Loft conversion – week…3?

Well I’m not quite sure which week of build we are on (it is either 2 or 3), but what I can tell you is that there is no way anyone can put a tight schedule on this thing. For example, it rained buckets a couple of days in a row and that pretty much put the dormer build back, not a couple of days, but a whole week. They can’t start a big job like that in the rain or if they do not have enough dry days to finish it before the weekend, unless you want an unattended tarpaulin roof covering your home over a weekend… didn’t think so!

Add to that days where one half of a two-person team can’t make it to work, which then means some work just can’t happen full stop. Lifting huge beams up scaffolding and fixing them up is simply a two-person job for example. Another version of that issue is where in a two-person team, one person is clearly the brains of the operation and the other is the brawn.  The brains has to be there, if they can’t be there to direct proceedings then the brawn pretty much goes home.

And who would have thought rubble was something that could prevent work happening? Well it does and it is has! Our garden has limited space for rubble and we’ve already given over the patio, the side return AND the front bedroom for rubble! So another delay was that at one point, no more roof could come off until there was somewhere to put the resulting rubble! And that depends on availability of refuse collectors and managing the tension between the cost of doing that for a relatively small amount of waste and the issue preventing further work. 

Ah, and have I mentioned staff sickness? Plus the pregnant wives of staff being sick?! I’m not doubting that being legit by the way, but you get the picture. Realistically the timetable is never going to be perfectly slick when there are so many moving parts.

So all in all, trying to work out what is happening when has been a futile pursuit!

Which is difficult when you’ve promised the neighbour to be in for jobs that are on the party wall and you are negotiating with your own workplace to work from home when key trades are visiting the site, like electricians and plumbers. Because it might well look logical to someone else to put your light pendant in that place there… but it doesn’t mean that would work for your planned room layout! Also, it might well be easier not to relocate the fan onto a different wall…after all it involves hours of extra work. So it is quite tactical to be around to point out that unless the fan was relocated then it wouldn’t extract as well as it could in your power showered steamy bathroom. Plus leaving the fan where it is might impede the new floor in the loft sitting as low as it could above the bathroom (meaning that your loft ceilings wouldn’t be as high). Plus, of course, it is handy to be there is make reminders of particular tasks have been pre-agreed and written into the contract! To be fair to them, it isn’t malice, just poor communication. But these are the kinds of things it is useful to be around for and the kinds of conversation you need to be prepared to have. After all, if you say nowt then you definitely won’t get the end product you’ve been dreaming of and pinning hundreds of inspiration images to boards on pinterest for! And then it’ll be no one’s fault but yours!!

So here’s my potted learning to date:

  • Know when to pick your battles. Timetabling is an imprecise science and out of yours and sometimes your contractor’s hands, so build in plenty of slack in your mind for that. Keep your powder dry for  another battle where there is something that can actually be won.
  • Be onsite for the start of the day at least, when key tradespeople visit so that you can go through the details with them.
  • Make as much space as you can for rubble and materials to be stored. And then make some more!
  • In small gardens, be prepared to sacrifice your lawn for materials to be stored on. It can always be re-seeded.
  • Specifically ask about safety railings, footings required on neighbouring roofs and ‘overhang’ when discussing scaffolding. It would have been a lot easier for us in terms of talking to neighbours if we had known and been able to ask everything at the outset rather than having to constantly go back and ask for extra permissions.
  • Allow <10cm room for error in all your drawings and plans, especially in old houses. Ceiling height can vary in just the same room if your floor is wonky!
  • Make sure you think vertically in everything you do from planning to rubble collection; fans up on high some walls affect what you can do in the room above; there is no reason that rubble or materials have to be kept at ground level. The could go in a spare bedroom or on scaffolding. Think upward and downward.
  • Learn to love dust sheets. A fitted sheet works well on top of your already-made-up bed to keep the dust off before you go back to bed.
  • Have your showers in the evening when you havd privacy. It’s easier than getting up early before the builders arrive.
  • Make sure at the planning and quoting stage you get everything discussed written down.  Especially the smaller jobs that get easily forgotten. Don’t be afraid to bat your contract back and forth until all the words are there that you need.
  • House insurance whilst you have scaffolding is a very big issue as many insurers won’t cover it and those that do will charge extra, so budget for this. On our terraced property an additonal £200 was required.
  • Don’t take your phone into the loft to inspect things unless it is tied to your wrist. Much as spending over an hour thinking of ways to fish a fallen phone out of a 7 foot deep cavity wall was an especially creative and ‘team-building’ way to spend an evening with my husband, it is not necessarily one that’d bear repeating!

And finally…

  • If you are powdering your face in the morning whilst the builders are working above and brick-dust falls down on you… Just work it in! Cement is probably what they put in half your face products anyway 😉

Here are some pics.

  • All that planning I did beforehand… Absolutely key. As was the prosecco.

Our garden then:

Our garden now:

Our 1st floor ceiling with framework up so that they can be lowered to lend some height to the loft room being built above:

 And our 1st floor ceilings plasterboarded now:

The first dormer going up:

The dormers so far now:

And finally – 

Q: How to get a phone out of a 7 foot deep cavity wall space: 

A: Fashion a long hook using one of the garden tool hangers that was previously screwed to your shed wall.

Over and out for now 👍

Lofts: To convert or not to convert?

We have spent about a year planning and investigating whether or not a loft conversion would work for us. There were a number of factors to consider:

  • What extra space we might be able to gain?
  • How to divide up and use any additional space?
  • How much would it cost?
  • How would the work affect our house’s value?
  • Would we do better to move house?
  • How would we finance the work?
  • How would it affect our income from taking in lodgers at home currently?
  • Would these works offer more in terms of rental value of the house in future?
  • How would it impact on our future family plans?
  • What lifestyle options would additional rooms offer the household in future?

We went through the list of questions above with deliberation. We live in a terraced property in an area around an hour away from London. So there is good demand for houses where we live and that demand has longevity due to our proximity to London, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean that the money we spend on our loft conversion will result in an immediate increase in the value of our home – we know this because we invited three estate agents around to offer us a valuation on our home both as it stands and as they would expect it to be valued if it had had the loft converted. So for us, as for many people, deciding to convert the loft rather than move house was a decision made after balancing a number of factors rather than a straight-forward maths solution.

We like our place and the neighbourhood it is in (so convenient for public transport and shops), plus we also like the income that we get from renting rooms for weekday stays to lodgers (for anyone interested in finding out more about that, google ‘UK Rent a Room Relief’ – currently up to £7.5k per year income is allowable tax free if you rent a room out to lodgers staying within your own home). At the same time, we want to start a family and we want our kids to have enough space to grow older in. At some point in the future we might like to think about fostering too – and for that you need to be able to offer a child their own room. So we want enough space to continue having lodgers in and some privacy for any family we start of our own.  Our home needs to provide us with some versatility.

If we moved house then our rental offer to lodgers may not be so attractive as we are so well located for transport. If we moved house, we’d need to factor in the cost of stamp duty plus removal costs, plus the cost of any renovations or decorating necessary in the new place too….

So, sure – terraced housing is not naturally spacious!  But we like where we’re at.  Also, the layout of rooms that we can achieve with a loft conversion in our terraced house has its own advantage over the layout we’d have if we moved to a semi-detached with an equal number of rooms; because once our loft is converted then we will gain privacy from our own  master bedroom on a floor of its own with a bathroom of its own, whereas in a semi-detached we’d be likely still to share a floor with the majority of other bedrooms.

In terraced housing, floor space on the ground floor is at a premium and unless front and back rooms have been knocked through then living rooms space on the ground floor can be pretty small.  By adding a bedroom or rooms at loft level, then we could choose to free up a large bedroom on the 1st floor to serve as an additional living room. As a play room or additional living room space for kids maybe…

So you need to spend some time thinking through what would work for you. Visit some conversions. Invite some estate agents over. Talk to a mortgage advisor. Spend a lot of time on pinterest! Do your number crunching… and come to a decision.

We decided to go ahead with an L-shaped dormer conversion with a master bedroom, ensuite and walk-in wardrobe over the main body of the house; and a further, smaller bedroom over the ‘outrigger’ back.

The work started today and over the next 8-10 weeks, we will track the project’s progress here on http://www.wordpress.com/nataliesnesting.com !