Last night I was dealt my first blow by construction red tape and I didn’t realise quite how frustrating it would be. My gripe is with Part B (and a little bit of Part K) of the Building Regulations — fire safety, or in particular, fire escape.

In March I bought my first house with my significant other. It’s a mid-terrace, two-up-two-down with only one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room (the images throughout this piece give you an idea of the proportions we are working with). As my SO is a teacher and needs quiet space to mark, we bought the house thinking converting the loft into a bedroom and turning our current bedroom into a guest room/office would be a fairly straightforward way to create more space.

living room after moving in to mid terrace Victorian home

On assessing the available space, we knew putting stairs in was going to be a bit of a fiddle as we have no landing to really speak of. But, the bathroom is a fair size so we were happy to sacrifice some of that space for stairs. They would be steep, but it would hopefully be do-able.

Last night we were visited by a designer and loft conversion specialist from a design and build company. With 25 years experience under his belt he did not seem too phased by the prospect of squeezing the stairs in. His laser measuring device confirmed the roof had adequate headroom; we discussed dormer coverings and windows that would be low maintenance and match the Victorian cottage style of the house; he even said the floor space was adequate for a small en-suite.

Then, as we went back downstairs to discuss ideas, I made light of our building-regulation-reject staircase. The stairs go directly into the kitchen, so to make the most of light in the small space, the previous owner had installed a wooden staircase with open risers and little in the way of a bannister. I know the risers are a little bit big – forget the diameter of a baby’s head guideline, you could probably fit a whole child through – but I had forgotten the whole fire escape issue.

view from living room to kitchen of Victorian terrace with stairs to first floor and loft conversions
view of living room from the kitchen of a Victorian mid-terrace home

Basically, for those who don’t know, if you turn your loft into habitable space (bedroom, nursery, study, den) you need an escape route from your loft, directly to an external door, which does not pass through other rooms. If it does, these rooms need fire doors between them and the escape route. So, for example, if there was a fire in my kitchen, we would be stuck in the loft if we didn’t close off the stairs and build a lobby before the kitchen, with a fire door to access it. The problem is, we can’t really build said lobby in the kitchen, because it is barely big enough as it is.

Loft Conversion Options

So, while I berate the building inspectors for wanting to help me safely escape my burning home, let’s look at our options:

  1. Convert loft into a bedroom, enclose stairs to ground floor and lose kitchen space and a bit of natural light.
  2. Convert loft into non-habitable space such as a bathroom, turn current first-floor bathroom into a teeny bedroom/study, leave stairs and kitchen as they are.
  3. Convert the loft into a bedroom, leave the stairs and kitchen alone, but install a sprinkler system.
  4. Convert loft into study, bedroom or whatever we like, flip the Vs to building regs, don’t get it passed by building control, and live the lives of anarchists until we have to sell on.

I like the fourth option, but a) I don’t think the company would actually build it (although he did say they could do option one then we tear the wall down after), and b) when we come to sell and it can’t be classed or advertised as a bedroom, we probably won’t make back what we spent to do it. Also, I don’t particularly want to run the risk of barbequeing myself.

Option two is OK, but part of the point of having a bedroom or study in the loft is to enjoy the views which may be wasted by a bathroom. It would also mean we have a huge bathroom upstairs and a very small box room in the place of the old bathroom.

Vitorian terrace kitchen with colourful tiles and pine cabinets

I’ve explained my issues with option one, so what about the sprinkler idea? Well, aside from being expensive (£1,800 he estimated which is a large percentage of the overall project cost), we have single thickness ceilings with no cavity above them and below the first floor. This may not easily allow for the pipework, and may mean hacking around at our lovely exposed beams. On the other hand, it would save space, and eliminate the cost of all of the other fire measures, so it may be worth thinking about.

The designer has gone away to work up his ideas. He is going to draw a variety of loft conversion plans and then give us quotes. Until we know the costs, it is hard to decide whether it will be worth it as it needs to cost less than the added value. I’ll keep you all posted.

Oh, and to top it all off, our current staircase is 5° steeper than regulations allow… wheyyy *thumbs up*.

Have you had a similar problem in your project? There is a comment box below and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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