10 Nov 6 questions to ask a builder before they start work on your loft conversion in North London
You’ve chosen your builder. From the hundreds recommended to you or based in your local area. you’ve found the one company that you feel you can trust to do a great job for you. But how can you know that they fully understand your loft conversion dream, that works won’t overrun, budgets slip and stress escalate?
Whether you’re spending £20,000 or £200,000 on your loft conversion, it’s important that your builder is totally on board with you – committed to not only doing the best job they can, but also to the specifications you set them. To ensure that you get the best from your builder you’ll need clarity, and a good starting point is to ask them the following six questions:
1. What are my planning permission and/or party wall obligations?
If your home is a semi-detached or terraced property, your builder should be able to advise you on whether to seek advice regarding the Party Wall Act which would require you to notify your neighbours of the work before you start. To not do so may open you up to issues later on if your neighbour decides to take legal action to stop the work. As for planning permission, it’s not needed anywhere near as often as you might think. Many loft conversions can go ahead without this because ‘permitted development’ allows you to expand your home by a percentage of the property’s original footprint. Additional issues such as your property being listed, located in a conservation area or work requiring the removal or cutting back of a protected tree, also need to be considered. However, once again, if you’ve chosen well, your builder should be able to point you in the right direction.
2. Do we need to raise the roof?
Not every property lends itself naturally to a loft conversion. If the head height in your loft space is less than 2.2m you have two options – raise the roof or lower the ceiling in the room below. Either of these options is likely to add to the cost and disruption of the project, as other areas of the house will be subject to greater impact. That being said, these issues are so common that the right builder will have seen it all before and have a plan to suggest to you about how to deal with it.
3. How will work disrupt the rest of the house?
Before work starts on your loft conversion, your builder will have briefed you on how long the project will take, but what’s often not gone into is the amount of disruption there will be to the rest of your home, and your family life. You’ll have builders coming and going, skips on your property, dust, rubble, potentially steels being winched into place, noise, and you may need to be flexible on the availability of your utilities as they may need to be switched off and on as work progresses. The right builders will talk to you to define the working times that best suit you, any boundaries that you’d like them to respect, and where their equipment can be left while they’re not around. There may be some days that they need to make more noise than others and I’m sure you’d prefer to know this ahead of time so you can warn the neighbours and be out yourself instead of planning a relaxing afternoon in the garden.
4. Will my utilities be strained?
As your home expands, your water, electricity and heating requirements will also increase. Your builder should advise you on whether your boiler has the capacity to heat this additional space or if it’s time to buy a new one, whether a new fuse board is needed to handle the additional circuits/breakers and whether a bathroom or shower room in the loft will a) have strong enough water pressure or b) affect the water pressure in other areas of the house, requiring the installation of a pump or unvented cylinder.
5. What could go wrong and what could that cost?
It’s tempting to assume that your builder’s experience means that nothing can or will go wrong, but the reality is that even if your builder is every bit as experienced as they’ve convinced you they are, accidents happen, issues are discovered that could not have been predicted, and suppliers could let you down. So, when you ask this question of your builder remember they don’t have a crystal ball. However, any builder worth their salt should be able to think back to all the similar jobs they’ve done to consider what could possibly go wrong and the cost implications should they happen on your project. Where possible, get these cost predictions in writing to minimise the chance of surprises along the way and to give you a guide to the right size of contingency fund you should put aside on your loft conversion project.
6. What can you do to minimise disruption to neighbours?
Your neighbours shouldn’t have to suffer just because you want a loft conversion. Remember, you still have to live next to them after the work has finished. The noise and number of people, equipment and mess may well impact on their lives and any good neighbour will care about this. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that your builders are aware of your desire for them to minimise disruption, to respect both specified working times and days, and to carry out the noisiest of tasks at times least likely to disrupt the neighbours. Talk to your neighbours to see what these times may be, keep them in the loop and ask your builder for assurances and suggestions on how they intend to help keep your neighbours happy.