Loft Conversions have remained fairly popular since I first started designing property & is perhaps even more in demand now than ever before – especially in dense urban areas where the alternative choices for that fourth bedroom are somewhat limited. Note: (22 July 10) For inspiration for Loft Conversions and Planning, we have just added an extensive article on the subject. See Loft Conversion Inspiration & Planning Guide for galleries, useful planning links and more.

Now, the popular press would have you believe that they do not add value or have limited appeal. However, that blanket broad brush, slightly disrespectful opinion does not ring true for most of our clients. So what is going on? As always, the devil is in the detail – the detail in this respect is mainly focussed on two primary areas:

1. DESIGN and 2. DESIGN.

It’s just like the location, location location slogan for house values & desirability. Fortunately, the planners have got to grips with a lot of loft conversions these days & they now have a great more control of schemes that a few years ago could have been built under Permitted Development. This means that they have encompassed ‘good design guides’ in an attempt to stamp out the ugly full width box dormer that turned a beautiful victorian semi into a something that looks like a car sized packing crate trying to escape from a neighbours roof.

Conversely, many people have argued that the ‘chocolate box’ cottage type pointy roofed dormers (as suggested by the planners) are quite simply impractical & do not provide enough space for a fully functional room which in many cases is a very valid & true point. HOWEVER, life is all about compromises & choices have to be made. Fortunately, most members of the public are now becoming far more ‘design aware’ than they ever used to be & slowly by slowly they are beginning to accept that the formation of more space must not be at the expense of a poor external visual impact that simply jars with the whole look of the locality. This type of poor dormer design can not only decrease the value of your own home but that of the neighbours as well.

But yet again there are exceptions. Some suburbs of London for example have a plethora of these types of loft extensions & the ones that have not yet been converted look out of place. These types of areas pay more attention to the internal design of the living space than the grotty externals – goes with the environment I suppose. Also, some areas are 70’s & 80’s built estates where the whole so called ‘architect design’ was for this style of flat roofed box dormer which is a commonly accepted fact for the area & enjoyed by many.

So, back to my original question – Does a loft conversion or extension add value? In my opinion YES in practically all cases baring a few exceptions. Should it be my first choice of residential development if my site has surrounding ground that allows alternative solutions? Well no in my opinion unless your property is a bungalow. A loft conversion for the standard 2 storey dwelling house (detached, semi or terrace) should perhaps be on the ‘last option’ list rather than your first choice – more to do with peoples perceptions rather than anything scientific I could quote.

Below is some of our assessment criteria relating to loft conversions that you may find useful:

1. Does it need Planning Permission – If so utilising the councils design guides is a must. Some front or side facing dormers may still be resisted even if they are small. Velux windows often overcome these objections. In most cases, big bulky box dormers will not be allowed.

2. What area of new space does the client require – Many clients have overambitious floor space targets & visualise 3 bedrooms for example (all with ensuite of course). They fail to appreciate the loss of floor space caused by the extensive sloping soffits, & the new stairs.

3. Where can the new stair set go – Many clients fail to realise that their preferred location for the stairs does not achieve the required head room within the new floor for example. In most cases some existing floor space of the bedrooms for example will need to be sacrificed.

4. Number of Rooms – It is better to achieve one or two good sized functional rooms to compensate for the lack of head room in some areas of the new rooms rather than trying to cram in the bedroom numbers for the sake of it where the new rooms can become nothing more than single bed sleeping podules with very little inbuilt amenity value.

5. If flat roofed dormers can only be achieved due to the low ridge height then split the dormers into 2 or three smaller ones with no more than 1200mm (4′) wide windows to break up its bulk. Always, always always recess the dormer into the roof slope to reduce the dormers bulk – DO NOT BUILD THE EXTERNAL FACE OF THE DORMER WALL OFF THE EXISTING EXTERNAL WALL OF THE HOUSE.

6. If a client wants a conversion with only Velux type roof lights then all well & good (much cheaper as well). However an exercise should be completed to explore the possibilities of a strategically located dormer or two that often frees up an extra 30% floor area that the client may not have realised for very little extra money.

7. Dormers are not the only design solution to more light & space – consideration could also be given to a hip to gable conversion of the side roof for example that wont look out of keeping (unless your a semi of course).

8. As a rule of thumb to the practicality of your new room in the roof – if you can already touch the ridge board when standing in the loft (about 2.3M or less), then its normally too small to form useful functioning bedrooms unless a bulky box dormer is constructed (which is what we are trying to avoid) If it is an area just for a play room or a study then all well & good but beware, many people have embarked on tight loft conversions only to realise too late that that they have no where to place the bed or locate a wardrobe.

There are a great many other issues to consider as well when completing loft conversions such as overheating, fire regs, weather protection during the works etc. & these are major discussion topics in themselves that I will leave for another day. However, the points listed above are the main ones relative to the external design & appearance of loft conversions.