A loft conversion is a huge undertaking. It’s one of the biggest and most involved home improvement projects you can do. After all, you’re talking about structural changes to your home. So, it’s hugely important to choose the right builder.
Choosing a loft conversion company isn’t easy. There are so many to choose from. But how do you sort out the genuine specialists from the cowboys?
When choosing a builder look for reputation, testimonials, experience, and past work.
Let’s expand on that with our top tips on choosing a loft conversion company or builder.
1) Choose your building company carefully. Always speak to previous customers and satisfy yourself that is someone you can not only work with but also trust.
2) When going through the selection process ask if the building company will be erecting scaffolding for delivering materials. You don’t want labourers constantly going through the house carrying materials when they can be delivered via crane through the scaffolding on the roof.
3) Agree a contract with a timetable that both you and your builder are happy with. Don’t set unrealistic targets but don’t accept unreasonable delays. Your architect will be able to provide you with a draft contract.
4) Make sure you’re in control of the project. This is your house, your money, and your project. Don’t be afraid to tell your builders if you aren’t happy with an aspect of their work or if you think they are deviating from the plans.
5) Notwithstanding number 4 (above) don’t try to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs. If a qualified tradesmen is telling you something it is usually best to listen but the final decision is yours.
6) Keep communication open between yourself and your contractors. Talk to them; don’t put up barriers between yourself and ‘the workmen’.
7) Be accessible. Don’t go missing without leaving a contact phone number. Very often unforeseen things will crop up and your contractor will need a decision from you before continuing work. If you can’t be reached, all work will come to a stop costing you time and money.
8) Pay on time but never fully in advance. Agree a timetable of staggered payments and only pay when each stage of the project is finished to your satisfaction.
9) Make a list of reputable building companies in your area that specialise in loft conversions. Look for online reviews and check their website for how long they have been trading.
10) Check the loft conversion companies you are considering are registered with official regulatory bodies, such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) or the National Federation of Builders (NFB).
11) Look for builders with experience in loft conversions and a proven track record of converting lofts. Always go for a specialist and not your local jobbing Jack of all trades.
12) Ask around. Ask for recommendations from friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours who have recently had a loft conversion done. A personal recommendation from someone you know is the best recommendation of all.
13) You must get at least three written quotes from different loft conversion companies. It’s amazing how many homeowners only get one quote. You must get more so you can compare prices, materials, and timeframes.
14) The cheapest quote isn’t always the best. Carefully compare what each builder is offering and what their quote includes and, more importantly, what it doesn’t include.
15) Make sure the builder has valid insurance. This should include public liability insurance and employer’s liability insurance. Ask to see the paperwork.
16) Ask for testimonials and references from previous clients. The best builders will have a list of homeowners who will be happy to talk to you about previous loft conversions the building company has carried out.
17) Make sure you go and see previous loft conversion projects the builders have worked on to see the quality of their work for yourself.
18) Don’t be shy about asking questions and insisting on seeing previous work. You are spending a lot of money and for your own peace of mind you need to double check everything. Reputable builders will have no issues with you doing this.
19) Check out the website of the companies you’re considering and look for details about their experience and any information about their staff, and how long they have been in business.
20) Ask them about warranties and guarantees. Good builders absolutely guarantee their work.
21) Make the builder spell out timelines and the schedule for your loft conversion including milestones and deadlines.
22) When you receive your quote make sure the payment terms and schedule are absolutely crystal clear before starting the project.
23) Request a detailed written contract before making your final decision on which builder to use. The contract should include specifications, costs, materials, and timelines.
24) Read the contract thoroughly. Pay special attention to any clauses related to delays, changes, or additional costs. If in doubt, get a solicitor to look over the contract.
25) Ask your builder if they have a dispute resolution process in place should you have any issues during the build.
26) Ask about health and safety policies. Your home will become a building site and you want to make sure it is a safe environment for your family and neighbours.
27) Make sure you will have a point of contact. Your builders should appoint a project manager who will update you as the project progresses and will always be available to answer any questions you may have.
28) Check if they have environmental and sustainability practices in place. All reputable loft conversion companies will have policies in place for waste management and recycling.
29) Trust your gut feeling. And your research. Choose a building company you feel comfortable working with. By asking lots of questions, you’ll get a good feel for the company and how professional they are.
There’s a lot to digest there. But let’s put even more meat on the bones and expand on some of the most important points.
Choosing a loft conversion company
Choosing the right builder is essential when planning a major project. After all, the workmen will not only be responsible for doing a quality job but they will also be spending up to eight weeks in your home.
A specialist building company will be the choice of many homeowners but there are also many other builders who will undertake conversions and all kinds of other home extensions.
When choosing a builder don’t rely on glossy adverts in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper.
The best advertising any builder can have is word of mouth. Ask your friends or any neighbours who have had a loft conversion built how their builder performed.
And, ask any building firm you approach to provide references from recent clients. It is always best to obtain multiple quotes from builders but do remember that the cheapest quote isn’t necessarily the best.
Don’t let your decision be swayed by the possibility of saving a few pounds – employing a builder because he is cheap could end up costing you plenty in the long run.
When considering quotes from builders ensure they are a fixed price. In other words, no additional costs can, or will, be added on and that the quote covers everything you wish to do.
A reputable loft conversion company will lay out in detail what your quotation covers and, depending on your preferences, this may include drawing up plans, submitting them to the local authority as well as building the conversion.
Ask your builder how he will approach your work. A reputable loft conversion company or builder will work from scaffolding during the first half of the job. This is to keep disruption to the household to a minimum and to keep dust and debris to an absolute minimum.
Be very wary of any builder who says scaffolding is not required as this means they will need to take all equipment and materials through the house causing mess and inconvenience.
One of the most important things to settle before any work is done is exactly how and when you will pay the builder and what is involved in the costs quoted.
An initial payment against materials is fine but under no circumstances pay in full, or for labour, before the work is completed or even started.
The usual agreement is to agree to pay in staggered instalments as the various stages of work are finished.
Make sure that your builder is fully insured against public liability. If they have no insurance, you could be liable if any accidents occur during the build. A loft conversion company will sometimes state the amount of their public liability cover in their advertising literature.
As an additional safeguard ask if there is any warranty which covers your loft conversion as many builders will insure their work with a 10-year bond from the Federation of Master Builders.
Minimise the risk of choosing the right loft conversion builder
Of course, you need to exercise very careful judgement when choosing a builder as we have all seen those television programmes that tell of the havoc caused by so called cowboy builders.
We’ve all seen unbelievable images of homes in ruins after an unwary householder paid a fortune to a builder who was not qualified to do the work and who vanished as soon as he was paid.
Usually, we shake our heads and ask ourselves how anyone could be so gullible as to pay out loads of cash to someone who leaves their home in ruins.
But be warned.
Unless we take a few basic precautions when contracting a builder to work on our home it could well happen to us.
If you are looking for a builder to do work on your home, whether it be simple re-pointing, building loft conversions or a full-scale renovation there is one step to take that is more important than anything else.
Ask for references and testimonials!
Now that is an obvious step to take. But it is amazing how many people employ builders on major projects without checking them out first with their previous customers.
Don’t think just because a builder arrives in a smart van holding a hammer that he actually knows what he is doing.
Ask for references and follow them up. Speak to previous customers and ask them if you can go and see the work done. Most people who provide references for building companies are only too happy to show off the good work.
Needless to say, if a loft conversion company can’t provide testimonials than regardless of how impressive their sales talk is, how smart their van is or how impressive their website, don’t be tempted to employ them and this is especially true when trying to find reliable loft conversion builders.
All good, reputable builders will be only too happy to supply references if asked.
Please don’t be worried about causing offence by asking the builders to prove how good they are.
After all, if a builder can’t or won’t supply references, then you can be pretty sure that he isn’t going to be up to the job of converting your loft.
Using a specialist loft conversion company
There are many builders and specialist conversion companies out there who will do an excellent job of converting your loft for you.
The degree of their involvement is dependent on the householder and they can do as much or as little of the work as you wish.
Some builders and specialist companies will plan, manage and build your loft conversion from start to finish and, for most of us, this is the preferred option.
DIY enthusiasts however may do much of the work themselves and only contract out specialist jobs such as plumbing or electrical work.
But let’s take a step-by-step look at how a specialist builder will tackle your loft conversion.
What your specialist builder will do
Firstly, a specialist will assess your roof space to ensure it is suitable for conversion before discussing your design options with you.
This is when you will tell the builder exactly how you want your project to look. He will then let you know how practical your plans are and if any amendments need making to them.
The builder may be able to give you a rough price estimate at this stage but, the more likely option, is that he will be back in touch after a few days with a firm quotation. Ensure this quotation is a fixed price. In other words, that no additional costs can, or will, be added on and that the quote is final.
Any reputable loft conversion specialist will lay out in detail what your quotation covers and this will usually include drawing up plans, submitting them to the local authorities’ building control officers and building the conversion ensuring that all standards of work and safety are maintained.
Once the quote has been approved the plans will be drawn up and submitted to your local council for approval under the building regulations and, if necessary, the planning rules.
Obtaining the correct approval could take between four and eight weeks depending on your council. Once obtained, your builder will inform the council when they plan to officially start work and arrange for any permits that are required to place skips on the road outside your home.
Using a specialist building company takes all the headache out of complying with the building regulations and you will not have to concern yourself with paperwork. But, no matter how reputable your builder is, ensure that you see the approval notice issued by the council.
The actual building of your loft conversion will probably take between six and eight weeks. The best companies will keep any disruption to a minimum and there is no reason to move out of your home whilst the work is being done.
The builders first job will be to erect scaffolding on the outside of your property before cutting an access hole in your roof. This will then be temporarily waterproofed to keep out the elements during the initial construction stage.
All reputable loft conversion specialist companies will work from scaffolding during the first half of the job. This is to keep disruption to the household to a minimum and to keep dust and debris to an absolute minimum.
Be very wary of any builder who says scaffolding is not required as they will need to take all equipment and materials through the house causing mess and inconvenience.
The new flooring joists and steel beams will then be installed followed by the windows or dormer. Roof tiles and flashing will then be added as needed before the scaffolding is removed.
At this stage, after four weeks or so, an opening for the new staircase will be cut into the first-floor ceiling, the stairs installed and any plumbing and electrical work completed.
The final week or two will be spent plastering and completing the second fix electrical work.
During the build your local council building inspector will have made several visits to approve the on-going work and will ‘sign-off’ the final approval following his last site inspection which takes place after he receives confirmation from your builder that all work has been completed.
As can be seen from the above, although a loft conversion is a big job, it can be completed quickly and with the minimum of disruption if a loft conversion specialist is used.