DIpY Loft Conversion*
(*Do It Partly Yourself!)

The story begins

The usual story: too much stuff, too many people, and not enough house! Not saying the place is small, but you do get the feeling you need to step outside just to change your mind. So In late 2003 a plan was formed, at the start of summer in 2004 we would rip the roof off, stick in another layer, and put the roof on again. How difficult could it be?

The obligatory "before" picture:-

 

Being brave I thought I might tackle this project myself ;-) However not being that brave I thought it might be a good idea to seek help from someone who has done this before. Not only that we need the space sooner than Christmas 2006 (which is how long it might take if I did it all myself!) Hence my mate Trevor, a joiner and builder by trade.

 

The Research Phase

For a job like this planning is essential! It does not take long to realise there is a lot to learn either. A good starting place is the hugely talented and helpful collection of regulars over at the uk.d-i-y usenet group (you can find it on Google Groups as well in case you don't have a local news server to access). Also have a look at the links page for more details on sources of information. You can find the UK DIY FAQ pages here and the DIY wiki here. (both include some articles I worte inspired by the work described on these pages!)

Further Reading

There are not that many books published on the subject of loft (or any house) conversions, but there are a few that I have seen recommended. Have a look on the books page for more information on these.

Planning and Building Regulations

Many loft conversions do not actually require planning permission (PP), and this one is no exception. However, they do require a "Full plans submission" to the local district council. PP would be required if you wanted to make changes to the roof line the faces the road (by addition of a front dormer for example). Oddly converting a hipped roof to a gable end wall does not seem to count as a change in this sense!

Hence the first requirement was getting some plans drawn. Finding an architect with time available was also tricky.

If I were doing this again (now having seen a set of plans and the associated structural calculations) I might be tempted to do them myself. The plans are pretty straight forward diagrams of the property from each elevation, and the structural calcs are produced straight out of superbeam. The only tricky bit would be coming up with the source data to use for beam loadings. Having said that, most of the "industry standard" figures can be had from a book like this.

Having got a suitable set of plans, these were submitted to the council (along with a cheque for £88 to pay them to look at them!). The building control officer (BCO) will usually reply to these and suggest any alterations to bring the plans in line with current regulations and "best practice". If there are any changes required these are then made to the plans and they are resubmitted. Usually at this stage approval will be granted, or, if there are problems with the resubmitted plans you can go through the adapt -> submit -> comment cycle for a few more iterations. In our case the BCO replied (in almost illegible hand writing - how quaint), with a few minor comments which could be easily added to the plans. The resubmission was approved and we were under starters orders. You can now pay a further £264 to building control to have them come and OK each stage of the build.

Anyway the plan is to add three new rooms thus:

That sort of fits in like:

Since the front roof will still retain its slope, the wall to the front is a dwarf wall that will have doors providing access to the remaining storage space at the front of the loft.

(note that both the above piccies don't show the big bay window that runs the full height of the house and sticks out of the front, or its associated bonnet roof).

One point to note is that building regulations change. Some of the regulations relating to loft conversions have changed in the time since the work described here was done. So don't take what you read here as an accurate reflection of the regulations as they stand now. Either see the current approved documents, or take proper advice.

 

The Real Work Begins

The first few tasks are mainly just getting ready and buying lots of stuff! Then the real works gets started:

Task Status
The new Floor Done
The superstructure Done
Adding a roof Done
Now Windows Done
Rendering Done
Stairs Done
Insulating Done
Exterior Painting Done
Shower Done
Tiling Done
Plastering Done
Second Fix Carpentry Done
Heating Done
Decorating Done

All done!

Final visit from the BCO was arranged, and the completion certificate followed in the post a few days later.

Conclusions

So was it all worth it? Yup, I think so!

How long did it take

Hmmm, difficult to answer. We started work in April 2004, and had most of the structural building phase done by August. We lost a few weeks due to poor weather, and another week or two in delays getting materials. We had scaffolding for approx 13 weeks in total.

Progress slowed a little from then, and came to a complete stop as real work interrupted toward the end of 2004. Work resumed about April 2005, and by July 2005 all that remained was decorating and snagging.

 

What did it cost

About £10K for materials (and that includes carpets and decorations etc).

Fees of about £2,200, That's for the BCO, Architect, Roofer, and about five skips.

The boiler replacement cost about £1,250 all in (including a few tools)

Total spend on other tools and consumables is about £1,200 although they are not such a direct cost since I still have the tools!

 

Did it add value to the house

There used to be a time where conventional wizdom said that you would not recoup the cost of this sort of work on selling. Well conventional wizdom is not always right, and times (and property prices) have moved on!

From our point of view most definitely. The alternative would have been moving, and that was likely to amount to extra mortgage to the tune of £110K or more to find a place nearby with five bedrooms.

In terms of financial return, the answer is also very probably yes, in that other similar local properties with similar conversions seem to fetch £40K - 60K more than the unconverted ones. (see hindsight section below!)

 

Unplanned changes / additions

I added some jobs along the way. Replacement of all the soffits, fascias, guttering being one of these activities. This probably added about £500 to the costs (included in the above). Although neighbours who have had this work done professionally have paid between 2 and 2.5K typically.

While adding the new electrics I took the opportunity to bring the aging consumer unit up to current standards, This probably added a further £350 over and above what was strictly necessary for just the loft work. However it has hopefully improved the general safety of the electrical system for the whole house.

We went for a different shower room layout from that shown on the plans. This made better use of the space, and also added a small airing cupboard behind the shower. Not only is this handy in its own right, but it also makes for simpler access to pipes and wiring in the future if required.

 

Things I would have done different Looking back, the main addition I think I should have made, would be the addition of a front dormer. This would have delayed the start of the project since planning permission would have been required, and it would have pushed costs up a little (but probably less than £2K). The benefit would have been a better proportioned front bedroom with more headroom.

There are three clear advantages to doing this type of job yourself. It costs less, you get total control of the quality of the work, and you don't get your house invaded by builders.

The first one sounds simple enough. Judging by what friends have been paying for similar conversion work on their places (£30 - £45k being common), what I spent sounds much cheaper. However you ought to factor in time as well. Even if you were planning to do the job part time basis, there will be some periods where time is of the essence and you will need to work full time on the build (like when you have the roof off!). This probably only amounts to four weeks out of the whole project though. There is also a period of about four to six weeks worth of work where you will require more than one pair of hands.

Fringe benefits include getting fit, and a great sense of achievement.

The downside is obviously the time it takes and the commitment required. A team of builders would probably have had the work finished in 12 to 18 weeks (although you would probably still need to decorate it yourself!).

Should I try it?

The short answer is "that depends". To DIY this type conversion would have been very difficult if had I been constrained to a conventional 9 to 5 job (although you may manage with less ambitious conversion that is contained entirely within the envelope of the existing roof structure). You will need help for some of the work (better still if "help" has experience of this type of work). Personally I find having someone to work with, makes the job much more enjoyable than plodding along on your own all the time.

You need to enjoy taking on big projects. You will need confidence in your own abilities, and a "can do" attitude to learning new skills, while at the same time identifing which jobs you don't have the skill set to do (and don't have the time to learn, or future need for), and those which are going to be not economically feasible to DIY.

Finally be prepared for a few days of very hard work (getting 50 sheets of plasterboard up into the loft springs to mind. The sums suggest that the total of 1.2 Tonnes, over a five meter lift must have been good for the waistline, at over 14,000 calories between us!

 

With added hindsight

It can be instructive to look at what it is actually like to live with once all the dust has settled and normal family life resumes. The answer is: not bad in fact!

  • The design was such that the impact on the existing space was intended to be minimal with the only real change being the stairs. Since these were located in mostly "dead space" above the existing stairs, that change was small. Making sure the handrails were removable was handy since there was some loss of height available on the original stairs. This made getting furniture in and out a little more challenging - but generally no major problems.
  • The extra bathroom is very handy - even if it is two flights up!
  • The 35kW combi boiler could also just about cope with two showers at once.
  • An unexpected benefit of the new top floor was an overall improvement of the thermal performance of the whole building. All the extra insulation helping to keep it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Loss of storage space was unavoidable, but in reality we managed to make enough extra cupboard space, which along with the remaining eves space (and the access we created to the bonnet roof section at the front), meant it was still possible to find a space for all those carpet roll ends you don't want to throw out, and the other usually "stuff" that accumulates in lofts!
  • Having the top floor decoupled from the first floor ceiling was also a great benefit when small children are romping about above you! Along with a decent carpet underlay, the noise was reasonably well contained.

Changing requirements

One of the frustrations of "normal" life is that it is usually far from normal! So it came to pass for us. changing family circumstances meant that in spite of all the careful design work and planning, our ideally converted house no longer fitted the new situation. Significant extra downstairs living space was required, and the extra bedrooms were not going to solve that one. So in 2008 we finally sold up and moved a few miles down the road.

In some ways it is a shame to say goodbye to all the bits you could point at and say "I did that", but then again, one can also leave all the bits that did not work as well as you had hoped, and say "next time..."

It did however answer one question conclusively - and that was the one about adding value to the house. At the time we sold, prices had peaked and were already starting to slide, but even so we did manage to realise a price that represented the top end of what any comparable property in the area had sold for in the past.

 

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