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Loft conversion jargon buster

A loft conversion is a sure-fire way to add space and value to your property. The possibilities opened up by the new space are near endless: new bedrooms, a nursery, games room or even a home spa are all well within reach. In order to convey your dream plans for the new loft space, however, you will need to be able to communicate intricate details with your designer.

As the home improvement project that tends to involve the most structural work, it is no surprise that loft conversions involve a lot of technical terms and design features that can be difficult to wrap your head around. Here at Opun, we believe in simple, honest communication between experts and homeowners; we hope this jargon buster will go some way to bridging the gap between the two.

The benefits of this jargon buster are twofold: firstly, it should hopefully allow you and your loft surveyor to understand each other from the get-go. Being able to communicate effectively minimises the chances of an unsatisfactory project outcome and puts your mind at rest from the very beginning of the conversion journey. Meanwhile, in the sadly all too common event that you are being played by a cowboy builder, this jargon buster should give you the tools to identify when someone is talking nonsense and just trying to make a quick buck.

Legal terms

A beautiful loft bedroom

It’s all too easy to get bogged down in administrative red tape and convoluted legalese when it comes to getting planning permission for a loft project. Luckily, not all conversions require permission but you still need a general awareness of the legal terms and processes that may be brought up. These are some of the key legal terms you need to know about:

Building regulations (Regs) – These are a specific set of minimum standards of construction, laid out by the Government, that affect nearly every building in the UK.  Many of these regulations apply to loft conversions, ensuring that all work is structurally sound, well insulated and fire safe.  A key loft conversion regulation that is worth bearing in mind is the requirement that the finished conversion should provide a minimum ceiling height of 2.2m.

Load bearing – Any parts of a loft or home’s structure that carries the weight of an imposed load. Common examples of load-bearing elements include brick walls and timber posts.

Party wall – The party wall refers to a wall or other boundary, that is shared with a neighbour. Such as the wall that joins two houses in a semi-detached property.

Party wall agreement – If you live in a semi-detached or terrace house, you will need to get a Party Wall Agreement before any loft conversion can be started on a wall that you share with your neighbour’s property. This will outline the rules regarding the construction of your new loft, for instance, what times your builders will be allowed to operate on your neighbour’s side.

Permitted development – Permitted development refers to changes you are allowed to make to your home, without acquiring planning permission or any other kind of certification beforehand. In many instances, loft conversions are allowed under permitted development. Key issues such as the age of a property and its location within a borough can have an effect on this so you should check with an expert to find out if a loft conversion on your property would be considered permitted development.

Loft Features

Of all the discussions you could have with a loft expert, the one most likely to leave you feeling like a fish out of water is a conversation about particular features in the loft. Nearly every strip of wood or metal deployed in a loft space has a unique purpose and name that a surveyor can casually list off whilst you haven’t the foggiest idea what exactly it is they’re referring to. Learn these terms to be able to keep you with them and add your own input as well:
Baten – A tiny strip of sawn timber that is fitted on the rafters to provide support for new tiles or slates.

Binders – These are installed in new lofts to strengthen their overall structural integrity. They are small chunks of timber fitted across the top of a loft ceiling’s rafters.

Fire check door – A specifically designed and fitted door that is able to withstand the heat from a fire and block its passage for a considerable amount of time. Building regulations require every loft conversion to have fire checked doors or up to date smoke alarms.

Pitch – The pitch of the roof refers to how steep it is. Some loft conversions involve making the pitch of the roof steeper to allow for more headroom. As well as this, some loft conversions, such as mansards, alter the pitch of the roof to create more internal space.

Rafters – Rafters are typically sloping wooden beams inside your attic that support your roof at a slope. If you have these instead of trusses your loft will be slightly easier to convert.

Sound insulation – Sound insulation is a type of insulation used to dampen the noise in your home. This type of insulation is usually built beneath the flooring of your new loft space, to prevent people beneath having to listen to noisy footsteps and other sounds coming from above.

RSJ – An acronym for Rolled Steel Joist. These are commonly used in loft conversion projects to strengthen and support newly installed floors. Visually these look like long metal beams whose cross-section resembles the letter I.

Thermal insulation – This is another type of insulation designed to prevent heat from your home escaping. This will make it more energy-efficient to keep your home at a comfortable temperature and can save you money on heating bills in the long run.

Truss – The trusses of a roof are a type of framework typically made from timber found in some lofts. If you have trusses in your loft, the conversion process may take slightly longer.

Stages of a conversion

A loft conversion in progress

As an intricate and meticulously planned home improvement project, a completed loft conversion isn’t suddenly going to appear on your property overnight. Instead, there are several key phases of a conversation that are easy to identify. Be warned, some so-called ‘loft specialists’ may only offer a loft conversation up to a certain point and then demand an additional payment to actually finish the project. Make sure you’re not caught out!

Breaking through – Breaking through, and ‘breakthrough day’ refers to a phase of construction that takes place towards the end of the loft conversion process. At this stage builders remove a portion of the ceiling from the storey beneath the attic (this is usually in the landing but it can be elsewhere) and fit a new staircase leading to the loft.

Builder’s finish – Fitting light fittings, skirting boards, plug sockets and plastering the walls without doing any decorating tiling or carpeting. Many building firms advertise completing a loft conversion with a ‘builder’s finish – you should clarify exactly what they mean by that.

Snagging – One of the final steps in a loft conversion process. You look around your nearly completed loft and make a list of defects, mistakes or things that just aren’t quite right. Your notes will then be put into place before the project is over. Snagging is the perfect opportunity to make sure everything is exactly to your specification.

Types of conversion

A completed loft conversion from the outside

There is no such thing as a standard fit-all loft conversation. Different styles of property are better suited to different types of conversion and some aesthetic styles just do not mesh well with particular types of conversion. In addition to this, some councils may be more likely to reject one type of conversion over another one. Make sure to ask a loft expert what type of conversion they would recommend for your property.

Dormer – A type of loft conversion in which an extension protrudes from your existing sloping roof. One of the benefits of a Dormer conversion is the ability to maximize headroom in your loft. This type of extension is usually located at the rear of the property. It is the most popular kind of loft conversion in the UK, largely due to its relative cheapness when compared to other conversions.

Hip-to-gable – A type of loft conversion typically carried out on semi-detached houses with three sloping sides. This is done by replacing the sloping roof at the opposite side of where the two houses are joint with a vertical wall that leads up to the two remaining sloping pitches, in a triangular shape. You must have a semi-detached or detached property to undergo a traditional hip-to-gable conversion; if you live in a detached house with a sloping roof on either side of the property it is possible to undergo a double hip-to-gable conversion by extending both sides.

L-shaped dormer – A specific type of dormer conversion. This type of conversion constructs one dormer over the main body of the house and another connected one over the rear extension. Due to this architectural necessity, L-shaped dormer conversions are particularly common for Victorian terrace houses. The two dormers meet to form the L-shape, with the second one adding the necessary headspace to the lower extension.

Internal – An internal loft conversion is usually the cheapest kind of conversion project. This is because it requires the fewest alterations to the existing roof, can be almost endlessly configured into a room or set of rooms and, since it barely alters the exterior appearance of your house, raises few, if any, planning objections.

Mansard – A type of loft conversion in which a large box protrudes out of the building’s roof, running along its length, with its own flat roof on top. They are the largest type of loft conversion and can be quite pricey, but they do add a huge amount of space. A double mansard goes even further, building on both the front and back of the house to effectively add an extra storey.

Shell conversion – A type of loft conversion in which a building firm completes the structural work and leaves the rest up to the customer. This would usually create a watertight internal loft space due to the completed timber work. Windows, doors, flooring, staircases and internal stud walls can also be fitted as part of a shell conversion.

Velux – Velux is the name of a popular manufacturer of windows who specialise in skylights. They have become synonymous with a type of loft conversion, that simply involves installing Velux skylights — this type of loft conversion can only be carried out in lofts that are large enough to already meet building regulations required to transform loft space into living space.

Expert Knowledge

Whilst having a good understanding of the technical language at play for loft projects is extremely useful, there’s nothing that can match up to actually having a conversation with a qualified loft surveyor. Using this jargon buster should hopefully get you on the same page sooner than anticipated, however, it’s important to ask for clarification if there is something you don’t understand. With upfront and honest communication, we are sure you will see the loft space of your dreams in no time at all!

Thinking of Converting Your Loft?

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