Loft conversions are the ideal option if you're looking for more space but don't want to extend upwards. But there's plenty to consider as you tackle the loft – not least energy efficiency.
The recent cold weather serves as a reminder to address any draughts within your home to make it cosier when the temperature drops. With the new year fast approaching, this downtime presents itself as the ideal opportunity to look into home improvement projects that would be perfect for warmer weather.
First up, Building Regulations approval. It's ultimately your responsibility to get this, and you should make sure whichever firm you contract to do the work is happy to do the necessary calculations for you.
Energy efficiency is covered in these regulations. It's based on the U value of the roof – a calculation to minimise heat loss. The regulations call for 0.18W/m2 or lower, and beyond the mathematics, this effectively means you've got to minimise heat loss from the conversion by insulating between and beneath the rafters, and maintain continuity of insulation between walls and the roof.
Doing the minimum is required, but there are good reasons to look beyond that, and like with home extensions, there’s an opportunity, while there are tradespeople already in, to make the rest of your home more comfortable and cheap to run.
A loft conversion is one of what’s known as ‘trigger points’- opportunities in the life of a home to make additional changes, thus minimising hassle and cost. Could you, for example, use it as an opportunity to upgrade your lighting to high-performing LED lighting? Is your old boiler bringing you big heating bills? Perhaps it could be the ideal time for a change.
But back to the loft. To go above and beyond Building Regulations on the conversion alone, not only can you put in more insulation than the requirement to hold the heat in and save on your energy bills, you can also look beyond insulation.
Insulating without installing energy efficient windows would be a mistake. Look to install the best-performers you can afford; A+-rated double glazing can bring significant bill savings, and you could go further still, for triple-glazed. Good quality windows not only bring lower bills and a warmer space, but excellent noise-proofing and reduced condensation build-up.
To stop the space becoming cold in winter, extra heating such as one or more radiators may well be required, but it would be wise to go for those controlled with thermostatic valves.
In general, it’s important not to forget to make sure the new heat source’s use is regulated, just like the rest of the house. There are a number of ‘smart home’ devices available now, with which you can control the heating of your whole property, even from your phone. This could well be a good opportunity to consider investing in some digital additions. If you don’t currently have any heating controls, upgrading your controls could save up to £120 per year on your heating bill.
Lighting accounts for 15 per cent of a typical yearly electricity bill, so again, using the loft conversion as an opportunity to take action elsewhere might be prudent. You can save £35 by replacing existing bulbs with LED equivalents – and if you want to know which LEDs are the longest-lasting, best of the best, visit Topten UK.
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A possible energy ‘add-on’ that’s unique to loft conversions is the opportunity to make a solar PV panels more economical to install. With reduced rates for the Feed-in Tariff (FITs), an incentive that pays for the electricity you generate and put back on the grid, you can improve return on investment by virtue of a less hi-tech aspect of installation: scaffolding.
During a loft conversion, scaffolding will already be up. It can be an expensive part of a solar installation, but with it already in place, you’re likely to be able to deduct from the fee charged by installers. Skylights can also be placed in a way to ensure the most panels can be fitted, bringing bigger benefits. If you’re thinking of getting solar panels, during a loft conversion is an ideal time because of convenience – you won’t need to get the builders in twice.
Of course, you’ll still need the right sort of roof to get the most out of solar – south-facing with a 30-degree pitch the absolute best – while it’s also worth considering your lifestyle. The more you are at home and using the electricity, the bigger bill savings you make, and the better investment solar is long-term.
Converting a loft throws up important questions about maintaining heat and keeping bills down while increasing space. But done right, it can also be the starting point for a closer look at your home, and some additional energy efficiency upgrades within your budget.