OK, (party political over with), lets get down
to some real topical issues within the residential development field. We
get a great many requests to view the potential of Loft conversions. This
type of extension has remained fairly popular since I first started designing
property and is perhaps even more in demand now than ever before - especially
in dense urban areas where the alternative choices for that fourth bedroom
are somewhat limited.
Now, the popular press would have you believe that
they do not add value or have limited appeal. However, that blanket
broad brush, slightly disrespectful opinion does not ring true for most of
our clients. So what is going on? As always, the devil
is in the detail - the detail in this respect is mainly focussed on two primary
1. DESIGN and 2.
It's just like the location, location location
slogan for house values and desirability. Fortunately, the planners
have got to grips with a lot of loft conversions these days and they now
have a great more control of schemes that a few years ago could have been
built under Permitted Development. This means that they have encompassed
'good design guides' in an attempt to stamp out the ugly full width
box dormer that turned
a beautiful victorian semi into a something that looks like a car sized packing
crate trying to escape from a neighbours roof.
Conversely, many people have argued that the 'chocolate
box' cottage type pointy roofed dormers (as suggested by the planners) are
quite simply impractical and do not provide enough space for a fully functional
room which in many cases is a very valid and true point. HOWEVER,
life is all about compromises and choices have to be made.
Fortunately, most members of the public are now
becoming far more 'design aware' than they ever used to be
and slowly by slowly they are beginning to accept that the formation of more
space must not be at the expense of a poor external visual
impact that simply jars with the whole look of the locality. This
type of poor dormer design can not only decrease the value of your own home
but that of the neighbours as well.
But yet again there are exceptions. Some
suburbs of London for example have a plethora of these types of loft extensions
and the ones that have not yet been converted look out of place. These
types of areas pay more attention to the internal design of the living space
than the grotty externals - goes with the environment I suppose. Also, some
areas are 70's and 80's built estates where the whole so called 'architect
design' was for this style of flat roofed box dormer which is a commonly
accepted fact for the area and enjoyed by many.
So, back to my original
question - Does a loft conversion
or extension add value? In my opinion YES in practically all
cases baring a few exceptions. Should it be my first choice of residential
development if my site has surrounding ground that allows alternative solutions?
Well no in my opinion unless your property is a bungalow. A loft conversion
for the standard 2 storey dwelling house (detached, semi or terrace) should
perhaps be on the 'last option' list rather than your first choice - more
to do with peoples perceptions rather than anything scientific I could quote.
When we assess a loft conversions viability we
run through a sort of assessment check list before we advise our clients
and we always steer them towards nice looking, well balanced, recessed type
of pitched roof dormers at the sacrifice of some space rather than the 'ugly
duckling' alternative. However, like all services, many clients do not
value the external look as much and they insist on the largest dormer possible
especially if it can be constructed under the sites Permitted Development
allowances (no planning permission necessary) - Do we still take the job?
- yes of course we do its our living but our sign board never goes up during
the construction works.
Some people subscribing to our news letter may
value our 'design lead' approach so we schedule below some of our assessment
criteria relating to loft conversions that you may find useful:-
1. Does it need Planning Permission
- If so utilising the councils design guides is a must. Some front
or side facing dormers may still be resisted even if they are small. Velux
windows often overcome these objections. In most cases, big bulky box dormers
will not be allowed.
2. What area of new space does
the client require - Many clients have overambitious floor space targets
and visualise 3 bedrooms for example (all with ensuite of course). They fail
to appreciate the loss of floor space caused by the extensive sloping soffits,
and the new stairs.
3. Where can the new stair set
go - Many clients fail to realise that their preferred location for the stairs
does not achieve the required head room within the new floor for example.
In most cases some existing floor space of the bedrooms for example
will need to be sacrificed.
4. It is better to achieve one
or two good sized functional rooms to compensate for the lack of head room
in some areas of the new rooms rather than trying to cram in the bedroom
numbers for the sake of it where the new rooms can become nothing more than
single bed sleeping podules with very little inbuilt amenity value.
5. If flat roofed dormers
can only be achieved due to the low ridge height then split the dormers into
2 or three smaller ones with no more than 1200mm (4') wide windows to break
up its bulk. Always, always always recess the dormer into the roof
slope to reduce the dormers bulk - DO NOT BUILD THE EXTERNAL FACE OF THE
DORMER WALL OFF THE EXISTING EXTERNAL WALL OF THE HOUSE.
6. If a client wants a
conversion with only Velux type roof lights then all well and good (much
cheaper as well). However an exercise should be completed to explore
the possibilities of a strategically located dormer or two that often frees
up an extra 30% floor area that the client may not have realised for very
little extra money.
7. Dormers are not the only design
solution to more light and space - consideration could also be given to a
hip to gable conversion of the side roof for example that wont look out of
keeping (unless your a semi of course).
8. As a rule of thumb to
the practicality of your new room in the roof - if you can already touch
the ridge board when standing in the loft (about 2.3M or less), then its
normally too small to form useful functioning bedrooms unless a bulky box
dormer is constructed (which is what we are trying to avoid) If it is an
area just for a play room or a study then all well and good but beware, many
people have embarked on tight loft conversions only to realise too late that
that they have no where to place the bed or locate a wardrobe.
There are a great many other issues to consider
as well when completing loft conversions such as overheating, fire regs,
weather protection during the works etc. and these are major discussion topics
in themselves that I will leave for another day. However, the points
listed above are the main ones relative to the external design and appearance
of loft conversions.
Our 'Maximum Build
Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when
developing a site with a loft conversion or extension and how to give yourself
the best chance of being granted an approval.