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Attic conversions - What you should know

Sep 13

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Friday, September 13, 2013  RssIcon

 A.   Attic conversions are a popular and extremely efficient method of adding additional space to existing properties. More often than not they are cheaper to complete than house extensions, may not require planning permission and are relatively quick to complete. However, a word to the wise, it is fairly commonplace that homes built by developers over the last decade or so cannot support attic conversions at a later stage.

In considering an attic conversion there are a number of key areas that you will need to look at. First off you should measure the dimensions of the current attic space to determine whether or not a completed conversion will provide a viable living space for your requirements. Given the pitch of the roof in your attic its height will decrease from the centre out but, in general, you will want a clearance of no less than 7ft at its highest point to make it comfortable. In relation to floor area just measure the attic length by its width to get its square footage - the usable floor space in the finished conversion can vary from about 70% of the pre-conversion area downwards depending on the final design. If the measurements you have taken stack up then you will at least have the basis to move forwards. 

Next you should look at the stairwell requirement. As a permanent conversion it is not sufficient to have a ladder as a means of accessing the attic – a permanent stairs and stairwell is required to comply with building and fire regulations. This requirement often rules out attic conversions from many existing properties, so check and see that you have sufficient space on the landing of the floor beneath the proposed conversion.

At this stage we would advise that you engage with a qualified structural engineer and/or architect to look at the next steps with you. There are also a number of quality attic conversion specialist companies in operation that offer a one-stop-shop. You can locate all of these resources at www.onlinetradesmen.com. The reason for this suggestion is a solid one – there are a number of key building regulations that you will need to comply with in order to make the conversion a reality. Get advice on these early before you spend big money on the project.

Currently there are 2 classifications that can be applied to attic conversions under Irish building regulations. The first is termed a ‘habitable space’ attic conversion. Thanks to some fairly dated bylaws (1848) Irish building regulations stipulate that all floor space built above 1,500mm (5ft) in height must provide a minimum of 2.4 meters (8ft) height clearance across 50% of its floor area in order for it to be designated as ‘Habitable space’. In practice not many such attics spaces exist – so you can apply to Board Pleanala for dispensation for your project if you are outside the requirements. Such a conversion will require planning permission and it will also need to comply with current fire safety regulations. The alternative classification is a for a conversion to be carried out as a ‘non habitable space’ attic conversion. Subject to certain criteria such conversions do not require planning permission and in practice are being used as bedrooms, offices and mixed use rooms in many people’s homes. Regardless of which option you go for you will need to ensure that all conversions comply with the relevant building regulations otherwise you will face problems if trying to sell the property later on. Insist that you receive a certificate of compliance for the finished conversion from your structural engineer and avoid any operators that do not provide it as part of their service. Check with your local planning authority if you have any queries in relation to planning requirements.

In progressing with your conversion it is also important to consider the insulation and ventilation requirements. Remember that both of these areas will determine how comfortable the area becomes – insulation works not only to retain heat but also to reduce it in the summer months. It also provides you with the opportunity increase your overall properties heat retention if done correctly which will effect your homes Building Energy Rating (BER) which is now of huge importance. Your conversion will also need to take into account your lighting requirements. Many attic conversions provide the opportunity for direct sunlight and potential for unspoilt views. However planning permission is required for any windows placed at the front of the house – so you will need to bear this in mind. Also be wary of causing disharmony by overlooking neighbours due to its window positions.

As with any addition you will also need to consider any relevant electrical and plumbing requirements. If your water storage tank is currently in the attic you will need to incorporate it into the design or move it elsewhere. If you are keeping it in the attic please make sure to consider the potential for air higher temperatures in the attic post conversion and the effect that they may have on the stored water. If you are moving it out of the attic consider any water pressure implications for house. From an electrical requirement there is a great opportunity for home owners to consider solar panel installation when undertaking an attic conversion – applying panels to the roof is a relatively small job when undertaken as part of this bigger job.

In terms of the duration of the project a lot will depend on your design requirements and any planning permission considerations. Typically the manual labour side of such a project can be carried out in as little as 2 - 3 weeks if you hire the right contractor.

From a valuation perspective a certified conversion will undoubtedly add to the re-sale value of your house, however, it would not normally be considered in the same price bracket as an equivalent 4-Bed house. A lot will depend on the finish and design but make sure to get that certificate of compliance for the finished article or any gains will be minimal.