Planning Home Conversions and Home Extensions
4. Adapting existing unused space
Most houses have one major area of unused space within their existing outer shell: the loft. Others may have a basement or cellar, and some an integral or attached garage, which could all be converted into new living space without the need to build out the house itself.
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Converting the loft is one of the most popular large-scale home improvements, and, if it is well planned and executed, can be both a practical and an aesthetically pleasing addition to the house. Unfortunately, over the years, many houses and bungalows have been horribly disfigured by loft conversions that may well provide valuable extra living space on the inside but are eyesores when viewed from the outside.
The feasibility of a loft conversion depends on a number of factors. The first concerns the way in which the roof was constructed. If it was traditionally built with rafters, ridgepole, purlins and struts, the conversion will generally be fairly straightforward. However, professional advice is still always necessary to ensure that the roof structure will not be dangerously weakened by the conversion work.
If the roof was built using prefabricated trussed rafters, conversion will be more difficult, but not impossible.
The second factor concerns the potential room height. If your roof slope is particularly shallow, there may simply not be enough height in the existing roof space, and you would have to consider building above the roof ridge — something many local planning committees are most unlikely to allow.
The third factor concerns providing access to the conversion from the floor below It may be possible to fit a new staircase above the existing stairwell, but the design of the roof may mean that there is not enough headroom unless a dormer is built over the stairwell. Siting the new staircase anywhere other than above the existing stairwell will take up valuable floor space, which is something to take into account when measuring the gain in net space that the conversion will provide.
Converting a loft is a potentially complex job, which most people prefer to leave to an architect and builder, or to a specialist firm.
You will needapproval for a loft conversion, but is not generally required.
Nowadays houses are seldom built with basements, but they are a common feature in those (especially urban ones) built before World War I. Some basements were never intended to be more than small storage cellars, and were generally built beneath only part of the house. Others are more sizeable and can offer excellent potential for conversion.
As with loft conversions, three main factors will affect the feasibility of the conversion. The first is damp: however well the basement was built, it is below ground level and will therefore be at risk from water penetration from all sides, as well as from below, especially in areas where the water table has risen over the years. You may have to carry out extensive and potentially expensive damp-proofing treatment as the first stage of the conversion.
The second factor is ventilation, which must meetrequirements if the basement is to be turned into habitable rooms: living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and kitchens you can eat in. You may be able to overcome the problem of lack of ventilation by creating an open well outside the basement and installing windows that open into it, but if this is not possible mechanical ventilation will have to be installed.
The third factor is lack of natural light. You may be able to provide this by installing openable windows for ventilation (see above), or by using paving-grade glass, or glass cobbles to make areas of the ceiling translucent. Otherwise, you will have to rely on artificial lighting. In this case, the uses to which you can put the basement rooms may be limited by therequirement for openable windows in habitable rooms.
Converting a basement may be relatively simple if the rooms are free from damp, but the job can be fairly complex and expensive if you intend to use them as habitable rooms.
An integral or attached garage offers obvious potential for conversion into extra living space, especially if there is already an access door leading into it from the house. The amount of work involved in carrying out the conversion depends on the purpose to which you will put it.
If all you want is a workshop, a home for kitchen appliances such as the freezer, washing machine or tumble drier, or space to enable the children to play table tennis, then a coat of paint on the walls and an extension of yourand plumbing systems is all you need.
If it is to be a truly habitable room, however, the work involved will be much more extensive. The garage floor may not include a damp-proof membrane, and may be at a lower level than the house floor; it will also need insulating to bring it up to Building Regulations standards. Unless the garage is wholly within the house, the external walls will be of single-thickness brickwork, so they will have to be both insulated and dry-lined. In an attached garage, you will also have to put in a ceiling with insulation above it; the ceiling of an integral garage should already be well insulated. Most garage conversions turn the garage-door opening into a large front window.
You may also want to add other windows to the side or back walls, especially if you intend to partition the space within the conversion. If there is no access door, you will have to create a new opening at a convenient point in the house wall, which may take up space within the house itself
Servicing the new rooms
Having successfully converted unused space, you will have to extend the house’s wiring to provide better lighting and some power points, and will have to consider how to heat the new rooms. If plumbing facilities are required, you will have to extend supply pipes and make arrangements for getting rid of waste water.
5. Adding new living space
If you need more living space than is actually available within your home, and none of the previous options solves your problem, you have little choice but to build on. A full-blown extension of one or two storeys is the obvious choice, although adding a conservatory at the back or side of the house is also a popular way of gaining an additional living room or recreational area.
How you extend your home will depend on several factors. The most critical is the availability of space on the site for the projected extension, and it is generally obvious what the options are. The most likely is an extension at the back of the house, but it can be very difficult to make the new work look like part of the original building — the ideal of any home extension. If there is space at the side of the house, an extension here can be blended with the existing structure much more easily, especially if it is given a pitched, rather than a flat, roof Front extensions are generally not allowed by the planning authorities, unless the house is set well back from the road or is behind the building line with which the fronts of the neighbouring properties are aligned.
Assuming that you have room on site to extend your home, you must next decide what sort of extra space you need, since this will dictate the type of extension that you build. A single-storey rear extension is ideal for extending a kitchen or living room, but if you need more bedrooms or an extra bathroom, a two-storey extension is a must (unless, of course, you live in a bungalow). This will generally be a brand-new structure, also providing extra ground-floor living space or an integral garage, although in some cases you may be able to add a storey to an existing side garage or single-storey extension if the foundations and structure are strong enough. When planning a two-storey extension, you will have to pay particular attention to organising the access arrangements in order to minimise any undue loss of space in the existing house.
Once you have decided what to build and where to build it, you can start to plan the project in detail. The size of the job means that you will almost certainly need professional assistance from a designer, such as an architect, building surveyor or architectural consultant. Unless the work counts as permitted development, you will also need to apply for planning permission, and you will in any case need Building Regulations approval.
Conservatories have become one of the most popular types of major domestic building projects in recent years, reviving a construction that first became fashionable in Victorian times. In their current reincarnation they have evolved from the humble sun-room — essentially a lean-to greenhouse — into a variety of highly elaborate styles and shapes that can blend in with any type of house design.
The modern conservatory is basically a modular building, consisting of a series of prefabricated glazed units which are assembled to form a perimeter wall that may be square, rectangular, or with angled corners in hexagonal or octagonal shapes. Double glazing is essential if you expect to be able to use the room all year round, as is good insulation in any solid-wall areas.
The roof is no longer the heavy structure of the traditional conservatories, with their panels of wired glass. Modern plastics technology has produced the perfect roofing material, called polycarbonate: a light, rigid sheet, with a box-section structure, which is available in twin- and triple-wall versions. The air trapped within the box sections acts as an excellent insulator, and the lighthess of the material, coupled with its strength, means that the roof structure can also be comparatively light in weight and unobtrusive in appearance.
A conservatory is usually sited at the back of the house, for obvious reasons: it will act as an extension to the main living areas, and the back is where space is most likely to be available. However, if there is room, it could also be sited at the side of the house, and such a position will maximise the effects of the available sunlight.
Adding a conservatory is generally one of the least disruptive types of building project to carry out, since all the construction work takes place outside the house. Most conservatories are built against walls which already have either an existing door opening, or a window that can be easily enlarged to form one. Once the base for the structure is in place, the building can be erected and weatherproofed in a day or so, and is then ready for immediate use.
Most people buy a conservatory from a specialist supplier who also carries out all the installation work, but an alternative is to order the components and assemble the building yourself.
Conservatories count as home extensions for planning purposes and so permission must be sought if you exceed the permitted development allowance. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland conservatories are exempt from Building Regulations control provided they do not exceed 30sq m (about 325sq ft) in area.
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