Building, Loft Conversion, Property, Property Development, Renovation
comments 35

What we’ve learned from doing a loft conversion…

Aluminium windows loft extension

If you hadn’t heard about our loft conversion, you’ve obviously been away from the entire internet since last summer. It’s pretty much all i’ve talked about over here. In fact there are 18 blog posts all about the process. Just click the image below, for a peruse at your leisure.

loft conversion attic extension building design bedroom bathroom

This is a bit of a round up post, looking back at all the stuff we’ve learnt since last year. Thought it might be helpful for those of you out there who have your own projects in mind at home.

Here’s what we found out.

Loft conversions/extensions take longer than you think.

You may have read online that loft extensions/conversions take around six to eight weeks. A-hem. I don’t think so. Ours took nearly four months. Then we had several weeks afterwards where we were finishing off flooring, painting, built in storage. If we’d been told that at the time it was going to be around 15 weeks, we would have dealt with the timescales in a much more rational way, but it seems some building companies tell you what you want to hear, instead of what is actually the case. So be prepared.

Design and build translates as “make it up as we go along.”

A design and build company’s primary aim is to complete a building project in the most time and financially efficient way possible. Yes, they follow the architect’s plans to a certain extent but if there’s a grey area and something crops up that’s “off plan”, they may simply solve the problem their own way (often the quickest way) in order to continue swiftly with the build. If this situation happens several times throughout the project you might find your windows aren’t exactly where you wanted them, for example, or your door will open onto that chest of drawers you were planning on buying. If you don’t put the hours in and keep an eye on what’s been done on a day to day basis, you might not get exactly what you want, but something the builder decides you want.

Working from home meant I was around most of the time to oversee everything, but it was ridiculously draining to live and work on a building site for four months. And whilst I was glad I was here to check everything was going to plan, it’s also a bit like watching paint dry. A watched pot never boils and all that jazz.

By being at home 99% of the time, I managed to keep everyone on track. But if something isn’t quite right, tell your builder. Don’t try and live with it. Yeah it’s a ball ache, them having to re-do stuff. But in the long term, an extra half day’s work can make all the difference. I asked for several bits of work to be re-done, such as  budging over radiator pipework by 100mm and having them move the bathroom extractor which was originally fitted inside what would become the shower.

You will hear the words “you can’t do that” to every suggestion that isn’t considered the norm.

There were certain design elements we were 100% about. They weren’t all “conventional”  but they were completely necessary in order for us to achieve the rooms we’d planned. The windows, the brick wall, the staircase, the pocket door….

Don’t let your building company dictate what your home will look like. Yeah, they’ve got experience, but they also prefer to do what they’ve done before, because it involves less planning and thought. Not your problem. Be prescriptive and don’t expect your building company to always make the right decision or offer you the best advice. And if they say something isn’t possible, find out for yourself.

You can’t control everything. And sometimes, when things go wrong, those small mistakes can be an improvement on what was originally planned.

In this case, it was with our windows. The original plan was to have the window sill 45cm above the floor so we could build a window seat.

Aluminium windows loft extension

The builder did measure up for this, but based on our old floor joists. When these were taken out and the new beefier floor joists were laid, this raised our floor level considerably meaning our windows were now only 33cm above floor level. Too low for a window bench. But actually, proportionally, the windows look perfect in the space and we’re super glad they ended up this way.

And sometimes you just make a mistake.

Yep, there are things i’d love to go back and re-do if I could. Hindsight n’all. The most difficult space to design and plan for was the bathroom and there are things in here that really annoy me.

I 100% chose the wrong toilet. I know, sounds stupid, but it’s true. It was the one thing I spent very little time choosing. I knew it needed to have a small footprint and a soft close seat. That was about it. Obviously now, i’ve realised we should have fitted a back to wall toilet in here.

I absolutely hate seeing that bloomin pipe coming out of the back. Maybe we can update it to something more suitable in time (sorry hubby). For now i’ve worked wonders with a strategically placed plant.

Walk in shower room with marble hex tiles

Oh and the walk in shower screen, which came with a fancy easy-clean coating on one side was fitted the wrong way around. I found the tiniest sticker you ever did see on the outside of the glass when I was cleaning the floor a few weeks after the bathroom was finished.

I just smiled.

Don’t design your build around what potential future buyers might like (unless you’re a property developer – obvs)

The number of people i’ve heard over the last couple of years saying how they’d made decisions about what to do with their home based on the small chance they might sell in years to come. How they didn’t choose the kitchen or room colour they really wanted because what if it puts off buyers? That kind of thing.

Doing what’s right for you and your family at this very moment in time, is absolutely, 100% the thing you should focus on. Sod potential buyers. We all change our homes as soon as we get the keys anyway. We did. There’s not a room we’ve not ripped out and done again actually. My post about us knocking the kitchen wall down gets daily hits from people looking at ways to go about it. Just click the image if you’d like to see.

Thinking of knocking your kitchen wall down and going open plan?

Another thing i’m noticing more and more is the way we use our third bedroom, aka. the box room. In modern day homes, they’re not quite cut out to be bedrooms anymore. As part of this build we just got rid of ours, because it was the right thing to do for us. If someone loved our house enough to buy it in the future and wanted that box room back? It’s a couple of day’s to build some stud work and a door casing. No biggie.

Despite a few people telling us our house wouldn’t be worth as much if we lost that extra room, we knew squeezing in what would have been a six by six foot cube wasn’t what we wanted at all. Especially as it was never ever going to be a bedroom anyway, but my office. A home office in the smallest bedroom is becoming the new norm, especially with the number of people working from home rising rapidly. So actually, in the future I think our open plan landing workspace will be a real asset to our home adding to its overall value. Only time will tell I guess.

Building regs suck. But, you can’t ignore them. I tried.

As much as i’d love to leave these open risers as they are, we’ve got to stick some (temporary) boards across the back for Mr Building Inspector’s next visit. And fit a handrail too.

Read all about our staircase here

Our dream of a metal handrail ended up being way too complicated. And despite actually having one manufactured (which we will have to pay for), we realised it wasn’t going to give us what we really wanted. An expensive lesson indeed. I’m putting it down as work experience and if anyone asks me for a metal handrail in a future project, I will be able to advise accordingly (by saying, no you’re not having one).

So we’ve made a new plan which we’re both really excited about. Watch this space for handrail updates. Hopefully soon as our mortgage is due for renewal later this summer, so we’ll need the house valued for the loan to value shizzle. At the moment we’ve technically shrunk our house from a three bedroom to a two bedroom property, a two bed property with a very nice loft space. We can’t class it as a bedroom until the handrail is complete and building regs are happy with us.

Your building company don’t have to do EVERYTHING

We decided to use our own joiners for more detailed work like flooring and built in storage.

When I told our builders we were having a plywood floor, they looked at me like I was nuts. This look grew pretty tiring. By investing that extra bit of time and money into more specialised trades, we’ve got such a great end result, something we could never have expected from a building company. The level of care and attention to detail in these last few bits of work has lifted the overall finish.

Never take your eye off the budget. But don’t just look at cost, focus on value.

A lot of people have asked what our loft conversion cost. Good question. Well it’s not actually. Which bits of the loft conversion? The build? The finishing? With the same windows? A bespoke staircase? And where about are you based? A building co. based in London isn’t going to be charging the same as one from Leeds. But for reference, here’s a breakdown of all things pounds, shillings and pence:

  • Building co – £27,500 (plastered spaces, a subfloor & fitted bathroom)
  • Staircase – £1,400 (supply)
  • Plywood flooring & eaves storage in both bedroom & landing – £1,660 (materials & labour)
  • Aluminium windows – £2865 (supply and fit)
  • Architect and building regs – £1000
  • Handrail – Who knows? (but we have a plan)

So what does that all come to, for the build? About £34,500 (without a handrail). We were working to £35k, so we didn’t do too badly. I don’t know if you think that’s expensive or not? Let’s look at what value that amount of money has added to our home.

Our £35k got us a new, large, double bedroom with built in storage and views across the tree tops…

A spacious loft landing with built in storage and lots of light…

Loft landing with plywood floor and hanging rail

A small but perfectly formed second family bathroom with walk in shower and pocket door…

And an open plan landing with home workspace and bespoke staircase.

So not just a couple of new rooms, but four new spaces for around £34.5k.

Do bear in mind we saved money on several bits because of my job and the brilliant brands I worked with throughout the project.

  • Bathroom tiles, shower, screen, tray, tap, loo, lighting
  • Radiators
  • Bedside lighting
  • Paint
  • Blinds
  • Mattress
  • Socket and switches

Buying at RRP, these additional items would have landed us with another bill of around £4k, bringing the grand total closer to £38.5k. Sound pricey? I do know of companies in Leeds that charge £35k just for the build and that’s with a standard winder staircase and moderately sized UPVC windows.

My advice: Work out which bits are valuable to you? We could have easily saved £3k straight away by having a standard staircase and UPVC windows. Cost wise, our choices were expensive, but value wise, they were worth every penny considering just how much they’ve enhanced our home.

Last but not least…

Be patient. Grit your teeth, punch a cushion when necessary and deal with it. When everyone tells you it will be worth it in the end…. believe them. Focus on the end game. 

Here’s an Instagram pic I posted about a month ago, which backs up my point above perfectly. Hope you like.

I hope this essay length post helps at least one person out there. Every home is different and so is every build, but i’d say the lessons we’ve learned can be applied to any project, anywhere (apart from maybe the refurbishment work planned for Buckingham Palace. I don’t think it applies to that).

Anyway, good luck and Godspeed to all my fellow home builders, refurbers and renovators. I’m with you all the way.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.