How best can I convert my attic?

Article by Noel Larkin Published in Irish Times, Property Clinic Section, 22nd October 2015

I am about to purchase a BER A2-rated four-bed semi-detached new-build in a managed development. I am considering converting the attic space into a den/study area. The house has extensive photovoltaic solar panels on the east-facing rear aspect, and also has a Mechanical Heat Ventilation System (MHVS). I anticipate that the Velux roof lights would have to go on the rear aspect to avoid the need for planning permission. How should I best approach this, bearing in mind the issues with the current placement of the solar panels and the attic ducting for the MHVS?

Your initial description of the house immediately points out the many clear obstacles in proceeding to convert the attic as you wish. In addition, most modern speculatively built properties will incorporate pre-fabricated roof trusses. These are designed as a “structural unit” and it can be problematic to alter them to accommodate additional, usable space. The placement of ducting, insulation and more particularly, the solar panels, all complicate the proposed alterations further and will regrettably, inflate the cost of the work.

In this case, I would recommend placing the roof-lights on the front elevation. As you suggest, this will require planning permission. I would not see that as a major obstacle and indeed, placement of well-proportioned rooflights on the front elevation can enhance the overall appearance of a property. The possibility of placing rooflights on the gable or hip end should also be researched. I would avoid moving the solar panels as their orientation is important. The ventilation unit, ducting and the water storage tank will also have to be relocated. New steel beams and a new floor structure will be needed.

The additional space that you will achieve and the space that will be lost at first-floor level to accommodate the new access stairway should also be reviewed. In some cases, depending on the configuration of the roof, the net gain in terms of usable floor space can be minimal.

If the new space is to be deemed “habitable”, there will be many improvements needed in terms of fire safety and means of escape. Your BER will also be affected. You should research this ahead of carrying out any works so that the correct insulation can be specified and the A2 rating can be maintained. In this case, as the development is managed, you may also require the consent of the management company.

You should explore all options. If the house is too small, there may be more suitable options available in the new development or in the surrounding area.

Noel Larkin is a Chartered Building Surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland