COVID-19, Getting your architectural project back on track

We are now into the eighth week of the COVID-19 lock-down and the Government is trying to re-start the economy with manufacturing and construction as their focus. This should have a positive impact on my work and help you get your building project started or up and running again.

Already this week I have been contacted by a number of existing ‘on-hold’ clients and some new enquiries, asking me if “I am able to start architectural work again?” I.e. please can I come to their flat/house to talk through and progress their architectural wishes.
With the release this week of government guidance I have been pleased to advise them that subject to it being safe I can provide them architectural services, and visit them in their home.

The Government’s Guidance

I am not aware of any specific architectural guidance for architects providing design services to homeowners who want to carry out conversions, extensions, or alterations to their property.
There are a couple of relevant Government guides that came out this week
• Advice on home moving during Covid-19
• Working safely during Covid-19 in other people’s homes
I used these to draft up my own risk assessment to go through with existing and potential clients where I need to visit their property to progress their project. In this way I can now open up the services I provide to clients.

My Risk Assessment

The aim of my risk assessment is to manage the risk to all parties when I visit their property, and to minimise (ideally, eliminate) the danger of Covid-19 cross-infection.
My risk assessment is carried out over the phone. During the phone discussion we will;
• Establish if it is safe for me to go to their property
• Determine what we both need to do to manage and minimise the risk
• Agree on the actions both parties need to take to achieve this

How do we manage the risk?

There are a number of key actions to reducing the risk including;
• Social distancing, keep 2m distance from one another at all time if possible
• Basic hygiene including, hand washing on arrival, and use of sanitizer
• Person protection equipment (PPE) as necessary (gloves, face covering)
• Having as few occupants in the property as possible
From a risk perspective, it would be best for all the occupiers to be out whilst I am visiting. However, this potentially looses one of the key elements of a visit, the architect client interface. This is the best opportunity for the critical discussion with the client about their wishes and how realistic they are.

Is it safe for me to visit you home?

My health.
• Am I well?
• Am I showing any symptoms of Covid-19 (however mild)?
The health of all the occupants in the property.
• Are they all well?
• Are any of them showing any Covid-19 symptoms (again however mild)?
• Are there any occupants in the property isolating, shielding, or vulnerable?
• I cannot visit a property with a vulnerable occupant unless they can go out for the duration of my visit (if this is even possible?)
If together we can agree there is no or minimal risk then a visit can be arranged

The Property Visit

Agree appointment date & time and time required to carry out the visit
Who will be there?
Which rooms or parts of the property will I need to inspect?
Agree on hygiene processes;
I will wash my hands for 20 seconds on arrival; providing my own towels and dispose of them after use
Prior to my arrival, the occupiers will open all internal doors/partitions/loft hatches to avoid or minimise any contact I have with the fabric of the building
Both parties will seek to maintain 2m social distancing for the full duration of the visit (Accepting we are all human and it is easy to forget to do this all the time!)
I will wear a face mask (non-surgical) if we think we cannot achieve the 2m social distancing or if the client requires it

The Architect client interface – project discussion

Really useful to walk around the property with the client discussing one’s thoughts and if I am doing a full measured survey always good to talk through observations.
As part of minimising the risk, we need to try to keep any face to face discussion to a minimum, and where possible discuss the details of the project over the phone or via Zoom.

The Covid-19 rules & guidelines are there to protect us all from what can be a pretty nasty, and sometimes fatal, infection. However, life has to go on and property owners want to progress their architectural projects.
The Government has given us the green light to get back to work, provided we do it safely. If we; use our common sense, minimise the risks, and work within the safety framework that is there to protect us all there is no reason why you cannot get your architectural project back on track.

For details of my other blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

MM – COVID-19, Getting your architectural project back on track – V3 published – 15 05 2020

COVID-19, A Sustainable and Resourceful Building Project

We are now into the fifth week of the COVID-19 lock-down and the end still feels a long way away.

Along with others in our street, around the country, and all over the world, I have been clapping for the healthcare workers, first responders, hospital cleaners, service-industry employees, and all the other dedicated people who are on the frontlines of the pandemic. All these amazing people are risking their lives every day to save people from the virus wreaking havoc around the world. I respect and applaud all of them.

Builders are doing their bit

There are others in the country, in the construction industry, not on the front line and not putting their lives at risk, but who are doing their bit. They are doing their bit to keep the economy going and ensuring that their client’s homes are not left insecure, unsafe, and unfinished.

The builder who drove miles to pick up some ‘leftover’ plasterboard sheets to finish off a job. Another who spent a couple of hours digging up some waste sand from a back garden so he could make a chimney stack watertight. Or the builders who order materials on ‘click and collect’ and patiently wait in the queue to pick up their materials to finish off their client’s job. This shows real commitment; to keeping their company going, to their clients, and to their employees whom otherwise would be without work.
Operating like this is time-consuming and can be frustrating but it keeps things going and it is being resourceful. As one builder (Drew) said to me “his Dad always kept ‘leftover materials’ just in case they were needed. Drew developed this ‘savings’ habit and with some material now like ‘gold dust’ all the bits and piece hoarded in his garage are now becoming very useful.”

Resourcefulness at home

As for me, well I have one new job (a detached uninhabited garage), and I am finishing off existing jobs where I can but otherwise, work has ‘fallen off a cliff’. Clients are reluctant to commit spending money until they can be more certain of their future.
The allotment has never looked so good and we are really on top of things there. We have re-built the compost heaps from pallets found on the street and made a new gate that’s been on the list for some time. The new gate has a Sweet Chestnut frame made from leftover bits of decking and an infill made from old pallets. All these materials were just ‘lying around’.

Sustainable Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut is the only other English hardwood (Oak is the other one) that has a high level of natural tannin or Tannic acid. The tannin makes the timber more durable and is perfect for decking or external cladding.
Sweet Chestnut is also really sustainable. All over southern Britain, you can still find Sweet Chestnut coppices. Coppicing (cutting the 80-100 year old Sweet Chestnut every 15 years or so) is a harvest, which encourages new timber growth. It is also hugely beneficial to wildlife and a host of plants, moths, and insects. Bluebells run riot after fresh cutting and, combined with mature ‘standards’ (trees which are left), chestnut coppicing produces a wonderful woodscape, it is really sustainable and is superb woodland husbandry.

Tackling climate change must be part of the COVID-19 solution

There are many devastating personal impacts from COVID-19 and I would not want to downplay these but maybe our experiences will make us think more about the environment. I rejoice about the lack of cars on the road, the cleaner feel to the air, the absence of vapour trails from planes, and the quiet. Indeed, only yesterday the BBC reported that “Tackling climate change must be woven into the solution to the Covid-19 economic crisis, the UK will tell [other] governments next week.”

Reusing surplus building materials

In addition to thinking about the impact of our homes, (I think every new building should by law be required to be built to Passive Haus standards) how about doing something positive about all the left-over building materials (not in Drew’s garage) that are sent to landfill.
A quick Google search reveals many organisations who specialise in re-using building materials. Enviromate is just one of these and they state that the UK building industry used 240 million tonnes of material and products every year, nearly 30% is wasted, and 13% is new and never used. This is £1.5 billion work of reusable surplus building materials that enter the waste stream and landfill every year in the UK!

So, when things do get going again and you’re lining up your builder to start work, think about and ask them about waste, sustainability, and reusing materials. It might save you some money and it would certainly be good for the world and the environment.

For details of my other blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

MM – COVID-19, A Sustainable and Resourceful Building Project – V3 – 28 04 2020

COVID-19, Planning your Building Project

It is now over two weeks since the start of the COVID-19 ‘lock-down’ and the impact of the virus on the domestic construction market is becoming apparent.
Builders on some of our jobs have stopped work. Others have been making partially completed jobs safe, secure and weather tight. Jobs, where the builder can both keep to the social distancing rules and get supplies, are continuing to operate.
Some builder’s merchants are closed whilst others have limited stock and are operating a restricted service but, the Business Secretary has stated that he wants construction to continue.

Spending time at home in these current circumstances may have given you time to think about how you could improve your home. What can you do to plan your building project?

We are still working

Martin McCurdy Architecture is still working.
We are completing jobs in the pipeline and are open for new business.
For new business, we will provide architectural services to homeowners in Brighton and Hove as normally as possible, whilst ensuring that we comply with the COVID-19 restrictions, the social distancing rules, and safe hygiene practices.

What can’t we do?

We cannot and will not put you at risk of infection.

The latest Government guidance for surveyors (26 March 2020) states that urgent work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided they are well and have no symptoms of COVID-19. So, we cannot come to your house and discuss your new project.
If we have agreed on terms of appointment with you, we cannot come to your house to carry out a full measured survey, which is usually the first stage of our services.
We cannot progress and submit a planning, listed building consent, or building regulations application without a full measured survey.

What can we do?

We can discuss your building project over the phone or using Zoom you can give us a virtual tour. We can then have a detailed discussion of the options and possibilities.

The government guidance also states that it may be possible to carry out surveys on empty properties, or those where the occupants are not there. So, if your house is empty, unoccupied or you have a detached building you want to convert or extend, we may be able to view and survey it without breaching the rules. If we do come to your property, we will comply with government COVID-19 rules.

Planning your building project

If you want to progress your building project, and are confident about your financial future now may be a good time to plan ahead so you are ready for when the restrictions are lifted.

Getting the necessary approvals and having sufficient information for a builder to be able to give you an estimate can be time-consuming. So, if you want to move your project on now could be the time to act.
If your building project requires planning approval or listed building consent it could take 6 months, or more, to get all the necessary approvals.
If your project can be carried out under permitted development rights and you only need building regulations approval this could be done in 3 months.

Getting a Builders Estimate

Before a builder can give you an estimate you will need planning approval and/or listed building consent (if required), the engineering details, and either building regulations approval or building regulations ready documentation.
A builder cannot visit your home but using the building regulations documentation they should be able to give you an estimate for your job. This estimate should be sufficient for you to decide if you wish to appoint them. However, given the uncertain future a builder is unlikely to commit to current prices for materials and when things are back to normal you will need them to provide you with a firm quotation.

How we can help

We cannot progress a building project to planning approval, listed building consent, and/or building regulations without a full measured survey. So, unless your building is empty, we cannot substantially start our service.

We can and would be very happy to discuss your project over the phone. Some photos or Google street view would be useful.
You could give us a virtual tour using Zoom, Skype or What’s App and we could have a good detailed discussion of the options and possibilities.
If you have an empty house or building, we should be able to progress your project up to a point where it is lined up ‘ready to go’.

For details of my other blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

Investigating under my Floors or ‘Potholing’ in Brighton

Walking into a shop in the north lanes in Brighton a few weeks ago I noticed that the floor seems very bouncy. When I mentioned it to the owner they didn’t seem to be bothered saying that the floor hadn’t collapsed so far and the freeholder was responsible for any structural works. I left the shop wondering what was lurking below the floorboards.

My House

I live in a typical Edwardian property in Brighton. My end of terrace house was built in 1900 with early cavity wall construction and suspended timber floors to the ground floor.
As is common in houses of this period the rear half of the kitchen has an un-insulated solid floor. This was the scullery where the floor would get wet and often stay wet so the floor could not be timber.
The gable end of my house faces south, the rear faces west and being a mile or so from the English Channel the back and the gable end take a battering from the weather.
The house was built using lime mortar, which is a breathable material. The 25-year-old render to the gable end and recent pointing to the brickwork has all been done in sand and cement, which is not breathable and may be trapping moisture within the walls.
On the outside, the ground level on all three external walls is well in excess of the recommended 150mm below the internal floor level. There are visible air-bricks on the front, side, and rear elevations.
The timber ground floors all seem sound. They do not bounce, there is no evidence of rot or mould to the exposed timbers but there is some dampness to the plaster at a low level on the gable wall.

Suspended Timber Floors

Suspended timber ground floors started to be used in the early 1900’s and Brighton was one of the first areas to trial the use of cavity walls. So, my suspended floor used an early construction method and I have some of the first cavity walls.
These early suspended timber floors minimised the joist depth (saving money) by using cross-joists and masonry sleeper-walls that gives the joists intermediate support. However, the early sleeper-wall were not honeycombed (no ventilation gaps) which impedes cross-ventilation.
The joists for these early suspended ground floors are often set into or rest on the brickwork at or below the DPC (damp proof course). This creates the perfect conditions for rot.

The Construction of My Suspended Timber Floor

The first step was to determine how my suspended timber ground floor is constructed. I lifted three floorboards in the hallway (they are short so easiest to remove) and created space just big enough for me to squeeze between the joists. The floorboards, which run from side to side are supported on joists running front to back. Looking further, I could see the joists were supported on cross-joists running from side to side located at the front and back, on either side of the chimney breasts and adjacent to sleeper-walls (without honeycomb construction). The end of the cross-joists I could see sat on a small timber blocks, which in turn rests on brickwork.

So, I have a ground floor structure that probably has inadequate ventilation and joists ends that may well be rotting.

Potholing Here I Come

The next step was to investigate the state and condition of the timber joists below the floorboards. This was a pretty challenging task given the 300mm (1 foot) crawl space in the void between the cross-joists and the ground. I dressed up in protective clothing, a mask, head torch and, helmet. I eased myself down between the joists and set off under the floorboards. I felt and looked like a potholer.

What Did I Find?

Over the past few months, I have made a number of trips down into the void beneath my timber floor, torch and moisture meter in hand. My next blog will set out what I discovered.

For details of my other loft blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide only and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

MM – 02 11 2018

Check-out Your Ground Floors

The next step in my maintenance and retrofitting journey is to investigate the state and condition of my ground floors i.e. those floors and walls that are in close contact with the ground.

Checking your Ground Floors

Solid floors are benign but can be cold and damp. If you have timber floors at ground level checking their condition is critical. Damp rises up from the ground into the masonry, rain wets the exterior walls and moisture from the inside of your home all add to the water within the fabric of your building. Timber at ground level or close to wet masonry is susceptible to getting wet. Damp timber will, over time rot. Wet timber in an unventilated or poorly ventilated floor void will rot. Wet rot can lead to dry rot.

Solid Ground Floors

If you think all or some of your ground floors are solid try the jump test. If it is a solid floor there will be no bounce when you jump up and down on it. Masonry and particularly concrete is pretty good at dealing with damp but without a barrier (commonly known as a DPC or damp proof course) damp will rise up into the masonry making any timber in contact with it damp. Damp walls will also add to humidity and moisture within your home.

Suspended Timber Ground Floors

Many of our homes are finished with carpets, tiles, laminate flooring or engineered wood and it can be difficult to determine whether the ground floor is suspended or solid. If like me you have the exposed original floorboards, the gaps between them and the draught coming up tells you that they are suspended.
If you don’t know, try the jump test. If you get some bounce this indicates the floor may be suspended but it could be a timber floor over a solid floor.
Is the floor warm or cold to the touch? A solid floor with ceramic tiles will feel cold but an engineered timber floor finish whether solid or suspended will feel warm so it can be difficult to tell.
Go outside and see if there are air bricks in the exterior walls, you should have them at the front, the side and the back. They are the best indicators that you have a suspended timber ground floor.
If you cannot find out, go to your neighbours and ask them. If you houses look the same it is likely the floors will be the same construction.

What’s the condition of your Suspended Timber Floors?

If you have air bricks in the exterior walls do you have them at the front, the back and at the side? You need this for adequate through ventilation.
Have the air bricks been covered over or blocked up by previous works? Is there excessive bounce or worse still, is part of the floor is dropping?
What about the smell? Damp rooms usually have a distinctive and easily recognisable smell.
Are the floorboards or skirting boards damp? Or to put it in technical terms, is the moisture content of the wood at a level where decay will start? At a moisture content of 20% or more wood will start to decay.
You can buy a basic ‘mini moisture meter’ for less than £15 from Tool Station– much less than dealing with an outbreak of dry-rot.

Moisture Content of Wood

Timber with a moisture content below 15% is generally consider to be safe.
Timber with a moisture content between 18-25% is at risk.
Timber with a moisture content above 25% is considered to be already decaying

We all tend to ignore parts of our home that we cannot see, preferring to spend money on visible illustrations of our taste and aspirations. We are all required to keep our cars in good condition, maybe a ‘home MOT’ looking at parts of our home that need maintenance would encourage us to focus on those areas we ignore. We should perhaps spend money on maintaining the essential fabric of our homes then consider the aesthetics and the fancy bits.

For details of my other blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

Retrofitting your Home

I have recently completed the AECB (Association of Environmental Conscious Builders) CarbonLite Retrofit course. This is an excellent online learning course targeted at architects, designer, and builders who want to understand the intricacies and details of retrofitting domestic homes.

This is the second in a series of blogs on maintenance and retrofitting where I share my journey and my thoughts with you.

What is Retrofitting?

Retrofitting is the addition of new technology or features to a building in order to improve its performance. This performance is usually measured by an improvement in energy efficiency and/or a decrease in energy demand.
The AECB advocates that an improvement in the health and comfort of the occupiers and in the state and condition of the house is an integral part of a good retrofit.

Why Retrofit our Homes?

For our part in preventing (or limiting) global warming Britain has a target to achieve zero carbon emissions from our homes by 2050. 80% of the existing housing stock will still be occupied in 2050 and on current projections, our houses will emit over 50% of greenhouse gases by this date.
Unless your home is about to fall down or is planned to be demolished it will still be occupied in 2050. Energy will be more expensive and global warming is projected to cause floods, droughts, heat waves and extreme weather events. These conditions will test the fabric and performance of our homes.

Why Maintain your Home?

Effective and timely maintenance and a well-planned retrofit go hand-in-hand. Before you do any improvements works to your property or build an extension or convert the loft or carry out a full retrofit it is a really good idea to check the existing fabric and structure are sound. If you don’t do this you could be covering up a disaster for the future – ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

How do you Benefit?

A well planned and carefully executed retrofit will have a positive impact on your health, on your comfort, on the future condition of your house and on your wallet.
A good retrofit will have low energy bills, be warm & comfortable in the winter and cool & comfortable in hot weather. It will have good indoor air quality, be free of damp and mould and have low maintenance costs.
It will also increase the value of your home – what is there not to like?

Key principles of a Full Retrofit

The AECB has a number of key principles that are central to a successful low energy retrofit
The retrofit works have to be robust.
The new technology or features fitted must perform well under normal and abnormal conditions
The energy used to heat and power the building must be used more efficiently resulting in lower running costs for the occupants
The comfort for the occupants should increase in the summer and the winter
The retrofit should provide good indoor air quality and consistent temperatures.
The health of the occupants should improve
The retrofit should address long-term maintenance and health issues of the building
The condition of the building fabric will be preserved and enhanced, with reduced future maintenance costs

Typical Full Retrofit

Every property is different and all occupiers needs vary. There is not one typical example but a full retrofit usually includes;
Insulating the walls. Internally or externally. (Cavity wall insulation does not normally give sufficient improvement in the thermal performance of the walls)
Insulating the roof at loft, ceiling or rafter level
Insulating the ground floor (or floors adjacent to the ground)
Upgrading doors and windows (double or triple glazing)
Improving airtightness
The provision of continuous ventilation for the property (usually mechanical)
Installing a highly efficient boiler with well insulated hot water tank and pipes
Upgrading lighting and appliances

You retrofit could be carried out in one go or as a series of carefully planned and phased steps. You may want to combine retrofitting your home with other proposed works; an extension, a conversion, or refurbishment.

As I discovered when doing some budget costs, the expenditure in terms of the initial investment to carry a full retrofit on my house will be quite significant. So, how do I move things forward? (See next few blogs)

For more details of my work please check out my website:

Low energy/sustainability

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical &/or legal information.

Converting Your Loft – Internal Space and Layout

In my last loft blog, I looked at the key structural elements that determine the floor area and volume of your loft conversion. This next blog looks at the interior, the space you can create and how you can make it work for you.

What Do You Want?

In converting your loft you’ll want to ensure you achieve the space you envisaged at the planning stage. What you can achieve will be determined by the floor area and the volume you can build (see earlier blogs on the exterior and structure).
If you are converting the loft in a small terraced house in a conservation area you may only have space for one room.
If your property is an Edwardian townhouse and has permitted development (PD) rights you should be able to build a full-width rear dormer accommodating one or more rooms plus a shower. A bigger floor plan could fit two bedrooms
If your home is a large Victorian semi with PD rights you could build a hip-to-gable and full-width rear dormer creating a big dual-aspect bedroom with an ensuite and a dressing room.

What Can You Create?

The Stairs & Landing

At the top of the new stairs to the loft will be a landing and its location will determine how well the loft works. The landing is only required to be as deep as it is wide but needs to be located to give direct access to the rooms in the loft. Corridors lead off the landing use valuable space and should be avoided.

All habitable rooms in a loft need must have fire door. If you only have one habitable room in your loft the fire door could be either at the top or the bottom of the stairs. Where there is more than one habitable room in the loft all habitable rooms must have a fire door directly on to the landing.
Ideally, the new stairs and landing at the top will have natural-light either from a window in the dormer or the side gable or from a roof light.

Usable Space in the Loft

Under the skieling (the sloping ceiling) and beside the dwarf walls in your loft, there will areas of the loft you can’t stand up in. You can use these areas for a chest of draws or for other low furniture. If you ask your loft designer to draw a line on your loft plan indicating where you can stand up (1.8m) you will have a good idea of the usable space in the loft.

Bedrooms or Other Habitable Rooms

You’re likely to be spending the most time in your new bedroom, office or chill-out room. I favour rooms with dual-aspect windows or roof lights, they give light from two directions, allow cross-ventilation and enable you to see out in two different ways. Your requirement may be for more rooms, which may prevent you having dual-aspect rooms.
In a good loft conversion, the new rooms feel part of the existing home. If the new stairs follow the existing this is easier to achieve.

Bathroom or Shower Room

What do you want, a bathroom with a bath or just a shower? The end of a bath can fit under the skieling, showers need full height ceiling but they take up much less room than a bath.
Generally, home-owners want to maximise the size of the habitable rooms and squeeze the bath or shower room in where they can. In an Edward terraced property, you can often fit a shower room behind the staircase.
It is desirable for a bath or shower room to have natural light and ventilation from a window or a roof light.

Dressing Rooms & Storage Areas

A dressing room with fitted cupboards and wardrobes can utilise some of the more awkward spaces you may have in your loft.
Dressing rooms and storage areas are not classed as habitable rooms so they can be inner rooms (not have direct access on to the landing) and can utilise parts of the loft where access and head height is limited.

Fire safety, means of escape

Building Regulations determine the fire safety and fire protection requirements for loft conversions. Whilst the regulations are national standards there are slight variations across Local Authority areas.
Conversion of the loft in a one or two-storey property where there is a protected means of escape from the new rooms should not impact upon the layout of the new loft space.
If the floor of the new loft space will be more than 7.5m from the ground level or the property has an open-plan ground floor or there is not a protected means of escape there will be design implications and limitations on what you can do. In such cases, it would be advisable to have detailed discussions with a specialist or building control before proceeding with plans.

The space you can create will be limited by the footprint of your home and restricted by planning legislation. The floor areas, the volume you can build, your wishes and building regulations will determine how you loft works.
The challenge for your loft designer will be to take these sometimes conflicting elements and come up with something that really works for you and give you what you want.

For details of my other loft blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

Converting Your Loft – Key Structural Elements

This 3rd loft blog looks at the key structural elements that will form your new loft. It is these elements and their interaction which will create the space in your loft.

The key elements that create the structure are;

New Loft Stairs

New stairs will be required for your loft conversion. Under building regulations the maximum pitch for new stairs is 42 degrees, all the steps have to be the same height and you need a minimum of 2m head height over the stairs. (There are some minor relaxations where the head height for new stairs to a loft conversion is limited.) These regulations will determine where the new stairs can go.
The location of the new stairs is critical, where the stairs finish in the loft will determine how well the new loft space works. In locating the new stairs the aims should be to; prevent the loss of any existing living or bedroom space in the floor below, to maximise the space created in the loft and to make the rooms in the loft work as efficiently as possible. To achieve this the stairs should ideally start on a landing or hallway and finish where you can create a landing with direct access to the rooms in the loft.
If the new stairs follow the line of the existing stairs this will be the best use of space. If you copy the details of the banisters and balustrades it will look as though the stairs have always been there. If your property has Permitted Development (PD) rights and you build a dormer, mansard and/or a hip-to-gable you should be able to achieve this.
If your loft conversion is subject to planning approval you may have to locate the new stairs under the ridge to satisfy building regulations. You might be able to get planning approval for a small dormer into which you can fit the new stairs. You will need a dormer with an external width of about 1.8m to achieve this.

New Floor Structure

The floors of loft spaces are only designed as ceilings. Ceilings are normally constructed from 50 by 100 joists (4” by 2”) and are not strong enough for new habitable rooms. You will need new deeper floor joists, which means the finished floor level will be higher than the existing.

New Roof Structure

Unless you are building a dormer, mansard or a hip-to-gable the existing rafters will remain in place. To maximise the internal space any purlins or bracing will be removed and replaced with a timber dwarf wall (about 800mm to 1m high). To ensure structural stability the remaining rafters are likely to need beefing up. Adding thicker rafters and the required thickness of insulation (100mm or so from the face of the existing rafters) will mean the existing roof is reduced in height.


A dormer will determine where the new stairs go. It can significantly improve the space and layout in your new loft, making the difference between a cramped space and one that feels like the rest of your home. Dormers usually have a timber structure and a flat roof but you can also have a factory produced modular steel framed dormer.


Mansard loft conversions are commonly seen in London where mansard roofs have been a feature since the Georgian times. A mansard roof has two sloping elements each side, the lower roof is at a steeper pitch than the upper. A mansard conversion involves raising the party walls and building a structure in between the walls. Mansard roofs do not give quite as much space as a dormer but are considered to be more attractive on period buildings.


Hip-to-gable conversions work well on properties where the existing stairs run along-side the gable end wall with a hipped roof above the gable (1930s semi-detached properties often have a hipped-end). A hip-to-gable would allow the new stairs to follow the line of the existing, it would give the required head height for the new stairs and allow space for a landing at the top of the stairs. A hip-to-gable combined with a dormer can create a really big loft conversion.

Converting the loft of the Rear Outrigger

A rear outrigger is an original extension at the back of your home at right angles to the main part of the property. If you have a loft over your rear outrigger and your property has PD rights converting it is a smart way to significantly increase the floor area you can create in your loft conversion.

External Materials

The finish and materials for a loft extension (a dormer, a hip-to-gable and/or conversion over the rear outrigger) will be determined either by the planning approval or by the PD rules for your property.
If planning approval is required your choice of materials will be limited by Council policy and by the type and status of your property. You may be required to match the existing materials or your Council may be more flexible.
If your property has PD rights the PD rules state that “the materials used in any exterior work shall be of a similar appearance to those used in the construction of the existing dwelling house.” Council’s may interpret this differently so check with your Local Authority.

The structures you can add to your existing loft will create the new loft space. What you can build will depend upon either planning approval or the PD rights for your property. When proposing big roof extensions under PD the PD rights can be quite complicated. If in double, seek professional advice and apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness for your proposals to ensure you do not breach planning regulations.

For details of my other loft blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of legal information.

Clean out the Gutters

Did you miss National Maintenance week, which ran from 17th to 24th November? I did too. The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) runs a National Maintenance week every year. The SPAB week focusses on older buildings but much of what they say can be applied to your home. Maintenance is often low on the list of work to do to our homes. We all want to extend, convert and improve rather than protect what we’ve got. Results of the English House Survey 2015-16 show that 18% of owner-occupied homes failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard and 3% have damp problems.

Checking your gutters & gulleys

The SPAB maintenance week finished with National Gutters day. Next time it rains hard put on your wellies and a waterproof, go outside and have a look at your gutters and downpipes. Is there water streaming down the exterior walls or are the gutters doing their job? Inspect the gulleys at the bottom of the downpipes. Is the rainwater flowing away freely or is the gulley overflowing and potentially adding to damp in your house?

At this time of year gutters and gulleys can be blocked by leaves. If you have leaves in your gutters and gulleys, vegetation growing in the hopper heads or water streaming down the walls you really need to fix it.

Internal Damp

Whilst you’re checking, are there any damp patches inside your house? If you have water streaming down the outside walls there is likely to be a corresponding damp patch inside. Check around chimney breasts. An open chimney can cause falling damp – rainwater entering the chimney and wetting the walls below. Alternatively, the pointing or flashing on the chimney could have failed.

Check the Loft

If you can get into the loft can you see any signed of water penetration? Dampness to the chimney breast may be more obvious. Can you see light through the roof? If you can this is a sure sign some tiles have failed and that your roof is pretty old (newer roof will have a waterproof membrane under the tiles).

Symptoms and Signs

Mould has a distinct smell, we all know the aroma that hits us as we walk into a damp basement. Wet walls are often a different colour from the surrounding paintwork. Condensation on internal walls, often in the bathroom or other hot damp rooms, is indicated by black mould. Mould spores are bad for your health. Low-level moisture, possibly caused by rising damp, will cause emulsion paint to bubble and flake off.

Why basic maintenance is essential

Wet walls and structure damage the fabric of your home, they are bad for your health and leaving a damp problem will cost you more money in the longer term. High humidity in your home can lead to a dust mite proliferation, which causes asthma. Poor ventilation can cause a build-up of chemical compounds and /or mould spores, which can result in repository problems.

A damp free and well-maintained house is a healthier and more comfortable house. If you are planning to build an extension, convert your loft, renovate or carry out retrofit measures, ensuring your home is well maintained and damp free should be one of the first steps in this process.

For details of other blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical & legal information.

Converting Your Loft – Design Implications, the Exterior

In my 1st blog, we looked at the outline issues in converting your loft. This 2nd blog looks in more detail at the limits on what you can build and the resultant implications on the overall volume you could create.

Fixed physical boundaries

Your loft has fixed physical boundaries (the roof, the ridge and the ceiling below). These will ultimately be the limiting factor in the additional space you could create.
The extra space you can create by converting your loft will be determined by the size of the overall structure you are allowed to build and how much you can and want to push these fixed physical boundaries.
The size of the structure you are allowed to build will be primarily governed by whether you need planning permission or if can do the works under Permitted Development (PD) rights.

Unless you have other limitations (finance?) you may wish to go for the route that has the least ‘regulatory hoops to jump through’ and the one that should allow you to maximise the space you can create.

Planning Approval or Permitted Development?

If you need planning approval for your loft conversion the restrictions imposed upon you by the planning authority will limit the additional space you can create in converting your loft.
A loft conversion carried out under PD should enable you to exploit the full potential of your loft space. However, there are limitations when converting your loft under PD and you cannot do just as you want.

Planning Approval

Your Local Authority will have their own policies and design guidelines for converting lofts. Planning policies vary across the country but planning authorities do not usually support planning applications considered to have a visual and a negative impact on the roofs of properties. These will often include; alterations to the front roof slope, un-balancing pairs of houses by adding a hip-to-gable at the side and full width or box dormers to the rear roof slope.
You may be able to get planning approval for one or more small dormers, which will create more standing space in your loft. If you are lucky you may be able to get you loft stairs to fit into a dormer.

Permitted Development rights

Your Permitted Development (PD) rights for loft conversions are set out in a nationally produced document [link to doc].

Summary of the key PD rights for loft conversions

Any additional roof volume (including previous loft conversions) must not exceed: 40 cubic metres for a terraced house, or 50 cubic metres for a detached or a semi-detached house
No conversion works (except roof lights in the same plane as the roof slope) to extend beyond the plane of the existing roof slope that faces a road
Materials to be similar in appearance to the existing house
No part of the conversion to be higher than the highest part of the existing roof No verandas, balconies or raised platforms
Side-facing windows to be obscure glazed and non-opening below 1.7 metres
Conversions, apart from hip-to-gable, to be set back 200mm from the original eaves, measured along the roof plane

What can you do under PD?

Provide you keep within your PD rights, particularly the volume limitations, you can maximise the volume of your loft conversion by;
A Box Dormer. You can build a full-width box dormer to the rear roof slope of your home
A Hip-to-Gable. You can convert the hipped roof at the side of your home to gable
Convert the Outrigger loft. If you have a loft over your rear-facing outrigger this could be part of your conversion works

Interpretation of your PD rights

Interpretation of your PD rights can be quite complicated. If you are in any doubt or if you require legal confirmation you should submit an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness. A Certificate of Lawfulness is legal confirmation you do not need planning permission for the proposed works.

For details of my other loft blogs please check out my website:

Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of legal information.