It is taking longer and getting more expensive to add value and space to your home. A combination of rising labour costs, a post-lockdown rush to get work done and the spiralling price of supplies mean homeowners who want to have a loft conversion are now having to wait up to nine months before a builder arrives.
“Waiting lists are longer than ever – many smaller firms don’t have availability until next summer, which emphasises the need to plan and book ahead,” according to MyBuilder, a site for finding tradespeople, which says some builders estimate the cost will be 20% more than before the problems started.
How long will it take?
When lockdown ended, there was a rush of people who wanted to get work done on their homes, both here and overseas. This meant demand has rocketed for supplies that are imported – from timber to plastics and polymers, paints and resins, roofing products, aluminium and steel.
Delays at ports have meant shipping costs have spiralled, especially from China, says Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association. “The price of imported plywood in July 2021 was 82% higher than a year earlier, whilst fabricated structural steel was 65% higher than a year ago,” says Francis.
Meanwhile, the supply of products from the UK, such as cement and bricks, has been hit by the shortage of HGV drivers. Added to this, there is a shortage of labour post-Brexit. Since 2017, there has been a 50% drop in the number of construction staff from the EU, he says.
Most small and medium-size contractors now have projects lined up for the next six to nine months, says Francis.
Because of the supply problems, loft conversions, which would normally take between eight and 10 weeks to install, now take between 12 and 16 weeks, says Dale Chadwick, a builder based in Devon.
How much will it cost?
There are four main types of loft conversion and the costs vary hugely depending on which you choose. The cheapest, and least disruptive option, is a “roof light conversion”, essentially adding a skylight window, laying a floor, decoration and putting in a staircase. The cost tends to come in at between £15,000 and £30,000, depending on the size and the quality of the build.
The most common type is the “dormer loft conversion”, an extension to the existing roof with vertical walls, which add floor space and allow for windows. They are suitable for most homes with a sloping roof and typically cost between £30,000 and £50,000.
Owners of detached and semi-detached homes can opt for a “hip-to-gable” conversion, where one of the sides of the roof is replaced with a vertical end wall, increasing the amount of interior space.
A “mansard roof conversion” alters the appearance of a house the most significantly, with sloping walls and a flat roof. These bigger projects can cost between £50,000 and £60,000.
With the recent rise in construction costs, homeowners are more likely to pay the higher end of these ranges, according to MyBuilder, which supplied the figures. Prices can vary significantly, however, depending on the materials used and your location. London will typically be more expensive and bathroom installation or higher-quality finishes will cost more.
Huddersfield-based Jo Simon Construction completed two loft conversions in Oldham on identical houses a few doors apart, but the bill for one was 50% more. “This was due to the client requesting a higher specification of finish, such as fancy niches and storage in eaves, our company completing the decorating (on the first job the client did his own), addition of a bathroom and decorating the entire staircase of the house, which has four floors,” says partner Trish Nuttall.
Do I need planning permission?
Most loft conversions do not need planning permission as they can be done under permitted development rights. To qualify, they must create up to 40 cubic metres of extra space for terraced houses, or 50 cubic metres on detached and semi-detached houses.
If you live in a listed building, you will need listed building consent from the local planning authority. Those in a conservation area, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or a national park will usually need planning permission.
What everyone will need is building regulations approval, so that the extension complies with the law in terms of fire safety, access and floor strength and other factors. An inspector will come to examine the work at different stages and issue a completion certificate at the end.
Builders or architects can help in submitting the plans for the building regulations and ensuring that they get approval. “This is imperative – without it you will be unable to sell your house later and the work may be dangerous if approval has not been given,” says Nuttall.
Do I need an architect?
It is possible to work with a builder and architect who cooperate, or just a builder. “You can hire an architect who will prepare plans for a builder to work to, or hire a specialist loft conversion company, or experienced building firm, which will be able to create the plans as well as carry them out,” says MyBuilder.
The best starting point is through a personal recommendation, says consumer group Which? and ensure you ask to see examples of previous work. It is best to get three quotes for any job, it suggests.
Should I warn the neighbours?
Keeping the neighbours informed is a good idea, as construction can be noisy and the builders will need a skip, which could mean moving cars around on the road. In some cases, especially if you live in a terraced, or semi-detached house, you will need a party wall agreement. This happens when work is happening near a wall that is directly between properties belonging to two different owners.
The process begins by giving a “party wall notice” to neighbours of the intended works. They can agree; refuse consent, which prompts a dispute-resolution process; or require that additional works are done. The builder or architect should be able to advise on this.
Typically, work on a loft conversion should take between six and 10 weeks, but these times have been extended as a result of the problems with labour and supplies.
Beware of builders who present time lines that appear too good to be true. “Longer waits may mean consumers are drawn in by rogue traders offering unrealistic turnaround times and cheap quotes. Customers need to have patience, as a good builder is a busy builder, which means waiting times may be longer than usual,” says Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.
There is usually no need to move out during the work, although there can be obvious disruption, such as noise and dust. In some cases, scaffolding is put up and the builders enter and leave the loft that way (until they have to build the stairs), causing less disturbance.
Be sure to tell your insurer about any alterations that change the value, structure or security of your home, as this may affect buildings and contents insurance. It has been estimated that loft extensions can add significantly to the value of a home, but that needs to be balanced with the amount of money spent.