Building, Loft Conversion, Property, Property Development, Renovation
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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.

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25 Comments

  1. Lesleyb_b57 says

    Great post, agree any building work uncovers a multitude of problems, I can vouch for that first hand. Overall your project looks amazing and some great design and detail, it’s a bit like having a baby you say you never want to go through it again, and then, the end result is wonderful and you go right ahead like a crazy fool and start all over again.

    • Karen Knox says

      Ha, yes. Although i’d be more inclined to have another building project than have another baby…. 🙂

  2. I loved it. Loved reading about the journey and especially helpful you putting costs in – it helps give perspective.

  3. fabulous to see this all together as a start-to-finish piece. So much here to learn from, but we all learn as we go along. It really is worth it all to have the home that works (wonders) for you.

    • Karen Knox says

      Thanks Linda. I felt like I needed to round it all up for everyone. And yep, we’re always learning…!

  4. firstly hats of to you for putting that all in one post ! don’t think people realise how much work goes into writing a blog post – normally at around midnight when your eyes are burning.
    secondly love the content. so true all of it – particularly the bit where you said the builders just gave you that ‘look’. when we did our loft I got that ‘look’ most days. They also said they had never done a loft where the client (especially a girl client) had climbed up the ladder every day to have an update. initially they were bothered by my visits and then after a while, when they realised I was not going to stop visiting up there every day, they genuinely got used to it. you are so right when you say they would rather do it their way because that’s what they’ve done before and it makes their life easier. make sure you stick to your guns and do it YOUR way like you said.

    look i’ve actually ‘written’ an mini blog post in my actual comments ! sorry about that 🙂

    • Karen Knox says

      Ha. YES! It took me eight hours to write this up and add all the images. So thank you for the props dude. And for the lengthy reply. Appreciated.
      And second YES, to going up the ladder. I was like a ninja by the end. Scared the shit out of the joiner a few times. As if I wasn’t going up there at least three times a day.
      I forgot to add one more thing i’ve learned, sexism in the building industry is boring. Yawnville!

  5. Jenny Moss says

    Thank you for your toilet lesson, I will learn that lesson for our bathroom because I wouldn’t have thought of it and I was planning on having the same toilet as you!

  6. Wow, what an amazing transformation – and totally worth all the turmoil and (minor) mistakes I’m sure! And I totally agree you should design your home for you, not potential buyers – who knows how long you’ll be living there, enjoying the space 🙂

  7. Hannah Trickett says

    WOW this is a dreamy loft conversion and brilliant that you’ve given so much practical advice.

  8. It certainly was worth every penny Karen. It looks amazing. This is such a useful post too for anyone embarking on a conversion. Builders are not the easiest people to deal with as you’ve demonstrated. Well done you.

  9. This is such an informative post chock full of information – thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience here. Your loft space (and everything else) came out so beautifully but there was clearly a lot of hard graft and stress involved. I’ll definitely be referencing this if we ever decide to attempt it (not in this house, maybe the next!) 😉 xxx

  10. That’s so true, it’s always worth it in the end, people always say it but you never really believe it till I happens. Some lovely words of wisdom here, I’m totally with you on the mistakes, sometimes you just don’t have time to think everything through or forget a small detail, the builder hung the pendant lights over our dining table too high when I wasn’t around one day, everyday when I walk in now I think gah those lights!! xxx

  11. I absolutely love what you’ve done with the space. The landing looks fantastic and far better than a box room. The stairs are beautiful and don’t even get me started on that dreamy bathroom. There is so much useful advice here. We’re currently mulling over the options of a loft conversion or moving house. If I’m totally honest the idea of a loft conversion fills me with dread now. I’m not sure I can face all the hassle. It was bad enough just doing our bathroom. Finding the right builders and keeping on top of everything is a really scary prospect and I’m not sure I’m man enough to stand up to the builders to make sure we get what we want.

  12. wow what an informative post and the sheer determination and hard work really paid off! Looks amazing! If ever I need to do a loft conversion this post has been bookmarked!

  13. kristen Stewart says

    WOW this is a dreamy loft conversion and brilliant that you’ve given so much practical advice.

  14. Freddie says

    Karen, sorry to hear that your loft conversion took so long! Typically, a couple of months should suffice, however, obviously it depends on the company you’re using and the style of the conversion. For instance, a Velux or dormer loft conversion should be relatively quick to complete while a hip-to-gable or Mansard conversion may take a little longer, mainly due to planning permission.

    I think it’s excellent that you were around to overlook the conversion process; as you say, communication is key so telling your builder if there is a problem at any stage of the project is important as it means it will be fixed quickly and not forgotten. The windows you’ve used are very effective; I always recommend that people try to let as much light as possible into the loft as it can be so dark!

    Despite the different annoyances you experienced during the project, I think the conversion looks excellent; you have a good eye for design.

    Freddie

  15. Ashley Broke says

    We’re presently mulling over the options of a loft conversion or shifting residence. If I’m totally honest the concept of a loft conversion fills me with dread now. I’m now not positive being able to face all of the trouble. It was terrible sufficient simply doing our lavatory. finding the proper builders and maintaining on the pinnacle of everything

  16. Jodi Moulder says

    We have a similar window space in our build which is causing issues. Please can you tell me if you had to use toughened glass?

    • Karen Knox says

      Yes, it’s safety glass! Building regs state:
      – Any glazed area within a window below 800mm from floor level
      – Any glazed area within a window that is 300mm or less from a door and up to 1500mm from floor level
      – Within any glazed door up to 1500mm from floor level.

  17. Tom says

    WOW this is a dreamy loft conversion and brilliant that you’ve given so much practical advice.

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