‘How can I convert my attic without spending a lot of money?’ – The Irish Times

I am seeing the potential to convert my attic into usable space. It’s too short to qualify for human habitation (around 2m max height), but it takes up a lot of space in proportion to my very small townhouse (57sqm/614sqft). I don’t want to hire a turnkey penthouse conversion company as I just want a basic structurally sound open space with stairs and it wouldn’t be worth spending over €10,000 on it so I’m thinking of doing it bit by bit starting with steel. My attic has a simple beam ceiling with concrete tiles on only one corner, so I think a single steel would do. The width between the gable walls is about 4.7 m. Would you be able to advise roughly how much a steel would cost for this including structural engineer certificate?

Converting an attic is a great way to achieve additional floor space, writes Noel Larkin. The cost is usually more manageable than an extension. The fact that you are working within the existing building envelope means that your roof and external walls are already in place and therefore more resources can be directed towards better finishes, upgrades and the like. But converting an attic is always a balancing act. How usable will the extra space be? Will it be habitable? What space will be lost on the first floor level to accommodate a new attic stair? What is the additional cost of bringing the house up to building standards in terms of means of escape and fire precautions?

The provision of an additional floor increases the risk of fire and, as a result, building regulations require quite substantial improvements to the original house. Although the attic space will normally be put to living use, many people do the “Irish” thing and say that the space is for storage use only and therefore avoids the need to upgrade the original home. This is both wrong and extremely short-sighted. The rules deal with the protection of life and must be followed.

Attic conversion is a specialized job and is best left to professionals. You mention that the roof of your house is a simple truss roof. The trusses, although simple in appearance, are quite complex in their operation. They work on the principle of transferring the weight of roof decks and applied loads, such as wind and snow, to external walls.

If the armor is cut or modified, it will no longer function as designed. Then the weight can be incorrectly transferred to the internal partitions or the ceilings of the upper floor. In my experience as a building surveyor, one of the biggest issues we run into where we advise our clients to “look elsewhere” is DIY attic conversions. Turning a blind eye to the intended use of an attic is one thing, but if the structure has not been designed correctly and the work has not been implemented correctly, there can be significant consequences.

My advice is to have your property evaluated by an engineer who will be able to give you specific information on the best way to proceed and the correct materials and methods to use. If you want information in terms of layout and placement of a new staircase or internal layouts, a building surveyor can also help you.

When considering an attic conversion, I would recommend against being sensible and foolish.

Noel Larkin is a chartered surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland (SCSI)

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