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Utilising Your Loft

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Converted Loft

Converted Loft

A Loft Conversion to Make Better Use of Space

For Leisure and Hobbies

In Britain loft conversions have to meet very specific building regulations and is likely to require planning permission. So not all lofts are suitable for conversion and invariably loft conversions are expensive but costs can be minimised if after obtaining planning permission, meeting building regulations and having the structural work done professionally the remaining non-structural work is carried out as a DIY Project.

Assuming your loft is suitable for conversion below I give a brief overview of how you may then utilise the space as a film or photographic film studio, study room or for just laying out your model railway village or large scale Scaletrix track.

What Is an Attic and How It Differs From a Loft

A loft is storage space directly beneath the roof and generally above the bedrooms which can be used for storage as opposed to an Attic which is a finished area fully boarded with natural light and a staircase, and which can be lived in (living space) or in order buildings may have had other practical uses e.g. hay lofts.

Lofts are often un-boarded space just below the roof with joists that can't safely take the heavy weight of people traffic and furniture; it doesn't have natural light and has a loft door in the ceiling below for access via a loft ladder; if one is fitted.

As part of the preparation for a loft conversion the roof should be checked to ensure:

  • Any of the tiles don't need replacing,
  • That the roof rafters and in good condition, and not rotting or need replacing,
  • That the roofing under felt is sound and that there are no damp or leaks.

Any maintenance and repairs should be done on the roof before or during the loft conversion.

Building Regulations

And Planning Permission

I’m not an expert so you should you should check with your Local Authority what the building regulations are in your area and whether you need planning permission for any proposed works.

However, from my limited knowledge, and understanding, some of the main Building Regulation Requirements, and recommendations, for a loft conversion include the following:-

  1. Ceiling Height - This has now apparently been removed from building regulations. However, from a practical point of view at least 50% of the floor area should normally have a floor to ceiling height of at least 2.1m (7ft).
  2. Floor Joists - The joists in a standard loft are invariably too shallow and only suitable for light storage, typically (4 x 6 inches) 100mm to 150mm. To meet building they need to be much deeper e.g. (8 or 9 inches) 200mm or 225mm to carry the additional load bearing weight the converted loft is likely to carry; the exact depth required is very specific and is dependent on the span of the joists.
  3. Natural Light - Any living space should have natural light, in a loft this can easily and cheaply be achieved by installing one or more skylights or dormer windows if you need to increase the floor to ceiling height although this will be a much more expensive option.
  4. Stairs - A full loft conversion creating additional living space e.g. bedroom to meet building regulations requires building a staircase.

Therefore before planning any loft conversion you should check the building regulations for these and other relevant requirements e.g. any requirements for fire escape; and check with your local authority before commencing with any works.

Skylights and Blinds

Fakro vs Velux

As part of the partical conversion of our loft we had a Fakro skylight installed in the roof at the back of the house; west facing.

The two main makes of skylights in the UK are Velux and Fakro, most people (including builders) think of Velux when they think of skylights. Visually, size, quality and generally pricewise there is no significant difference between Velux and Fakro; they are almost identical. However, I was recommended Fakro by a builder friend when I was looking for a skylight and was well pleased with it so when we had additional skylights fitted in a side roof for two bedrooms we stuck with Fakro.

What I really like about the Fakro skylights we have (pictured above) are the two opening settings to let some fresh air in, ventilate the room and cool the room without any risk of rain getting in. Then on hot days you can just open the skylight window right up; and even flip it over for easy cleaning. The Fakro skylight also has a vent at the top which optionally can remain open in cold weather for effective room ventilation without letting the cold air in. Also, the Fakro skylights have their handles at the bottom so provided the window isn't too high up in the roof enables you to more easily reach the handle for opening and closing the window, both the air vent and handle are shown in the above photo; my understanding is that the Velux skylights have their handles at the top, which makes it further to reach.

Skylights are not expensive and for a competent DIY enthusiast quite easy to install if you follow the manufacturer's instructions except that you will need scaffolding to safely install skylights which along with the labour costs are the most expensive part of the build.

When ordering your skylight ensure you also order blinds to fit, especially if the skylights will be facing in a southerly or westerly direction. Blinds come in a variety of colours and types from blackout blinds that cut 100% of light and heat from the sun to more conventional blinds that blocks the sun's glare but not the natural light. You can buy the manufacture's own make of blinds or if you shop around e.g. Amazon third party blinds that are just as good but a lot cheaper; but if you do buy third party blinds make sure you get the measurements right and that you get the correct blinds to fit the make of skylight you're using. Some of the third party blinds will fit both Velux and Fakro, done by (for Fakro) including a short extension piece of about 4" (100) that clips to the bottom of the main runners on either side of the window.

Fakro Skylight Window

Fakro Skylight Window

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For Further Information on Skylights

The Finishing Touches

Once the Structural Work Is Complete

Time for the DIY, Painting and Decorating

When all the structural works are complete and building regulations are met you can save a substantial sum of money on the build by completing most of the non-structural work yourself, provided you are a competent DIY enthusiast; if in doubt seek professional help and or advice.

In the UK the electrics e.g. sockets and lighting has to be done by a professionally qualified electrician but other than that you can do the insulation between the felt and plasterboard yourself; put up the plasterboard and lay the floorboards, and finally the painting and decorating.

You may also wish to consider insulating beneath the floorboards dependant on whether you've done a full loft conversion including stairs for a bedroom, study or home office space or just a partial conversion e.g. just a playroom for a model railway, Scalextric layout etc. which isn't going to be in use all year round.

Originally our loft was just a space for storage. We laid temporary flooring and put down a bit of carpeting so that we could build a model railway village in the loft and layout our son’s Scalextric; but overtime our needs changed, and some of the underfelt on the roof needed replacing.

Therefore, after searching for a suitable quote, we paid about £4,000 for the structural works including the re-felting while the scaffolding was up; but didn't bother with installing a staircase as we only need the loft for storage around the sides and occasional studio use for photographic work.

Once the structural work was completed I put the finishing touches to the interior of the loft to meet our current requirements:

  • Storage space being behind cupboard doors around the sides of the loft, and
  • The main open space boarded and decorated to use as a simple photographic studio, as shown in the photo showcase below.

Obviously in the future our requirements for the space may change again, at which point the space gained could then be put to many other good uses such as rebuilding the model railway village or for a study or crafts area.

Our Son’s Professional Photography Work

  • Proper Job Productions
    We offer a Professional Photography and video service in the Bristol, Bath and surrounding areas. Our areas of expertise are Pet Photography, Product Photography, Weddings and other Special Occasions, birthday parties and anniversaries.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Arthur Russ

Would you have a loft conversion? - Or have you already had it converted?

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 15, 2017:

Thanks for your feedback all, yes a good loft/attic space can be so versatile in its use.

VspaBotanicals on April 08, 2014:

I love love love all of your projects! Thanks for showing us how to do them the right way!

anonymous on September 07, 2012:

If I had one, I sure would. I think they make a nice comfy little space. You attic looks nice and welcoming. Could use that space for many different things or reasons. Nice lens. :)

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