How to Cut the Cost of Your Loft Conversion
Opening up an attic space is not cheap, but you can find small savings if you know where to look
Professional advice from: Matthew Ryder of Ash Island Lofts; Deepak Singh Udassi of City Lofts London; Ausra Griciute of LLAC Construction
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“Having a light and airy room is important,” Deepak Singh Udassi says, “and most people’s first thought is to have lots of windows in order to achieve this. But the uplift in cost of incorporating additional glazing comes not in materials, but labour.”
If a customer wants two roof windows in their loft and they then ask for a third, Deepak explains, there’s a lot more labour involved – and the extra cost is considerable.
“However, if a client decides on a bigger window rather than an extra window, the labour cost is exactly the same,” he says. “All the client is doing is paying for the uplift from size number one to size number two and the net gain for him or her is the same – more glazing.”
However, Deepak advises, make this decision early – on paper rather than on-site. If changes involve undoing existing work, then any potential saving will be lost.
Any loft conversion project will include some things and not others, so make sure you understand what additional outlay will be required.
“Take into consideration things such as a party wall surveyor’s fee,” Ausra Griciute says. This might be necessary if you and your neighbours have a disagreement about the works being carried out. “Or will you need to pay council fees for a skip or get parking permits for trade vehicles?” she adds.
Acknowledging early that expenses like these might be incurred might not save you money, but it will give you the reassurance that you’re working to a realistic budget that includes everything.
“Remember, too, that even small changes during the work can increase costs,” Ausra says, “so if you’re the sort of person who’s likely to change their mind, include a contingency for that, too.”
More: 8 Renovation Costs You Won’t Have Factored In, But Should Have.
“There are some things you can do in terms of design if you find you need to cut costs,” Matthew Ryder says. “Going for one bedroom instead of two will mean fewer stud walls and less labour. Having one big bedroom instead of a smaller one with an en suite bathroom would save you money, too, as well as freeing up more space for storage.
“But do remember that you can only downgrade the elements of a loft conversion so far before impacting Building Regulations,” he says. “There’s only so much ‘less’ you can have – you can’t miss out a steel, for instance, or not clad a dormer.”
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“Anything you choose for your loft conversion that’s out of the ordinary – whether that’s building materials or fixtures and fittings – will, of course, be more expensive,” Matthew says, “but it will also have a longer lead time, which will impact on progress on-site and affect costs further.”
Keeping to more standard, off-the-shelf rather than bespoke products can make a big difference to the overall cost of a loft conversion. “Some of our projects have incurred enormous delays because customers have specified high-end bespoke windows or hand-painted basins from Morocco,” Matthew says.
It can be argued that high-specification items like these are worth waiting for, but only if you’re happy to be paying for the waiting, too. Tracking down an off-the-shelf alternative might be an option if you’re looking for a saving.
UPVC windows are not for everyone – and in listed buildings and conservation areas, are unlikely to be an option – but the savings can be substantial if you do decide to use them. “UPVC windows can offer a smart, modern solution, and designs are a lot better now than they used to be,” Deepak says.
“In the world of fenestration [the arrangement and design of windows], there are three cost buckets: timber, aluminium and UPVC,” he says. “The third option is a lot cheaper than the other two.”
Matt says that a set of 2 x 1.5m French windows, for instance, would cost around £1,200 in UPVC, £1,800 in aluminium, and £3,000 in timber. (Costs were correct as of December 2022, but please ask your pro for recent averages before finalising your budget; prices are currently very changeable.)
“Loft conversion companies have access to trade discounts and wholesale suppliers, and can pass on these savings to their customers,” Ausra says.
“Using a company’s joinery account will give you trade prices for kitchens, wardrobes, doors and flooring,” Deepak says. “Also, bathroom showrooms will be able to offer worthwhile trade discounts on tiles, taps and sanitaryware.”
Watch out, too, for the seasonal sales, he says. “Designer stock in the UK tends to come from continental Europe and, like any import-export trade, the market will have more of one thing than another, and every now and again it will need to shift stock. Savings of up to 30% on bathroom tiles can make a huge difference.”
There’s one caveat, though, Deepak warns. “These tiles are going to be end of line or end of range, so make sure you buy the right quantity. You don’t want to run out of tiles before you finish the job and discover there is no more stock available. Instead of over-buying by 10% to cover breakages, over-buy by 20%.”
“While a loft conversion specialist will supply the majority of materials for you, there may be some things you need or want to supply yourself,” Ausra says.
Make a list of everything you’re sourcing, she advises. “A comprehensive list makes it easier to check delivery times across a project. Order everything to arrive only when it’s needed, so the builders aren’t either tripping over it because it’s on-site too early or are waiting around because it hasn’t been delivered.”
It may seem like a good idea to order items well ahead of time, but is there room to store them on-site without impeding the progress of the build? You won’t want to pay for storage elsewhere if you can avoid it.
“The norm is to go for an engineered floor or carpet in a loft conversion,” Matthew says, “but one of our customers left the 22mm chipboard tongue-and-groove flooring that’s put down as standard uncovered and just painted it dark blue. I hadn’t seen that done before, but it was an effective, cheaper solution for a children’s playroom.”
If you’re happy to live with a less professional finish, doing the decorating yourself can help the budget. “You can save at least around £3,000 if you decide to paint the new stairs and landing yourself,” Matthew says.
Another option is to consider second-hand furniture. “Reclaimed and vintage pieces can look amazing,” Matthew says. “Some people buy chests of drawers and beds and paint them.”
However, do check sizes before buying, he says, not only to make sure you have room in the loft space, but to be certain you can get any furniture up the new staircase.
“Always compare quotes very carefully,” Ausra advises. “Pay as much attention to what isn’t included as the final price. Some companies have hidden extras: everything from materials and skip hire to extended working hours and making additional changes to your plans. These things can significantly add to the cost of an attic conversion.”
Homeowners are under pressure because loft conversions cost a lot of money. “It’s understandable that there’s a race to the bottom in terms of price,” Deepak says, “but it’s a false economy. There’s no hiding that a length of timber costs what it costs and good tradespeople cost what they cost. There shouldn’t be massive margins of difference between quotes if the project has been priced accurately from the beginning.”
It’s the old adage, he says: if a price looks too good to be true, it probably is. “You’ll be getting what you pay for. If a builder has under-priced on the quote, they will do one of three things: cut corners on the build, raise the price halfway through, or not finish the job when the money runs out.”
How have you managed to save money on a loft conversion without compromising the design? Share your experiences in the Comments.