Do you need planning permission for a loft conversion?

Loft extensions are normally considered ‘permitted development’ which means they don’t need planning permission, but sometimes if they exceed a certain space or change the look of the roof by more than an allowable amount, you will need to apply for planning. Normally, the company employed to build the extension will apply for any relevant planning permissions if they are needed.

Basic rules need to be adhered to

do lofts need planning permissionA terraced house of average size could have an extra 40 cubic metres and other houses can typically have an additional 50 cubic metres. There are limits to changing the look of the roof which basically mean that you can’t extend above the roof slope of the principal elevation facing the road and also nothing may go above the highest part of the roof at any point. If materials are needed – for example a window or new area of roof – they should be similar to what has already been used in the rest of the house. It is not within ‘permitted development’ to have any verandas, balconies or raised platforms at roof level as part of a loft extension and side facing windows have to be obscure-glazed and must be at least 1.7 metres above the loft floor if they open – this is an obvious safety feature. One thing that must be remembered when calculating the space you are allowed to create in the roof is to bear in mind that if you are adding to an existing loft extension, you may only make the total space that allowed for your type of home – in other words, the finished space cannot exceed the total, including that already there. One thing that has nothing to do with planning permissions and yet can still bring a loft extension to a grinding halt is – bats! Bats are a protected species and if bats are using the building to roost, you will have to apply for a special license to relocate them. With certain very rare species this is by no means certain to be given, so you may be unable to continue.

Building regulations

Although planning permission may not be necessary, it is still important that building regulations are adhered to, for the structural safety of the building. Basic needs that must be met are that the strength of the floor is adequate and that there is still a safe escape from fire. The stairs reaching the loft from the floor below must be designed with safety in mind, being spaced so that children won’t be injured by slipping between. The Building Regulations are likely to be more stringent if the space is for living; if mainly for storage there will be fewer requirements such as sound insulation, but there may be issues arising from the Party Wall Act of 1996.

Check your home’s history

Sometimes a home may have been extensively changed before you buy it and before deciding on a loft extension that may be dependent on the location of load bearing walls and other features to ensure that the structure remains safe, it is essential that you check to make sure no walls have been removed on the lower levels in the past. Many homes with large through lounges, for example, have had a load-bearing wall removed and replaced by a beam. If you think this may apply to your house, get your builder to check but an easy way to work this out is to count rooms. If you have more upstairs than down, you almost certainly have ‘lost’ a load bearing wall at some point and your builder will need to take this into account. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a loft conversion is out of the question, but there may need to be additional work done to make sure that the joists won’t spread and cause a lot of problems in the future.

Choose your contractor with care

Although a general builder will undoubtedly have the basic skills to carry out a loft conversion, using a specialist contractor is by far the best plan. Only they will have met all the possible pitfalls that can happen and can take steps to avoid delays. Often when an apparently huge glitch comes over the horizon, the solution is very simple – but only when you have met it before. A specialist contractor will have a checklist to complete before even quoting a price, so you are unlikely to have any nasty surprises, either in finished product or price if you go to an expert. The other problem with using a general builder – who often will appear cheaper in the first instance – is that they often can’t undertake to finish your work within a certain timeframe, which a specialist will do. Upheaval is kept to a minimum, problems are solved before they arise and your loft conversion will be just what you always wanted, paperwork and all.