Attic Conversions
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WHY DO PEOPLE GET ATTIC CONVERSIONS?

3 MAIN GROUPS:

  1. Those who work at home, either running their own business or as employees who are able to work away from their normal place of employment. Fed up with paperwork and files cluttering up the dining room or spare bedroom, it makes sense to have a separate room dedicated to office work, away from the domestic areas.  
  2. Bedrooms for the younger family members. Kids grow bigger, their possessions increase dramatically, one room is no longer suitable for two or more siblings. Young adults stay at home for far longer than their predecessors, each needs his own room.  
  3. Family rooms for general use. Students study area/computer room/teenager hangouts/ doubling up as emergency guest bedroom with bed settee. College kids tend to bring friends home to sleep overnight.

MAIN ADVANTAGES:

The cost. An attic conversion will cost less than half the price of a ground floor extension.:

Less Hassle. These rooms are exempt from planning permission. In most cases you don’t even need architectural drawings.

Space saving. You are not taking any valuable space from the garden, you are simply making better use of the space you already have within the four walls.

Minimum disruption. A good contractor will complete a standard conversion in the average house in ten to twelve days.


THE QUESTIONS
Click on a question below to reveal the answer.

Do I need planning permission?

Most attic conversions are exempt from planning permission because the ceilings are not high enough to qualify as “Habitable Accommodation”. However, if you wish to erect a dormer window, or to put your Velux windows to the front, then you will need planning permission.

So what is the official status of my attic conversion?

With very few exceptions, attic conversions are carried out as “non habitable storage rooms”. In reality, however, they are used as bedrooms, offices, studies, games or computer rooms, and emergency guest bedrooms.

Does that mean I can’t sell my three bedroom house as a four bedroom?

That’s correct. If you offer your house for sale you simply state that the attic has been converted. Prospective purchasers will recognise the value of the extra space and it won’t matter to them that you can’t officially call it a bedroom. However, please note that if you have made structural alterations you can’t sell your house without an architect’s “certificate of compliance”. This certifies that the work has been carried out in accordance with the new building regulations.

So, what if my roof is high enough to be classified as “Habitable Accommodation”?

Well, you have two choices. The more economical option is to proceed as above for non habitable storage room. Or, you can engage an architect, have plans drawn up, submit them to your local authority for planning approval, and then have the job done. It’s a little more costly, and takes much longer

How do I know if my attic is suitable for conversion?

Not all roofs are suitable. The first requirement is a reasonable height in the centre of your attic. Measure the distance between the top of the ceiling joist (the beam you’re standing on) and the bottom of the ridgeboard (the horizontal plank above your head, or, in the case of a trussed roof, the bottom of the square metal plate above your head). Deduct five inches and ask yourself if you would be happy with a ceiling that high (or low). Alternatively, take your courage in your hands and ask your neighbour, who has a conversion, if you can take a look at theirs. If your roof is too low, you should consult an architect or engineer for advice. ( Click here for alternative suggestions.)

The shape of your roof is the next most important question.

A “hipped” roof generally does not pose a problem, but there can be difficulty fitting a fixed staircase because of lack of headroom where the stairs should be located. It is often the case, but not always, that these conversions have to rely on a folding attic ladder for access.

We are now able to convert modern hipped, trussed roofs, providing the height is okay. In a few of these houses we can fit a stairs, or, it is sometimes possible to get permission to build up the gable wall and convert your house into a “gable end” house, and it is also sometimes possible to get permission to build a dormer on the side. This is a less expensive option. See pictures of “hip dormers” in “roof style” section.

Is a dormer window worthwhile?

It all depends on the use you intend for the new attic room. If it is to be an adult’s bedroom then yes, a dormer will make a great difference, but remember, the higher the roof, the less benefit a dormer will be. The greatest benefit is achieved when the roof is low. However, if the new room is to be used mainly by the kids then it’s doubtful if it’s worth the money, They won’t notice the difference. A rear dormer does not increase the ceiling height, and it rarely increases the floor space, and when it does, it is by a very small amount. Those very large rear dormers are a thing of the past, planners will no longer approve them. .

Do I need architect’s drawings to get the job done?

Most professional contractors are happy to work from your drawings, if you have them. In reality however, the vast majority of conversions are carried out without them. Drawings are not necessary for standard conversions carried out by professional contractors who have the expertise and experience to know exactly what’s required to comply with “building regulations”. However, if your house is any way unusual, it would be recommended that you consult an architect or engineer.

What is a “suspended” floor or a floating floor?

A suspended floor or a floating floor is one that is not resting on the ceiling. It has it’s own separate set of flooring joists between the ceiling joists. Most ceiling joists are very light and not suitable for supporting a floor. Sometimes a suspended floor is called an “independent” floor.

Can I get a similar stairs to my own?

Most attic stairs are narrower and steeper than normal, see photos, but occasionally it is possible to get a similar stairs to the existing one, it all depends on the available space on your landing.

What size will the room be?

The attic room is often the biggest room in the house. Even in the smallest of houses it will be far bigger than the boxroom. For a rough guide, measure the distance from gable wall to party wall; this is the length of your available space provided your roof is not “hipped”. Now measure the distance from front to back and divide by two; that is the width of your available space. (This is generally accurate, but not always.)

They seem to be getting very popular?

Most people don’t really want to move to a bigger house for obvious reasons, yet they need more space. An attic conversion will cost less than half the price of an extension.

What about “By Law Approval?”

By law approval was replaced in 1991 by the new building regulations. The situation now is that you have to have a “certificate of compliance” issued by a qualified architect or structural engineer whenever you have any work of a structural nature carried out in your home. You don’t actually need this certificate until you sell your house, or re-mortgage it. But it’s as well to have it from the start, because it’s proof that the job has been done correctly. An “economy conversion” when no structural alterations take place, and when no fixed stairs is fitted, is exempt from the necessity of a certificate.

Radiators in attics!

Radiators don’t always work well in attics. The older the system, or, the more radiators you have, the less chance you have of successfully extending the system to the attic. If you have a fairly new, pressurised system then a radiator should work.

If you have an older system and you want to be absolutely sure, then install electric heating. A convector heater or oil filled radiator would be the least expensive to put in. Storage heaters are quite expensive to install.

The existing floor insulation, should I take it up or leave it down?

We believe it is best to leave it down, it will help with your BER rating. Some people take it up to allow heat to rise up through the bedroom ceilings. Others leave it down to act as a form of sound insulation. It’s a personal choice.

Can I extend the room space right out to the eaves?

Generally no! The roof needs to be supported front and back, usually at the halfway point (between ridge and eaves). The stud walls at these points are supporting the roof, as well as forming the shape of the new room.

Floorboards or chipboard?

Modern flooring grade chipboard is ideally suited where you intend fitting carpet or laminated wood floor. Otherwise, t & g flooring looks very well sanded and varnished.

How long does it take?

An economy conversion can be finished in six or seven working days. A proper conversion will take about ten to twelve working days. An en-suite or dormer window will extend that by four or five days. A bungalow conversion would take up to four weeks.

How much does it cost?

Send us an email with a description of your house and we will give you an approximate price. A personal visit is required to produce a proper quotation.

What about water tanks and electricity?

The re-location and/or replacing of water tanks is all part of the job. As is the installation of lighting and plug sockets. T.V. and phone connections can also be fitted when required.

Can I move my hot press to the attic?

The short answer is 'Yes'. However, the cold water tank must be positioned higher than the hot water cylinder. It’s the weight of the cold water that forces the hot water out of the cylinder when you turn on a hot tap. So, the higher the better.

But, where in the attic do you put a high level cold water tank? You don’t want to have it in the room with you, it’s usually tucked away at floor level in the storage area.

If you haven’t got a really high roof the only alternative is to pressurise the system. This means installing a new pressurised hot water cylinder with a pump to fill it from the low level cold water tank. You won’t get much change out of €1,500 to do this.

How can I be sure that the firm I engage to do the job will carry it out correctly?

Ask the following three questions!!!

1. Are you a registered building contractor? Do you really want the local handyman to do this job for you? His estimate will be the cheapest because he doesn’t know how to comply with the building regulations.

2. Have you got employers and public liability insurance to work on my house? Who foots the bill if he causes damage to yours or your neighbour’s property? If he doesn’t have insurance, you do!! Ask to see the insurance certificate!

3. Can you provide an architect’s certificate of compliance when the job is completed? You can never sell your house without one. Note. “Economy conversions” where no structural alterations are made, and where access is gained by ladder, do not need to be certified.

What if I have a very old slated roof?

If your roof is very old it is probably near the end of it’s useful life. You should really have it replaced before thinking of converting the attic. It has been our experience that old roofs often have leaks that go unnoticed for years because the damp is soaked up by the accumulation of dust and debris lying around the attic. Unfortunately, these leaks will show up immediately the attic is converted and it is much more difficult to do anything about them afterwards.. If you have any doubts, you should get an reputable roofing contractor to inspect with a view to replacing the roof.

Could I fit two rooms into my attic?

Unless your house is a bungalow or a large four/five bedroom two storey, the short answer is no! Most attic conversions consist of a landing and a decent size room.

What about an en-suite in my attic?

There are two considerations to look at. Have you enough space for the en-suite? There’s no point in having one if it’s going to leave you with a tiny room. What is the water pressure like in your house? If it’s weak, then you are asking for trouble putting in an en-suite. If in doubt, why not consider putting the en-suite in your main bedroom instead?

What is a trussed roof?

Trussed roofs were introduced in the late sixties. They are simply a cheaper way of building roofs. Builders buy a set of prefabricated triangular frames, with a “W” insert, these are lifted onto the new house and a roof is built in a few hours, instead of a few days as had been the case. You can recognise a trussed roof by the “W” framework and by the square metal plates at each join of the timbers. There’s no problem converting a trussed roof provided you have two concrete block walls opposite each other in the attic, ie. an apex or gable roof. Hipped, trussed roofs can be converted, but not as easily.

How can I spot a cowboy builder?

The British used to have a great expression for ‘dodgy builders’. They called them ‘Jerry Builders’ and the buildings they constructed were referred to as having been ‘Jerry built’.

With the arrival of political correctness I’m sure that the name has fallen from grace in recent years.

The term came into being during the Second World War when German prisoners of war were set to work repairing the buildings destroyed in their colleagues’ bombing raids. Being dutiful Germans they cheerfully set about sabotaging everything they laid their hands on, probably causing more longer term damage to the buildings than their bombs did. However, just as it does today, a plastered and decorated ‘disaster’ job to the unfamiliar eye, appeared to be just as good as a professional job.

For a long time after the war, the term was used to describe the work of all those people whose standards were substantially below what would be deemed acceptable.

Nobody is suggesting that these people (cowboys) are deliberately carrying out bad work. In most cases they are simply well meaning but incompetent individuals, usually with no trade qualifications, whose aspirations far exceed their capabilities.

Having spent a few years labouring on building sites they have acquired no skills whatsoever but inexplicably consider themselves to be experts on all aspects of construction, and cheerfully unleash themselves on an unsuspecting general public. They have little or no understanding of building regulations, and know nothing of correct installation procedures.

I’m afraid these are the only people offering very cheap conversions.

How do you recognise one? It’s not easy. Your typical cowboy is not a ‘shifty eyed’ individual waiting to take your money and run. On the contrary, he is quite likely to be charming, helpful and oozing self confidence. The key ‘giveaway’ is the price.

Their prices will always be substantially cheaper than those of the established companies.

They rarely have employers and public liability insurance, and they are hardly ever listed in a phone book. Some have grand titles and give themselves elaborate pedigrees. They sometimes have beautiful photos on their websites. It should be noted that the website designers are able to purchase these photos for a nominal fee from a dedicated website.

Remember, when a dodgy attic conversion is plastered and decorated it can look just as good as a professional job. And the delighted householder will happily recommend his ‘great value’ builder to friends and neighbours.

It simply isn’t possible to produce a quality attic conversion for 10k, 12k, or even 14k. And anyone who believes it can is only kidding himself.

According to the Society of Charted Surveyors building costs for small domestic works (extensions & attic conversions) have fallen by between 10% and 15% from the high of 2006/2007.

How does this affect my house insurance?

Any work you carry out that increases the value of your home, (extension, porch, sun room, conservatory, attic conversion etc.,) must be notified to your insurance company BEFORE work commences. Otherwise they can refuse a claim for any damage to that part of the house.

What about fire regulations?

3 storey houses have far stricter fire regulations than 2 storey. However, the vast majority of these attic conversion rooms are non-habitable, which means that strictly speaking, your house is not a 3 storey building subject to the stricter fire regulations.

This is how most architects view the situation.

You can, of course, voluntarily opt to comply with these regulations, but they do add considerable cost to the job.

This involves:

  • Fireproofing the bedroom ceilings
  • Changing all the doors in the house for ‘fire’ doors with auto closers.
  • Installing a dedicated fire escape window.
  • You may need to create more space for a ‘regulation’ stairs.
  • Fireproofing the walls of the hall, stairs and landing.
  • Installing a linked smoke alarm system.

I'm mortified I have so much stuff in my attic. Do I have to take it out for the attic conversion?

Everybody's favourite household chore!!! I'm afraid so, you will have to be ruthless. Keeping all the kids old toys is not a good idea, your grandchildren will assume you are mad if you think they will want them. We need the attic completely cleared before work starts.

I'm dreading the summer holidays. Would the attic be a good place to hide from the kids for a quiet spell? I'm hoping they will think I've gone out.

Great idea. Are you talking about now and again? Or all the time? We could put a barrier across the bottom of the stairs to keep them away from you. It might be worth considering changing your name too, so you don't have to answer when they call you.

I was hoping to use my attic as a master bedroom, what do you think?

If you have a very good height in the roof then there's no reason why you can't turn it into a master bedroom. If the roof is low then I advise you to forget about it. Bumping into the ceiling a few times when you get out of bed will soon send you packing to your old bedroom downstairs. So, a good height is a must. A dormer on the back will make it much more usable, and an ensuite is also a must if you want to feel totally comfortable living in the attic.

I've been told my house is not suitable for a new attic stairs,
would it be okay to have a drop down ladder instead? It's going to be my teenager's bedroom.

I'm afraid not, under any circumstances. Picture him using the ladder when late for school and half asleep. Or, God forbid, after a couple of pints. (it will happen, you know). I think that's next on Shane Ross's agenda, ladders & pints!! Ladder access is only suitable if you are going to use it for a home office, or similar.

Can I have a door at the bottom of the new attic stairs instead of at the top?

That's not a good idea at all. It would look like your house is divided into flats. Horrible! There's also a good chance your forehead will be black & blue from knocking it against the top of the frame. And it would make it much more difficult to bring stuff up and down.

I've heard radiators can give trouble in attics?

That is sometimes the case. The solution is to pressurise the system, if it's not done already. Then it should work properly. That's providing your hotpress is readily accessible upstairs and not on the ground floor.

I'm thinking of locking up my overbearing mother-in-law in the attic and throwing away the key.
How can I make sure she can't make her escape?

Sorry to rain on your parade. The attic windows must be big enough and accessible enough to climb through in the event of an emergency. If your mother-in-law is particularly agile she could, in theory, scramble out on to the roof and make her escape down the drainpipe. Are you prepared for the consequences?

Attic conversion or garden room, which is best?

They probably cost roughly the same. It all depends on what you want the extra space for. A garden room will take up space from the garden (obviously). An attic conversion is making better use of wasted space within the house. If the kids will be sleeping in it occasionally or permanently,the garden room is not a good idea for, safety reasons. I don't think one is a substitute for the other.

Will an attic conversion add value to the house?

Yes, of course it will. At the very least it will increase the house value by at least the cost of the job. Unless you get a cheapskate builder to do it for you. Then it will probably detract from the house value because of the easily recognisable shoddy work.

Can we live in the house while the work is going on?

Yes. It's very rarely necessary to move out. But if there's a very young child in the house (infant) the noise might be distressing for them, so it would be a good idea to be absent during the day. We never leave you without water or power during the night, and we tidy up every evening before leaving.

Is there any downside to having the attic converted?

Paying over the money, I suppose , is the only downside I can think of. Once the job is done correctly, by professional people who know what they're doing, and properly certified, then there's no downside. On the other hand, if you go with a cheap builder there's no end to the troubles you are storing up for later.

Can I move my landing window to avoid the new stairs cutting across it?

Yes, that can be done. But it's pricey enough, as scaffolding has to be erected.

We have a budding rock star in our house.
Is there anything we can do to keep him quiet in the attic room?

Ah now! That's a tricky one. You can put some sound proof material under the attic floor which will help. And you could cover all the walls and ceiling with the same material if your budget will stretch that far. It won't eliminate the noise but will suppress a good amount. You could always 'unplug' him, unless, God forbid, he's a budding Ringo Starr/Larry Mullen, then you're really in trouble.

I have an old attic conversion which I suspect does not comply with current regulations.
How can I bring it up to date?

We are asked to do several of these every year, and I'm afraid there's no simple solution. Usually these old conversions have no steel beams or suspended floor, and little or no insulation. The only answer is to bite the bullet and strip out everything and start again from scratch. We recently did one that had been converted only a few years ago by a cheapskate builder.

We have a very small landing, where could a new attic stairs fit?

Sometimes a spiral stairs will fit in a space where a normal stairs won't. That could be your answer, but not everyone is enamoured with spirals. Otherwise you are going to have to take some space from a bedroom, or use a drop down folding ladder for access. That might be okay for an office, but you can't have smaller kids using it.

We have an old water tank in the middle of the attic. What can you do with this.

All attics have a water tank in the attic, usually right in the middle. We will move it into the eaves behind the new low wall, with an access door close by for maintenance. If it's quite old or bulky we will replace it with a new coffin tank.

Our hotpress is on the ground floor, is this good or bad for an attic conversion?

The new radiator in the attic is fed from a connection in the hotpress. If the hotpress in on the ground floor you would be strongly advised to forget about it and install a good electric heater with timer and thermostat, instead. They can be just as economical. Taking a connection from a downstairs hotpress would be extremely difficult. And taking the connection from a bedroom radiator is not a good idea either.

We have an old roof that doesn't have any felt under the slates.

If you have the budget for an attic conversion and a replacement roof then go for it. If not, and the attic is badly needed, then fitting a vapour barrier under the rafters will help in keeping the odd splash of rainwater out. It's not foolproof but it helps. The attic conversion will not hinder the work of replacing the roof at some later stage.

I think our solar heating panels are in the space where Velux windows should go.
What should we do?

This often happens. Attic conversions companies are reluctant to move these because it would invalidate any warranty you have with the installer. You should get the original installer to move them for you, usually down the roof near the gutters.

Can we have a large dormer on the back, the full width of the house, and out to the back wall?

You often see these massive dormers in the older areas. But they are not allowed any more.The planners decided they were too intrusive into neighbouring gardens. The new rule for rear dormers is that they can only be half the width of the house, that they should be positioned in the centre of the roof, and they should be stepped back a good distance from the gutters.

Will a dormer on the side of the roof answer the problems with converting a hipped roof?

Usually it will. The only exception is when the roof is quite low. There is also a new rule for side dormers. Planners are now insisting that the new dormer should be about a foot lower than the main roof. If your roof is low to start with you might not be able to stand up in the dormer. The solution then is to apply for a full gable or dutch hip.

Can I have a dormer on the front of the house.

Usually no! Not unless you live in a field out in the country. But, if you live in an estate with lots of front dormers, then why not, you should get permission.

Why can't I have Velux windows at the front of the house?

I know, it's daft, you have to apply for planning permission if you want them on the front. It's particularly nonsensical when you consider that you can put up an ugly front porch without permission. I fail to see any sense in that.

Can I move my hotpress to the attic?

You can, of course, provided you do not intend converting the attic. To function correctly the hot water cylinder must be below the level of the cold water tank. In most attics this would mean having them both in the attic room, taking up too much space. If you have a very high roof, or a very large attic, it could work out okay, but generally not.

Can I have a stairs exactly the same as my own?

To get that you need two things: A very large landing, and a very high roof. If you have both of these the answer is yes! Otherwise, like 99% of the population the short answer is no! We will do the very best we can with your new stairs, and they will never be uncomfortable, but slightly steeper and slightly narrower than your own stairs.

I have an old house with a beautiful period staircase.
Can I have a matching staircase going up to the attic?

You can, of course. However, the new stairs will be expensive because every part will need to be custom made. There's no going into Chadwicks or Buckleys and buying everything off the shelf as we normally do. But I believe it would be a crying shame to spoil the look of your house by putting in a modern stairs.

Roof height - how low is 'too low' for an attic conversion?

It all depends on what you want to use the attic room for. If you want it as a master bedroom with en-suite, you will need a good eight feet and a big dormer on the back, to make a comfortable adults bedroom. I know most women would not want to sleep in a bedroom that's shaped like a tent, but all kids would be delighted. If you want to use it as a home office, well, how much head height do you need sitting at a desk? Teenagers don't care about low ceilings, they love the privacy of an attic bedroom. A low ceiling means nothing when it's a young childs bedroom or playroom.

So! how low can you go?

Please remember that whatever the height is before work starts, it's going to be 5 or 6 inches lower when it's finished. This is due to the suspended floor and high standard of insulation in the ceiling. The lowest 'finished' height we have ever produced was 5 feet 9 inches, and that was just in the highest point. That would be unacceptable to a great many people. But for those whose houses are bursting at the seams and desperately needing the extra space, it can be a lifesaver.

So, how do you measure the height?

Older houses have a ridge board, sandwiched between the rafters overhead. Measure from the underneath of this board, to the top of the joist you are standing on. Modern houses have trussed roofs. There is a metal plate joining the rafters overhead. Measure from the underneath of this metal plate, to the top of the joist you are standing on. Deduct six inches and that is the maximum height of your attic room

How can some attic conversion firms charge a lot less than others for the same work?

BUT IT'S NOT THE SAME WORK!!

EXAMPLE 1

Let's say the old family car is near the end of it's life and you are now in a position to upgrade. You pop into the local garage and spot one that fits the bill. Nice looking, low mileage, good and roomy for all the kids gear. The salesman tell you it's for sale at 25k. Your heart sinks, you can only afford 20k. “Sorry” he says. “This is what these cars cost” You go to another garage and see one exactly the same. The salesman tell you it's for sale at 25k. “My neighbour has one, it's lovely, but I can only afford 20k,” you tell him.

“Okay” he says. “I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll take this car around to our workshop, our mechanics will take out € 5k worth of parts, and you can have it for € 20k. It will look just the same” “Are you sure?” you ask dubiously. “Yes, of course, nobody will be any the wiser, it will look exactly like your neighbour's. Shur it'll be grand!” “Right, I'll take it” you say jubilantly, delighted with the nice salesman's reassurance. “But, tell me, what parts will you be taking out?” “I'm afraid I can't tell you that, it's a trade secret”.

The only difference between this story and the cheap attic conversion is that the cheapskate builder will never admit he is cheating you. On the contrary, he will assure you his standards are even higher than everyone elses. Shur, it'll be grand, missus.

EXAMPLE 2

You take your son into Louis Copeland's to buy a new suit for his graduation. There's one suit for € 250 and another one for € 500. Do you honestly believe there's no difference between the suits only the price?

EXAMPLE 3

You have saved up to buy the dining room suite you have always dreamed about. You have seen it in Arnotts for 5k. But your neighbour tells you there is an identical one in Des Kelly's OR Bargainown for 3k. Do you really believe there's no difference?

YET, SOME PEOPLE ARE PREPARED TO BELIEVE THAT THE WORK OF CHEAP BUILDERS IS THE SAME AS THAT OF PROFESSIONALS.

Do I need my neighbours' permission to convert my attic?

No. A standard conversion will not affect your neighbour in any way, apart from the noise during construction. You might advise them about this in the interest of good relations. However, if you are having dormers built it is sometimes necessary to put a couple of scaffolding legs on a neighbouring property, and you will need to ask their permission for that.

How long does planning permission take?

Well, you will need to engage an architect to prepare a full set of drawings and submit the application. He will put the notice in the newspaper, and hand you a laminated notice which must be displayed in your front garden. This can take up to four weeks to organise.

Eight weeks after the application goes in you will get the decision. You must then wait another four weeks for the final grant. Anyone can object at any time within that twelve weeks.

CHI ATTICS OFFERS A PLANNING SERVICE TO OUR CUSTOMERS.

N.B. A planning official will call out once only to make sure the notice is properly displayed in your garden. If, for any reason, he is not able to read the notice from the footpath your application will be cancelled and you must start all over again. We have had two instances where the family were away on holiday and local kids (we assume) accidently knocked it over when retrieving a football. Both families had to re-apply again from scratch.

Can anyone object to my planning application?

Yes, anyone can object to anything they like, on payment of a small fee. However, if their grounds for objection are not valid it will be thrown out. They can't object just because they don't like something. There must be a compelling reason why your plans will affect their comfort, privacy, or the value of their property.