One of the cheapest loft conversions, a shell conversion is when the builder carries out all the structural work including installing the new floor, beams, and dormer. The homeowner or another contractor then completes the finishing touches.
Why are shell loft conversions popular?
A shell conversion can save the homeowner plenty of money compared to a full conversion. By completing the finishing touches yourself, you’ll save money on hiring a contractor. Another big plus point is that shell loft conversions can be completed very quickly keeping disruption to a minimum.
A basic shell project is popular with those looking to build a do it yourself loft conversion, along with homeowners looking to add value to their property. By leaving the shell you add another selling point with the new owner inheriting a blank canvas they can do whatever they want with.
What is a shell loft conversion?
It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. A builder will complete a shell before handing the project over to the householder.
A shell project usually consists of the builder completing all the necessary structural work including the heavy jobs such as installing new beams, strengthening the floor with new joists, and putting in any dormers or skylights that are required to increase the available space.
The builder will complete the shell by adding and installing the new staircase and windows. Once that is done the project, from the building companies point of view, is finished.
The DIYer will then take over and finish the internal work.
This might include putting in the insulation before adding the flooring and building internal walls.
The DIYer will then need to finish the ceilings and walls with plaster and hang the doors.
Plumbing and electrical work will have to be done although that will need to be handed over to qualified subcontractors. However, in some cases the original builder will complete any plumbing or electrical work. This all depends on the initial agreement and how much work you want to be left to take on after the initial build.
The final furnishing and decorating are then the last tasks to be completed.
With shell loft conversions an important thing to consider is compliance with the building regulations. The builder, through his contract, should be responsible for ensuring that the work he does in building the shell complies with the building regs.
It is hugely important that the contractor fulfils that responsibility before leaving the site.
Once the project is handed over to the DIYer it becomes the householder’s job to deal with the building control officers, to ensure all paperwork is done and the final completion certificate obtained.
Pros and cons of a shell loft conversion
As with anything there are two sides of the coin when thinking about whether a shell loft is a good move for you. Let’s look at the pros and cons to make it a little easier for you to decide whether this approach is best for you.
Advantages of a shell loft conversion
Cost effectiveness – You’ll save money by not getting a full conversion and doing the finishing touches yourself or bringing in lower priced contractors.
The heavy lifting is done for you: You can’t take risks with the structure of your home’s roof so getting a specialist builder to install the beams and dormer makes complete sense. Let the experts do what they are good at.
Save time: A shell loft conversion is quick. It’s often the first and second fixes which take the most time but the shell will be completely quickly. Great news if you want to minimise disruption to the household.
Do as much or as little as you wish: You decide how much of the work you want the builder to do. If you’re handy with tools or have friends and family who can help you can opt for the builder to complete the minimum of work. On the other hand if you’re not so confident in your skills you can get the builder to complete the majority of the work leaving you with the basic finishing tasks.
Disadvantages of a shell loft conversion
You’re on your own: Once the builder leaves you’re the one who has to take on the rest of the job. If you’re only a hobby DIYer , think very carefully about taking this on.
It’s only half a job: Well, this is obvious. But in for a penny in for a pound. If you’re taking the trouble to get a builder to alter the structure of your roof why not let them finish the whole job?
Building regulations approval: If you’re not familiar with the regulations you may have issues with your work being passed by the building control officer.
What to consider before starting your shell conversion
The first thing is to consider exactly what you want the shell to be. Will it be a minimum installation of the beam and dormer / windows, or do you want the builder to install the electrics and stairs too?
Then of course is the thorny matter of the building regulations. You must obtain building regulations approval and don’t forget the party wall agreement if the work will impact your neighbour’s property.
Budget is always a big part of planning a loft conversion. While a shell is the cheapest loft conversion you can have built it still requires a considerable investment. And don’t forget that you need to budget for all the finishing work.
Even if you are doing most of the finishing tasks yourself you still need to pay for materials, delivery, and any extras such as qualified electricians.
The shell loft process
The process starts with choosing your builder. Talk to several and get quotes from at least three. Ensure the builder knows exactly what you want.
The first job will be the structural work. Installing the beams and strengthening the floor. This will be followed by the installation of the dormer or the rooflights depending on which you’ve chosen.
Once the structural work is completed the electrical and plumbing jobs can be finished, and stairs installed. When these tasks are finished the builder will hand the project over to you.
You then build stud walls, do the plastering, lay flooring, hang doors, add lighting fixtures etc.
Shell or storage loft conversion?
Another popular reason that many homeowners choose a shell conversion is so they can use the loft simply for as a storage space. You don’t have to use the shell as the first step towards a full conversion but, if this is your goal, then it can be done in stages as time and money permits.
However, if you’re only ever going to use the loft for storage then much of the heavy work such as installing new steel beams and stairs can be avoided.
This involves putting down loft boarding and you can choose to do as much or as little as you wish. Some people simply board the centre of the roof space whilst others will board the entire loft and put in a loft ladder and lighting.
Importantly this kind of loft conversion does not require building regulations approval but of course the space can only be used as storage. Making the loft into a habitable living room will mean you have to go through the building regulations procedure.
Should I do a shell loft conversion?
A shell conversion will undoubtedly save you plenty of money and, if you are good at DIY, then simply getting the beams put in, the stairs installed, and the floor strengthened will leave you with a challenging but enjoyable project to complete.
As always be careful which company of builders you bring in to do the work. Most loft conversion specialists will be only too happy to build shell or storage loft conversions but be careful to ensure that the builder knows exactly which work he is responsible for and that the work is itemised on any quote you receive.
Structural work is the main job in any loft conversion so shell conversions are the perfect answer for those of us who want to do a large amount of the work ourselves or who are looking to convert their loft whilst significantly reducing the costs.
Obviously when thinking of converting the loft as a full or part DIY project you need to be absolutely sure of the work you will be taking on.
And, what the shell option allows you to do, is to keep costs down and do plenty of the work yourself whilst letting a specialist building company complete the most complicated tasks.
Apart from simple storage solutions, a shell loft conversion is the cheapest loft conversion you can build. It’s affordable, gives you a great start on your project, and if you’re confident in your skills will save you plenty of time and money.