Loft Extensions

Every period house owner has to make compromises between preserving their home and making it suitable for modern living. One such area of compromise is the loft or attic extension. In non-listed buildings, this is often a cost-effective way of adding a room to cope with an expanding family or for a home-based business.

What should you consider when thinking about a loft room or extension in a period house? What should you ensure is included in the specification? How much should you expect to spend?

If the loft room is to be used for sleeping in, then you must take great care to ensure safety. In the event of a fire, your smoke detectors must work, there must be adequate protection for anyone trapped in the loft and proper escape routes. Building Control approval will be required for the work. If you fail to obey the law, your family is at risk and selling your home will be difficult. Fire regulations require that door closers be fitted to all room doors (even on the ground floor).

You are recommended to seek the advice of two or three specialist companies. They will have ideas about where to place the stairs, know what will be acceptable to your Local Authority, and have a qualified surveyor who will ensure that adequate joists are in place.

What houses are suitable? The higher the headroom in the existing loft the better. Victorian and Edwardian houses are therefore more suitable. You will be shocked at the loss of headroom in the resulting room; substantial RSJs usually need to pass between external walls, or party walls, to carry the loads of the new room and these sit above the existing ceiling joists. So you may lose 40-50 centimetres in height.

The location of a staircase is the next issue. There is a minimum allowed width for the staircase. Circular staircases are not generally permitted. One option is to continue above an existing staircase, and another is to take a chunk out of an existing room. If the stairs rise from an outside wall, back into the centre of the house, you will not need a dormer to give adequate headroom at the top.

In specifying the requirement, ensure that the following are included and costed in the estimate:

  • matching existing staircase mouldings in wood and pattern
  • match existing mouldings in architraves and skirting
  • matching existing doors; these may have to be fire-proofed
  • matching existing door furniture
  • providing adequate electrical points, water and heating
  • the standard for making good (you want to avoid rough plaster and woodwork which takes a lot of tidying up)

Before the project begins, move all breakable items from the access route to the new room; much of the material can be passed in through temporary holes in the roof, but some, such as the staircase may have to pass through your front door.

Make sure you are happy with the lighting in the rooms below the loft room; it will be difficult to re-locate ceiling light fittings once the loft room is in place.

Under the Party Wall Act (1966), the written consent of the owners of a neighbouring house must be received before some projects can begin. Consider taking the advice of a surveyor with experience of this legislation.