a loft before conversion

When is a loft not a loft?

I went to see a potential client last week to discuss a ground-floor extension. As often happens, in the course of our chat they asked about other things, in this case about using the loft space.

The problem was, the ground floor of their house is very open plan so, without a layout change, building regulations would demand that a full loft conversion would mean installing sprinklers as a fire safety feature. It’s an expensive and disruptive process.

Instead, the client had considered simply boarding out the loft and installing space-saving stairs such as a paddle staircase. Having a fixed staircase would mean they must still comply with other building regulations, and all of this got me thinking; when does tinkering with the loft become a conversion?

When is a loft not a loft?

a partial loft conversion

Does it have to be a habitable space? Or is it when you create permanent access stairs? What about when a Velux is installed? A new floor? Plasterboard lining? Insulation above the rafter line?

I consulted a local building regulations officer who told me:

“If you board out an entire loft space and install a fixed staircase then it’s generally considered to be an additional storey, even if you don’t turn it into a room. It would require a protected escape route to satisfy building regulations for fire safety.

“Even with a retractable ladder, if the space is lined and boarded it’s still an additional storey so the same rules apply. You can get around this by not lining the space and boarding it for light storage only.”

Full loft conversions

a loft conversion

Many loft conversions fall under Permitted Development and don’t need planning permission, providing it doesn’t add more than 40 cubic metres to the existing roof space for terraced houses, or 50 cubic metres for detached homes.

But creating a habitable room in a roof space must always comply with building regulations approval.

Check out this article about choosing the right staircase to comply with building regulations

Find additional information about building regulations regarding loft conversions on the planning portal and check out this excellent guide to loft conversions from the people at Homebuilding & Renovating.


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