will need planning permission.
So what is the official status of my attic conversion?
With very few exceptions, attic conversions are carried out as “non habitable storage rooms”. In reality, however, they are used as bedrooms, offices, studies, games or computer rooms, and emergency guest bedrooms.
Does that mean I can’t sell my three bedroom house as a four bedroom?
That’s correct. If you offer your house for sale you simply state that the attic has been converted. Prospective purchasers will recognise the value of the extra space and it won’t matter to them that you can’t officially call it a bedroom. However, please note that if you have made structural alterations you can’t sell your house without an architect’s “certificate of compliance”. This certifies that the work has been carried out in accordance with the new building regulations.
So, what if my roof is high enough to be classified as “Habitable Accommodation”?
Well, you have two choices. The more economical option is to proceed as above for non habitable storage room. Or, you can engage an architect, have plans drawn up, submit them to your local authority for planning approval, and then have the job done. It’s a little more costly, and takes much longer
How do I know if my attic is suitable for conversion?
Not all roofs are suitable. The first requirement is a reasonable height in the centre of your attic. Measure the distance between the top of the ceiling joist (the beam you’re standing on) and the bottom of the ridgeboard (the horizontal plank above your head, or, in the case of a trussed roof, the bottom of the square metal plate above your head). Deduct five inches and ask yourself if you would be happy with a ceiling that high (or low). Alternatively, take your courage in your hands and ask your neighbour, who has a conversion, if you can take a look at theirs. If your roof is too low, you should consult an architect or engineer for advice. ( Click here for alternative suggestions.)
The shape of your roof is the next most important question.
A “hipped” roof generally does not pose a problem, but there can be difficulty fitting a fixed staircase because of lack of headroom where the stairs should be located. It is often the case, but not always, that these conversions have to rely on a folding attic ladder for access.
We are now able to convert modern hipped, trussed roofs, providing the height is okay. In a few of these houses we can fit a stairs, or, it is sometimes possible to get permission to build up the gable wall and convert your house into a “gable end” house, and it is also sometimes possible to get permission to build a dormer on the side. This is a less expensive option. See pictures of “hip dormers” in “roof style” section.
Is a dormer window worthwhile?
It all depends on the use you intend for the new attic room. If it is to be an adult’s bedroom then yes, a dormer will make a great difference, but remember, the higher the roof, the less benefit a dormer will be. The greatest benefit is achieved when the roof is low. However, if the new room is to be used mainly by the kids then it’s doubtful if it’s worth the money, They won’t notice the difference. A rear dormer does not increase the ceiling height, and it rarely increases the floor space, and when it does, it is by a very small amount. Those very large rear dormers are a thing of the past, planners will no longer approve them. .
Do I need architect’s drawings to get the job done?
Most professional contractors are happy to work from your drawings, if you have them. In reality however, the vast majority of conversions are carried out without them. Drawings are not necessary for standard conversions carried out by professional contractors who have the expertise and experience to know exactly what’s required to comply with “building regulations”. However, if your house is any way unusual, it would be recommended that you consult an architect or engineer.
What is a “suspended” floor or a floating floor?
A suspended floor or a floating floor is one that is not resting on the ceiling. It has it’s own separate set of flooring joists between the ceiling joists. Most ceiling joists are very light and not suitable for supporting a floor. Sometimes a suspended floor is called an “independent” floor.
Can I get a similar stairs to my own?
Most attic stairs are narrower and steeper than normal, see photos, but occasionally it is possible to get a similar stairs to the existing one, it all depends on the available space on your landing.
What size will the room be?
The attic room is often the biggest room in the house. Even in the smallest of houses it will be far bigger than the boxroom. For a rough guide, measure the distance from gable wall to party wall; this is the length of your available space provided your roof is not “hipped”. Now measure the distance from front to back and divide by two; that is the width of your available space. (This is generally accurate, but not always.)
They seem to be getting very popular?
Most people don’t really want to move to a bigger house for obvious reasons, yet they need more space. An attic conversion will cost less than half the price of an extension.
What about “By Law Approval?”
By law approval was replaced in 1991 by the new building regulations. The situation now is that you have to have a “certificate of compliance” issued by a qualified architect or structural engineer whenever you have any work of a structural nature carried out in your home. You don’t actually need this certificate until you sell your house, or re-mortgage it. But it’s as well to have it from the start, because it’s proof that the job has been done correctly. An “economy conversion” when no structural alterations take place, and when no fixed stairs is fitted, is exempt from the necessity of a certificate.
Radiators in attics!
Radiators don’t always work well in attics. The older the system, or, the more radiators you have, the less chance you have of successfully extending the system to the attic. If you have a fairly new, pressurised system then a radiator should work.
If you have an older system and you want to be absolutely sure, then install electric heating. A convector heater or oil filled radiator would be the least expensive to put in. Storage heaters are quite expensive to install.
The existing floor insulation, should I take it up or leave it down?
We believe it is best to leave it down, it will help with your BER rating. Some people take it up to allow heat to rise up through the bedroom ceilings. Others leave it down to act as a form of sound insulation. It’s a personal choice.
Can I extend the room space right out to the eaves?
Generally no! The roof needs to be supported front and back, usually at the halfway point (between ridge and eaves). The stud walls at these points are supporting the roof, as well as forming the shape of the new room.
Floorboards or chipboard?
Modern flooring grade chipboard is ideally suited where you intend fitting carpet or laminated wood floor. Otherwise, t & g flooring looks very well sanded and varnished.
How long does it take?
An economy conversion can be finished in six or seven working days. A proper conversion will take about ten to twelve working days. An en-suite or dormer window will extend that by four or five days. A bungalow conversion would take up to four weeks.
How much does it cost?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your house and we will give you an approximate price. A personal visit is required to produce a proper quotation.
What about water tanks and electricity?
The re-location and/or replacing of water tanks is all part of the job. As is the installation of lighting and plug sockets. T.V. and phone connections can also be fitted when required.
Can I move my hot press to the attic?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. However, the cold water tank must be positioned higher than the hot water cylinder. It’s the weight of the cold water that forces the hot water out of the cylinder when you turn on a hot tap. So, the higher the better.
But, where in the attic do you put a high level cold water tank? You don’t want to have it in the room with you, it’s usually tucked away at floor level in the storage area.
If you haven’t got a really high roof the only alternative is to pressurise the system. This means installing a new pressurised hot water cylinder with a pump to fill it from the low level cold water tank. You won’t get much change out of €1,500 to do this.
How can I be sure that the firm I engage to do the job will carry it out correctly? Ask the following three questions!!!
- Are you a registered building contractor? Do you really want the local handyman to do this job for you? His estimate will be the cheapest because he doesn’t know how to comply with the building regulations. 2. Have you got employers and public liability insurance to work on my house? Who foots the bill if he causes damage to yours or your neighbour’s property? If he doesn’t have insurance, you do!! Ask to see the insurance certificate! 3. Can you provide an architect’s certificate of compliance when the job is completed? You can never sell your house without one. Note. “Economy conversions” where no structural alterations are made, and where access is gained by ladder, do not need to be certified.
What if I have a very old slated roof?
If your roof is very old it is probably near the end of it’s useful life. You should really have it replaced before thinking of converting the attic. It has been our experience that old roofs often have leaks that go unnoticed for years because the damp is soaked up by the accumulation of dust and debris lying around the attic. Unfortunately, these leaks will show up immediately the attic is converted and it is much more difficult to do anything about them afterwards.. If you have any doubts, you should get an reputable roofing contractor to inspect with a view to replacing the roof.
Could I fit two rooms into my attic?
Unless your house is a bungalow or a large four/five bedroom two storey, the short answer is no! Most attic conversions consist of a landing and a decent size room.
What about an en-suite in my attic?
There are two considerations to look at. Have you enough space for the en-suite? There’s no point in having one if it’s going to leave you with a tiny room. What is the water pressure like in your house? If it’s weak, then you are asking for trouble putting in an en-suite. If in doubt, why not consider putting the en-suite in your main bedroom instead?
What is a trussed roof?
Trussed roofs were introduced in the late sixties. They are simply a cheaper way of building roofs. Builders buy a set of prefabricated triangular frames, with a “W” insert, these are lifted onto the new house and a roof is built in a few hours, instead of a few days as had been the case. You can recognise a trussed roof by the “W” framework and by the square metal plates at each join of the timbers. There’s no problem converting a trussed roof provided you have two concrete block walls opposite each other in the attic, ie. an apex or gable roof. Hipped, trussed roofs can be converted, but not as easily.
How can I spot a cowboy builder?
The British used to have a great expression for ‘dodgy builders’. They called them ‘Jerry Builders’ and the buildings they constructed were referred to as having been ‘Jerry built’.
With the arrival of political correctness I’m sure that the name has fallen from grace in recent years.
The term came into being during the Second World War when German prisoners of war were set to work repairing the buildings destroyed in their colleagues’ bombing raids. Being dutiful Germans they cheerfully set about sabotaging everything they laid their hands on, probably causing more longer term damage to the buildings than their bombs did. However, just as it does today, a plastered and decorated ‘disaster’ job to the unfamiliar eye, appeared to be just as good as a professional job.
For a long time after the war, the term was used to describe the work of all those people whose standards were substantially below what would be deemed acceptable.
Nobody is suggesting that these people (cowboys) are deliberately carrying out bad work. In most cases they are simply well meaning but incompetent individuals, usually with no trade qualifications, whose aspirations far exceed their capabilities.
Having spent a few years labouring on building sites they have acquired no skills whatsoever but inexplicably consider themselves to be experts on all aspects of construction, and cheerfully unleash themselves on an unsuspecting general public. They have little or no understanding of building regulations, and know nothing of correct installation procedures.
I’m afraid these are the only people offering very cheap conversions.
How do you recognise one? It’s not easy. Your typical cowboy is not a ‘shifty eyed’ individual waiting to take your money and run. On the contrary, he is quite likely to be charming, helpful and oozing self confidence. The key ‘giveaway’ is the price.
Their prices will always be substantially cheaper than those of the established companies.
They rarely have employers and public liability insurance, and they are hardly ever listed in a phone book. Some have grand titles and give themselves elaborate pedigrees. They sometimes have beautiful photos on their websites. It should be noted that the website designers are able to purchase these photos for a nominal fee from a dedicated website.
Remember, when a dodgy attic conversion is plastered and decorated it can look just as good as a professional job. And the delighted householder will happily recommend his ‘great value’ builder to friends and neighbours.
It simply isn’t possible to produce a quality attic conversion for 10k, 12k, or even 14k. And anyone who believes it can is only kidding himself.
According to the Society of Charted Surveyors building costs for small domestic works (extensions & attic conversions) have fallen by between 10% and 15% from the high of 2006/2007.
How does this affect my house insurance?
Any work you carry out that increases the value of your home, (extension, porch, sun room, conservatory, attic conversion etc.,) must be notified to your insurance company BEFORE work commences. Otherwise they can refuse a claim for any damage to that part of the house.
What about fire regulations?
3 storey houses have far stricter fire regulations than 2 storey. However, the vast majority of these attic conversion rooms are non-habitable, which means that strictly speaking, your house is not a 3 storey building subject to the stricter fire regulations.
This is how most architects view the situation.
You can, of course, voluntarily opt to comply with these regulations, but they do add considerable cost to the job.
- Fireproofing the bedroom ceilings
- Changing all the doors in the house for ‘fire’ doors with auto closers.
- Installing a dedicated fire escape window.
- You may need to create more space for a ‘regulation’ stairs.
- Fireproofing the walls of the hall, stairs and landing.
- Installing a linked smoke alarm system.