Do It Yourself Loft Conversion: Advice, Tips, and Warnings




do it yourself loft conversion

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As DIY projects go, converting your loft is one of the biggest. Yes, it can be done, but you will need specialist help with structural work, the electrics, and plumbing depending on how much of the work you want to do yourself.

Why would you want to do a do it yourself loft conversion?

A loft conversion isn’t cheap. If you can do much, or even some, of the work yourself you will save yourself plenty of cash.

Obviously, much will depend on your skill level, the equipment you have, and other resources you have to hand. If you’re a joiner by trade, you will be able to do so much including building the stairs which is one of the most important and costly jobs in a loft conversion.

If on the other hand you are an amateur DIYer with a tool rack in the shed, then there will be obvious limits to what you can and can’t do.

You don’t have to do it all yourself

You won’t be able to anyway. Hefting those new steel beams into place isn’t easy on your own. And of course, you need to be certified to do electrical and gas work.

But as we mentioned earlier the more you can do yourself the more money you can save, as we’ll discuss shortly a shell loft conversion is a great compromise – you get all the big jobs done for you and you do the finishing touches.

Taking on a DIY loft conversion

A do it yourself loft conversion is obviously a big project but, for those amongst us who are keen and competent DIY enthusiasts, then it certainly is a ‘do-able’ one.

The key to a Do It Yourself loft conversion is pretty much the same as any other project – make sure every detail is planned and the correct planning consent gained or building regulations adhered to.

The other important factor, and a pretty obvious one at that, is to give yourself plenty of time to finish the job.

Unlike that new shelf in the bathroom a loft conversion can’t be flung up whilst the wife is at bingo and its half-time in the football.

Of course a DIY loft conversion doesn’t necessarily mean you will be doing everything yourself.

You may be calling in builders to do much or some of the work and they could, for example, build a shell conversion which takes care of all the structural work, allowing the DIYer to do the finishing off and fixings.

Do it yourself loft conversion advice – planning

The best word of warning is quite simple – don’t change your mind!

Once you have decided on your design and actually began the project it is often impossible or impractical to revise your scheme.

Quite often people get in to a project and then change their mind and think they want to do it a different way. The obvious problem with this is that it will probably cost more money to start over or change directions.

While converting the loft can add value to your home you don’t want that added value eaten up in the cost.

Indecisiveness is usually the biggest reason that some people won’t even attempt loft conversions.

What is a shell loft conversion?

Shell loft conversions are a great way to cut costs without compromising on quality workmanship and is an excellent way forward for those looking to do their own DIY loft conversions.

Basically, a shell, as the name suggests, is a job in which the builder completes the carcass of a project by completing all the structural work.

This may include installing the new floor joists and the new loft conversion beams, building dormers if required and installing the loft stairs.

Once the shell is completed the builder signs the job off and the householder takes over any of the other tasks that are left such as laying the loft flooring, making a stud wall etc.

Having a builder install a shell conversion will mean that the highly technical structural jobs are professionally done but a lot of money will be saved by taking the final fixing jobs off the builder and doing them yourself.

Setting boundaries

The important thing here is to agree boundaries with your contractors. In other words, the builders or contractors must know exactly what their job is.

Not having strict agreements in place about who is doing what will only lead to confusion, disputes, and a botched job.

Plenty much but of course there are a few things that you do need to be aware of. It is hugely important to nail down exactly what work the contractor will be responsible for.

The last thing you want, or need is for the builder to walk off site and then discovering the floor joists have not been installed and there is a gaping hole in the roof where the new skylight windows should be.

A shell loft conversion should be exactly what it says, a complete shell just awaiting the interior work to be finished by the homeowner.

Another massively important factor to bear in mind are the loft conversion building regulations.

You must ensure that your contract with the builders makes clear that they are responsible for ensuring all their work complies with the building regulations.

Final payment should not be made until the local building control officers approves the work carried out by the contractor.

However, once that approval is given and the contractor hands the project over the householder then assumes responsibility and ultimately it is the homeowner who must obtain the final completion certificate from the building control office.

Moving on

But the pages on this site, whilst not intended to show you how to drill every hole and turn every screw, will provide a comprehensive guide to the planning and specification of your loft conversion.

By the way.

If you do need to be shown how to drill every hole and turn every screw, then you should be contemplating a basic night-school course and not a loft conversion!

And, if you belong to the Frank Spencer school of Do-It-Yourself, maybe you should just content yourself with a planning role….(Do you remember the episode when Frank fell through the floor of his neighbours loft? Hands up all those who have done the same. You’ve guessed it. I’m now typing this one handed.)

I think the overriding factor here is….know your limits.

Please don’t attempt anything which is beyond your capabilities but, if you are confident in your skills, then there is no reason why you cannot complete a great loft conversion – and save yourself a stack of money in the process.

The first thing to do in any project of this kind is to ascertain if your loft is suitable to be converted.

If it is then coming the really fun part of the job – designing your new room.

Drawing the plans

If you are looking at DIY loft conversion plans are essential to the success of your project but are you able to draw up the plans yourself or do you need to employ an architect or draughtsman to do the drawings for you?

Of course, the important thing to remember when thinking of drawing your own plans is that the drawings will need to be accurate and detailed enough for the building control officers to approve them.

Another salient point is that the drawings need to show all the important structural calculations for loft conversions.

But, if you are confident enough to tackle the job yourself, which drawings do you need to submit?

The first set of drawings should show the existing elevations of the property including the front, side and back. These can be drawn to either a 1:50 or 1:100 scale.

Along with existing elevation plans there needs to be separate drawings that show the new, or proposed, elevations of the property as it will look after the loft conversion.

Similarly, to the elevation drawings there needs to be two sets of layout plans that show the details of each floor, both existing and proposed layouts, with every room clearly identified.

The proposed layout drawings should of course include the new loft conversion. These plans can be drawn to a scale of 1:50.

You also need to submit a location plan, but the good news is that you can cheat a little here. The scale of the plan should not be less than 1:1250 but you can use an ordnance survey map of your immediate area and simply mark your property on the map.

A site plan is also required that shows existing boundaries with neighbouring properties and how the loft conversion will affect those boundaries. Trees, drains and outbuildings also need to be shown on these plans.

Finally, a section plan, probably the most technically challenging of the drawings needed for a building regulations application, must be included that shows a cross section view of the property complete with structural calculations.

Drawing up DIY loft conversion plans isn’t easy, and it may well be that you would be advised to seek the advice of an architect or designer before submitting anything to the building control office.

Once the design stage is over you must go through the process of obtaining the correct planning permission (if needed) and building regs approval.

And, whilst these steps may appear to be a bit daunting or even intimidating, they are necessary and, really not that difficult to get through.

The building regulations and fire safety

When contemplating a DIY loft conversion, the regs provide a useful set of guidelines to follow.

One of the most important building regs to follow for the DIY loft converter are those relating to fire safety and escape.

To ensure building regulation compliance close attention must be paid to Approved Document B which deals with the whole question of protection from fire.

The whole thrust of the fire safety component of the building regulations is to make sure that there is a protected escape route in the event of fire.

And this means an escape route to an exit from the property such as a front door.

Contrary to popular belief a window does not constitute a recognised exit, so it is important that fire safety is considered very early in the design process.

This is essential as a retrospective fix isn’t always practical and could become very expensive.

The main provision when considering DIY loft conversion building regulation compliance is the requirement to provide an escape route that gives 30 minutes protection from fire.

This escape route must be fully enclosed and lead to a front, back or side door.

Staying safe on the job

It may not be innovative or earth shattering but a valuable do it yourself loft conversion tip is to make sure that safety is paramount when working on your new loft room.

When doing work in the roof space, be it with a team of contractors or when you are on your own, personal safety should be a top priority.

Health and safety play such a big part in our lives, often to ridiculous extremes, that it cannot be ignored and, let’s face it, if you are working with heavy beams or building materials it is only common sense to make sure you and everyone else is safe.

In the grand scheme of things loft conversions may not be massive pieces of engineering work but safety is as important on a small site as it is on the very biggest.


The first essential DIY loft conversion tip is to wear a hat. A hard hat.

Yes, you may look like Bob the Builder or that dodgy bloke from the Village People, but with low beams, falling bricks and hurling hammers being part of a typical loft conversion a hard hat can be a life saver.

Your head is an easy target on a building site but so are your toes. If there is anything to kick or bang your feet against than you will find it. And it will hurt. A lot.

So, make sure you wear steel capped work boots. They may not be as stylish as the latest Nike’s, but they will stop your toes being crushed when someone drops a steel beams on them.

Eyes are precious things, and they are at risk on any building site.

Goggles or full faced eye protectors must be worn as chips of wood or steel are liable to be flying like shrapnel around the confined roof space when drills or grinders are being used.

To complete the essential safety ensemble is a dust mask to protect the lungs from the inevitable dust and fibres that will fill the air during a loft conversion.


Noise won’t only be a disruption for the homeowner and the neighbours, but it can also have an impact on anyone working on the project.

Ear protectors should be worn as the human ear is easily damaged by the noise generated by drills and heavy equipment.

Remember to take appropriate care when lifting heavy objects such as beams. You won’t be able to enjoy your new loft room if you are laid up with a bad back brought on by incorrect lifting techniques.

Finally, the working area and immediate environs must be kept tidy. It is all too easy to take a nasty trip or fall if tools or materials are left lying around the work area.

And finally…

Like any good do-it-yourself job, the hard work is in the preparation!

Prepare well and the actual build should go smoothly – bound to be the odd hiccup of course but good preparation can minimise any problems.

But why undertake a project like this in the first place?

House prices may be coming down but with the financial upheaval going on than converting the loft is, more than ever, probably the best solution for families looking to increase their living space rather than moving to a new and bigger home.

Although the transformation of the roof space into a habitable room is a very sizable and involved project, with good planning, the right experience and plenty of help to call upon it can be done.

But a project such as this can get very complicated unless you have a very good plan and perhaps some help.

Just because it is a do-it-yourself project doesn’t mean you can’t have help.

Planning and design or locating the right supplies and tools are just a few things to consider in this kind of challenging project.

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