Attic Conversions
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Please click on a topic below to find out Our Advice about Attic Conversions  

ARCHITECT/ENGINEER

For the vast majority of attic conversions it is not necessary to engage an architect or engineer. In fact we would see architectural drawings for only about 3% or 4% of our contracts.

However, if your house is unusual in design or layout you may need to consult with a professional. An architect will design the layout of the new spaces for you and an engineer will design the structural elements.

Recommendations:

BATHROOMS IN ATTICS

Traditionally, bathrooms in attics have consisted of an electric shower, a wash basin (with small immersion heater for the hot tap) and a toilet. Usually in a cubicle with a Velux window.They are normally located on the back wall of the attic room where an easy connection can be made to the existing bathroom waste pipes on the outside back wall.

Because it is almost always impossible to position the cold water tank in an overhead location, these bathrooms are usually fed from the ‘mains’. Technically, this is not allowed under current regulations; nevertheless it is the way most of them are done.

The alternative is to install a ‘negative head’ pump, (pricey), which pumps both hot and cold water from the hotpress to the attic. The disadvantage is that you must have hot water in the cylinder before you can take a shower, unless of course you are a masochist who likes cold showers. Sometimes when mains water pressure is not great, there is no other option. And these pumps can be quite noisy.

If there are two electric showers in a house it is necessary to install a switch so that only one shower can operate at once. The power used by two showers at the same time is too great and will blow the fuses.

BUILDER’S INSURANCE

Any reputable builder will be covered with Employer’s and Public Liability insurance. But it’s not compulsory!
Public Liability insurance protects you, the householder, should any accidents occur that cause damage to your property, or your neighbour’s property, or even to members of your family.

Employer’s Liability insurance protects you, the householder, from any claim against you should any of the builder’s employees suffer an accident while working at your house.

Your house insurance company will insist that anyone carrying out work at your home have these insurances in force.

BUILDING REGULATIONS

The old bylaws were replaced by the Building Regulations which now govern every aspect of construction.

The full regulations can be seen online at www.environ.ie under the headings ‘What we do’ and ‘Building Standards’.

It is essential that all regulations are adhered to when converting your attic. This is to protect you, your family, and your property.

Unfortunately, it is an undeniable fact that a great number of the attic converters operating today do not fulfil their obligations in this regard. There are two reasons for this.

  1. They are ignorant of the regulations.
  2. If they did observe all regulations their prices would be no different to those of the established companies.

CERTIFICATES OF COMPLIANCE

When you are selling or re-mortgaging your house a certificate of compliance is required for any structural work carried out in your home.

It may be issued by an architect, an engineer or a chartered surveyor.

The certificate should state that the work in question complies with current building regulations, and that it is exempt from planning permission, if planning approval has not been obtained.

The certificate should be obtained on completion of the work, so that any issues can be resolved before your builder rides off into the sunset.

DORMER WINDOWS

On the front.

If your house is a bungalow out on its own, or in an area of mixed style houses it should be possible to get planning permission.

However, it’s very rare for a two story house in an estate to get permission for front dormers. In fact, if you make an application you probably have a 5% chance of success. You would need to catch the planner on an ‘off’ day, or asleep at his desk.

On the side.

Side dormers are built on hipped roof houses for the sole purpose of enabling a stairs to be installed on the landing above the existing stairs. The alternative is to change the roof completely to a ‘gable end’ roof, or ‘apex roof’. This is the more expensive option. Individual councils will usually favour one over the other. None of these roof alterations are prohibited. However, decisions are made by individual planners based on their personal interpretation of the regional development plan. It is not uncommon to have one application approved and another rejected just a few minutes walk away. This has happened to us several times.

On the back.

Usually there should not be a problem getting permission for a rear dormer. However, there is one particular council who shall be nameless, who will only give permission very reluctantly, when pushed.

However, guidelines for dormers have been adjusted in recent years. Planners will no longer grant approval for these huge dormers spanning the full width of the house and reaching out to the back wall of the house. They want dormers to look neat and tidy, and not dominate their neighbours. So the new rule of thumb is that a dormer shall not be wider than half of the house width, to be centred on the roof if possible, and not to extend out to the back wall.

Having said all that, it is not unknown for an ‘outsize’ dormer application to slip through the net, perhaps with a busy planner not paying attention to the detail. But the chances are slim.

FIRE REGULATIONS IN A NUTSHELL

When you have planning permission for ‘habitable’ status for your attic room you must observe the fire regulations.

This means:

  • Fireproofing the bedroom ceilings
  • Changing all the doors in the house for ‘fire’ doors with auto closers.
  • Installing a dedicated fire escape window.
  • Installing an interlinked smoke alarm system throughout the house.

And, you may need to create more space for a ‘regulation’ stairs.

When your new attic room is a ‘storage’ room, as most of them are, then it’s up to you how far you wish to go with providing these precautions.

FITTED WARDROBES, CABINETS, SHELVING, DRAWERS etc.

Recommendations:

  • Steve Byrnes (Carpenter): 086 390 3911

HABITABLE STATUS

STORAGE ROOM OR HABITABLE ROOM? What’s the difference?

99% of attic conversions are classified as ‘storage rooms’.

WHY?

Simply because the roofs are not high enough.

50% 0f the floor area needs to be 2.4 mtrs high (just under 8 feet) in order to qualify.
(See Duncan Stewart's article below)

If your roof is over 8 feet high you could achieve habitable status by adding a flat roof dormer to the back. Otherwise your roof would need to be greater than 11 feet high to get the same result (without the dormer).

So, what if your roof IS high enough? What’s the procedure?

First of all you need to apply for planning permission for habitable status. Cost around 1k to 3k. Next you need to comply with fire regulations for 3 storey houses. This means: Fireproofing the bedroom ceilings Changing all the doors in the house for ‘fire’ doors with auto closers. Installing a dedicated fire escape window. Installing an interlinked smoke alarm system throughout the house. And, you may need to create more space for a ‘regulation’ stairs.

Will it add value to your house?

On selling, will you get more for your house than your neighbour whose attic is a ‘storage room’? Probably! Will the extra gained be worth the initial added expense? Doubtful.

Architect Duncan Stewart writing in CONSTRUCT IRELAND magazine.

“To comply with building regulations in terms of habitable space, 50% of the floor area should be at least 2.4 mtrs. That usually doesn’t apply with attics. In my view this regulation is restrictive and unfair. This requirement came in from an old building bylaw, introduced in 1848, influenced by old health acts because of congested buildings and living accommodation. It’s an outdated concept. 8 feet in the attic is not necessary and 7 feet gives most people adequate comfort”

HOUSE INSURANCE

We strongly urge you to notify your insurance company of your intentions BEFORE work commences.
They will expect you to insist on your contractor having Employer’s and Public liability insurances in force. If you don’t, there could be problems with future claims.

We sent the following email to five insurance companies.

“I am considering converting my attic and wondered how that will affect my house insurance policy”?.

Here are the responses:-

Allianzdirect.ie
Thank you for your email. In relation to your query, there are no specific terms and conditions for attic conversion. However if it is been converted to a bedroom and you classify it as an extra bedroom you will have to notify the insurance company. You would also need to increase your contents sums insured if the attic is going to be fully furnished. This will add an additional premium to your policy.

Aviva Direct Ireland
Thank you for your email.
We request you to provide us with your policy number, In order for us to further assist you.
We request you to provide us with your contact number and convenient time, In order for an advisor from our Customer Service Department to contact you.

Zurich
Thank you for your email.
There would be no change in cover if the attic is converted. However you would need to revalue your house after same to ensure that the insured sum is adequate and you are not underinsured.

AXA Insurance
Converting the attic will not affect your insurance in any way. Once completed, however, you may wish to re-assess the buildings sum insured to reflect any change in the property's rebuilding cost.
Please contact us on 1890 247 365 if you have any queries.

FBD Insurance
Good Morning,
Many thanks for you email. Please be advised for us to discuss your query further we will need to speak to you. If you could please forward your home insurance policy number along with a contact number for yourself.

INSULATION AND ATTIC CONVERSIONS

As everyone knows, insulating the floor of your attic is the most cost effective way of preventing heat loss in the home.

All you have to do is lay out the required thickness of insulation between the ceiling joists (the timbers you walk on trying not to go crashing through the ceiling).

However, when you intend converting your attic into a usable room this becomes a bit complicated.

The space between the attic room floor and the bedroom ceiling is very limited. The same goes if you are simply flooring out the attic for storage.

Using a high thickness of fibreglass and packing it into a space half the size reduces its effectiveness

The air trapped inside the fibreglass gives it its properties, Squeezing the air out of fibreglass is not on.

Quilted foil insulation seems to be the answer to a lot of insulation difficulties in walls and ceilings of attic rooms. However, its effectiveness is totally dependent on the skill of the person fitting it. For it to work properly there must be a completely sealed pocket of air trapped between it and the plasterboard. Should any air be able to escape through light and plug socket fittings, or through any gaps left by careless fitters, the insulation is rendered useless.

The manufacturers of these foils themselves have certified the effectiveness and U values of the products. But they have not been independently certified by any of the usual bodies, a fact which casts some doubt on their acceptance by regulatory authorities.

However, I can’t believe that large firms would go to the trouble of manufacturing a product that does not ‘do what it says on the tin’.

MANAGEMENT COMPANIES

If your home is an apartment, duplex or a normal house in a compound with a management company you usually need their permission before converting the attic.

A further complication can be that in the case of an apartment or duplex the roof is often owned by everyone in the block, and you may need the other owners’ permission also.

A further complication can be that the roof insurance is covered by a block policy so how do you protect your interest in the new attic conversion?

In these instances you need to consult with the management company, and secondly consult with the solicitor who carried out the conveyance when you purchased the property.

In our 25 years in business we have been in negotiations with at least a dozen owners who wished to convert their attics in apartments and duplexes and every one of them fell through because of the above complications. However, recently we have had some successes with a few conversions in duplex apartments.

PAINTER/DECORATOR

Recommendations:

  • Nicola Fagan: 087 297 7699

PLANNING PERMISSION

A standard attic conversion with Velux windows at the back does not need planning permission.

However, if you want windows on the front; or if you want a dormer; or to make any change to the roof profile; then planning permission is required.

Also, if you want your attic room to have ‘habitable’ status, then you need planning approval.

99% of attic rooms are classed as ‘storage’ rooms and are therefore exempt.

CHI Attics offers a full planning service at a very keen rate.

RADIATORS IN ATTICS

The success or failure of attic radiators depends on two things.

Whether the system is ‘open’ or ‘closed.’ (Pressurised or not) And

Whether your boiler is capable of supporting another radiator, but on a 3rd floor.

If your heating system is an ‘open’ one then it needs to be ‘closed’, or ‘pressurised’. That’s not a big deal, it adds a bit to the cost but not a lot.

However, if you have a back boiler system as well, then you can’t pressurise.

Sometimes people have already added extra radiators in an extension or sun room. Or they may have one radiator in the house that continually gives trouble. In these cases adding another radiator in the attic is asking for trouble. You may be better off with a wall mounted convector heater with timer and thermostat. Unless of course, you intend upgrading your heating system anyway.

RECESSION & PRICES

Before the recession the established professional conversion companies were charging an average of 20k to 22k for a three or four bed house.

So, what has happened in the meantime?

Building prices have fallen by between 10% and 15% (See Irish Times article below)

Surely they have fallen by more than that?

Well!! Look at the facts.

  • Building industry salaries have not gone down.
  • The cost of materials has not gone down, in fact some have gone up.
  • Insurance costs have not gone down.
  • Transport and vehicle costs have gone up.

The only element to fall has been the bottom line for builders.

So, how is it that so many attic conversion ‘specialists’ are charging much less than this?

Well, I am going to leave that to your imagination. BUT remember!!

  • Traditionally, the building industry has had more than its fair share of ‘dubious’ operators. Nothing has changed in that regard.
  • Some have impressive websites, many give themselves grand titles and great pedigrees. However, at least 75% of current attic conversion ‘specialists’ would not recognise a building regulation if it jumped up and bit them on the nose.
  • So, beware of those people who guarantee their price is the cheapest. It is the cheapest because their work falls far short of acceptable standards.
  • There’s currently a very prominent website whose wildly exaggerated promises are the joke of the industry. To honour even some of the promises they make, their quotations would be the highest of all, yet they are among the cheapest.
  • Should you ask us to conduct a survey (free) I will sit down with you and show you how cheap conversions are carried out. You will not like what you see.

Hugh Moore, Managing Director, CHI Attics

Some Articles from the Media

THE IRISH TIMES
John Nolan, surveyor with Austin Reddy & Co.

“The biggest price falls have been on the large volume work, but when you get back to the smaller, domestic jobs, the room for builders to manoeuvre on price is much more limited. Most people are prepared to pay a premium for peace of mind when it comes to their own homes.

Nolan says that while tender prices for large scale projects has fallen by over 30 per cent, the domestic market has fallen by closer to 10 and 15 per cent.

If you tender you will get much lower prices than you anticipated but I can guarantee that the price at the start will not be the same as the price at the finish. He also warns people to be wary of a builder cutting costs to such an extent that they don’t have the capacity to finish a job

SOCIETY OF CHARTERED SURVEYORS
Ken Cribbins, President,

“Contractors and sub-contractors are now bidding well below cost just to secure work and keep cash flowing, a practice which is unsustainable. He warned that if activity failed to pick up, more firms would go out of business.

His fears were borne out almost immediately by figures from the Central Statistics Office showing that 86,800 construction workers had lost their jobs in the last twelve months”

SOLAR HEATING

Solar heating in most houses usually means two roof panels providing around 70% of a family’s hot water needs for personal and laundry washing. For optimum effect these panels need to be positioned on a south facing roof which can sometimes conflict with roof windows for attic conversion.

The house also needs extra hot water storage capacity so your hot water cylinder would be replaced with a much bigger one (2 metres tall).

These systems are best left to professional installers.

We recommend: Ecologics Solar Solutions Ltd., www.ecologics.ie

SOUND INSULATION

If you are talking about noisy teenagers in the attic room the best insulation is a carpet on the floor.

Timber floors can be a nightmare in this situation.

If you intend using the new room for music practice or the loud playing of music there are specific products available for minimising the transfer of sound from house to house, or from attic to bedrooms below. But this is not cheap. To provide sound insulation to the floor and to gable walls could cost between 1,500 and 3,000. And it is not foolproof. The best result you can hope for would be to ‘dampen’ or ‘muffle’ the sound.

The same solution applies to incoming sound from outside the house.

To provide complete soundproofing would require the services of professionals in this field.

STRUCTURE

Steel beams are required in the vast majority of attic conversions. The size of these beams varies according to the span from wall to wall.

Timber beams cannot be used instead in any circumstances unless the span is 12 feet or less.

In some older houses it is sometimes possible to omit the steel and bridge the gaps from front to back wall plates with new flooring joists, but only when the centre wall is a ‘supporting’ wall, and the spans are not too big.

The size of the new flooring joists also varies according to the span to be covered.

Some new houses have been constructed with structural timbers already in place to facilitate an easy attic conversion.