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Monthly News letters for our subscribers

<< Planning Permission Tips >>

This months subject:-


First of all, welcome to all new subscribers who have joined over the last month or two.  We do hope that you will find our monthly news letters of value and of use in your development plans - remember our motto is "good luck is usually the result of good engineering of a situation based on sound knowledge".

Apologies for the delay in writing this months news letter but it's been very busy in the office with several schemes coming together at once makes for a hectic life from the ever more demanding client.  The pathetic interest rate rise is akin to trying to stop a super-tanker with a dinghy.  Why the hell the Bank of England doesn't do it in 1 full point steps is beyond me.  The measly £20 per month extra on a 100K mortgage is less than most people spend on a night down the pub or club - Lets get real, if they want to slow down the housing market (which they do) a measly quarter percentage point increases wont do it.  

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 areas:-

1.  DESIGN and 2. DESIGN.

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.

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Thought for the month.....

"Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement"

About the Author
MSM is a Practicing Planning Agent and building design team offering Architectural Services to their clients specialising in residential development.  The views and opinions expressed here are personal ones based on relevant life experiences.  These views and opinions are not intended to be actioned or copied by others.

This email, its content and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the addressee(s) and may be legally privileged and/or confidential. Access by any other party is unauthorised without the express written permission of the sender. If you have received this email in error you may not copy or use the contents, attachments or information in any way. Please destroy it and contact the sender via e-mail return. Internet communications are not secure unless protected using strong cryptography. This email has been prepared using information believed by the author to be reliable and accurate, but we make no warranty as to accuracy or completeness. In particular MSM does not accept responsibility for changes made to this email after it was sent. Any opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the company or its affiliates. They may be subject to change without notice.

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