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10 Top Tips for your Renovation or Conversion Project

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Follow these essential tips for ensuring your renovation or conversation is a success
contemporary shop conversion

Tackling a renovation or conversion can be a great way to create a unique home, but you must approach the project with a sound design philosophy to ensure your hard-earned cash goes into a scheme that meets your expectations.

Good planning by an experienced designer can deliver great value-for-money; even a few simple and sensible decisions on layouts can save you a small fortune on excessive partitioning, plumbing and other hidden extras. Read on for more tips for your project.

1. Assess the building

Always get to know a rundown property before you buy. You can carry out general checks yourself – such as tapping walls to listen for loose plaster – but a professional survey is a must. This should identify the remedial work required, which can then be reflected in your offer for the property.

Meeting up with a designer early on will give you the chance to discuss how to enhance the layout, add extra accommodation or bring in more natural light – as well as give you an idea of any planning or building control issues that may apply.

2. Budget right

Every renovation has its own quirks to contend with, so it’s difficult to take a catch-all approach to costs. The most reliable way to get an idea of what you’re likely to spend is to obtain detailed quotes for the work from tradesmen.

That’s fine if you already own the house, but if you’re buying to renovate getting the sums right is a little trickier. Some problems only surface in the course of a project, so reserve a decent contingency (10%-20% will cover most projects).

3. Good planning

Much refurbishment work can be done without formal planning permission, under permitted development (PD) rules. This includes repairs and minor improvements – such as painting the external walls, replacing windows like-for-like or installing rooflights – provided the work meets the PD criteria listed at www.planningportal.co.uk. Even loft conversions are permitted within certain volume limits (40m3 for terraces or 50m3 for semis and detached homes).

4. Conversion opportunities

Changes to planning rules in 2014 mean many shops, offices and farm buildings can be converted into new homes. For eligible schemes, all that’s needed is a prior approval application, which costs £80 and has a speedy decision period of 28 days.

Large projects or those that significantly alter the character of the building still require formal planning consent. Using an experienced designer will give you access to the skills and imagination needed to make the most of the quirks of this kind of building.

5. Heritage homes

Older houses have a charm that’s difficult to replicate, and sensitive projects that complement period features while also offering modern living can add real value. These properties are often protected by special designations. Those of historic or architectural interest may be listed, so you’ll need specific listed building consent for internal and external alterations.

Similar rules apply in conservation areas, where it’s usually the exterior of the house that’s protected. You might be required to use certain materials, such as breathable plasters or authentic slate roofing, which can pull on the purse strings. A designer who specialises in heritage schemes will prove a real asset on this kind of project.

6. Know the rules

Compliance with Building Regs is a separate matter to planning permission. If you’re managing the scheme, it falls to you to ensure your tradespeople are achieving the minimum standards. Some designers can assist with this and liaise with building control for you.

Another area to watch out for is party walls at the boundary between adjoining properties. Any work done to this part of a building must be undertaken safely and damage made good – and under the Party Wall Act notify your neighbour of your intentions before commencing.

7. Creating light & space

Using glazing to complement a well thought-out floorplan can turn even the dingiest property into a comfortable, light-filled home. An experienced designer won’t simply replace a run of windows with bigger versions or sliding doors leading out on to the garden – they’ll think about how the rest of the property could be reconfigured to maximise natural brightness and make best use of space throughout.

8. Kerb appeal

Always aim to create a good first impression. Key areas to look at include the driveway, garden, entrance, hallway and facade – including the walls, windows and doors. In some cases, a lick of paint will go a long way, while in others you’ll need to weigh up the costs and potential gains. Repairing or re-instating sympathetic timber windows is likely to add instant style and value to a period property, for instance.

9. Sustainability

If you want your new home to be comfortable and efficient to run, sustainability will be at the top of your design agenda. A bespoke approach is crucial, but the first thing to look at is the efficiency of the main fabric. A detached 1960s house might be best upgraded with external wall insulation, for instance, which can also be used as a substrate for more attractive cladding. A stone barn conversion, meanwhile, would generally be treated internally with a breathable product to preserve its characterful facade.

10. Is renovation the right course?

Before you make a final call on whether to progress with a major refurb, there’s one more design element to consider: is this the right project for the plot? If the planned renovation just can’t quite be made to fit your requirements, will cost a small fortune or simply doesn’t make the most of the site, you might be better off knocking it down and starting again with a VAT-free self build.

Photos: David Morris

First published: September 2015

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