Converting Loft Spaces
by Neil Quinn
Every glossy magazine and weekend supplement carries advertisements extolling the ease and convenience of converting unused loft space. And it can be, especially when converting an empty roof space in a modern building, or making the most of a space void above a garage.
Here, however, we focus on making the most out of historic roof spaces, which is invariably more complicated.
In many old houses it is perfectly possible to turn unused space into living area without compromising the historic integrity of the structure. However, unless it is done sensitively, properly and with full listed building consent where required, a property owner risks adversely affecting both the value and the structure of the house.
I have worked on buildings where the previous owners tried to convert roof spaces without expert help. Some of the results can be horrifying: The removal of vital load bearing timbers leaving the structure of the house at risk, or not taking into account the required usage of the new space and using building materials that are not fit for purpose. For instance, a strengthened floor will be required if converting a roof space into a bathroom, especially if the intention is to install a cast iron bath with claw and ball feet. Likewise if the intention is to use the new space as a games room ? snooker tables are very heavy. Fewer problems are likely to occur if the room is to be used simply as a guest bedroom, unless of course an en-suite bathroom is required, even without an elegant cast iron bath as part of the planned interior.
First and foremost, bring in an architect who has particular historic house experience and instigate a proper survey of the building. If a previous owner has tried unsuccessfully to convert the space, there may be a need to reinstate roof timbers or structural ties. If you are planning to install heavy furniture or equipment in the room, a structural engineer will be able to calculate the load and advise on the correct materials.
And whatever you are doing, if the building is listed then consent must be secured for any alterations or improvements inside the building and out.
A significant part of any roof conversion is the roof materials, and sometimes we make very unpleasant discoveries. For years, spray foam insulation was seen as the inexpensive solution to insulation. Wrong. It soon became horribly evident that it might provide effective insulation, but it did not allow roof timbers to breathe, causing rotting and disintegration followed by a large bill for remedial works.
Employing traditional methods and materials are always the best solutions when converting or refurbishing historic buildings. In the case of the roof, it needs to be to watertight but also to ?breath? allowing the air to flow freely around the timbers. If your roof timber and batons look in poor condition get them checked out by a RIBA architect or conservation surveyor.
Loft conversions within historic houses are never going to be cheap, but done properly they can significantly enhance the value of the property and, perhaps more importantly, enhance the lifestyle those living within it by providing new and more flexible living space.