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Loft Conversions are an excellent way of adding all-important space to your property. But it should be noted all loft or roof extensions are supported by the insertion of Steel beams into the Party Wall and as such this notifiable works are subject to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the Act).
Depending on the size and footprint of your home, they can easily allow for an additional bedroom or living space and in larger properties can even accommodate an ensuite or an office development.
As with any construction work, loft conversions carry a risk, part of mitigating that risk is going through the correct and necessary Party Wall Surveying procedures. We strongly recommend you appoint an experienced Party Wall Surveyor as soon as you submit planning applications or in the case of an Adjoining Owner receive a party Wall notice from your neighbour.
We thought we would take a look at Loft Conversions through a Party Wall Surveying perspective in in order for you to understand the type of considerations that Party Wall Surveyors are needed to look at if they act for the Building Owner or for your neighbour the Adjoining Owner.
Structural Calculations will be prepared by the Building Owner’s Structural Engineer and will ensure that the added load of the loft extension can be adequately supported by the existing structure and Party Wall.
Loft Conversions will likely see the addition of 1 to 4 beams inserted into the Party Wall. Pockets are cut out of the Party Wall using non vibrational hand tools and Steel beams are mounted on a load disturbing padstones or metal plates.
Commonly a ridge beam will support the pitch of the new loft roof and 3 to 4 beams will support the new loft room floor.
These structural additions increase the weight and load to the Party Wall; therefore, it is vital that the current structure is properly considered and appropriate calculations published to all parties.
While your Party Wall Surveyor is unlikely to review or check the calculations, they are likely to make enquires into the Engineer who has prepared them to ensure that they are suitably qualified. We, Certified Building surveyors have our own in-house structural Engineer to make the process run smooth.
The Act does allow a Party Wall Surveyor to call upon the services of their own Engineer to advise them. However, this request tends to be reserved for overly complex structural design and works such as basement extensions or underpinning.
Ensuring only Half the thickness of the Party Wall is Used
The majority of semi-detached or terraced properties are separated by a solid construction wall with a thickness of 225mm (9 inches) or the length of a brick. However, there are some Party Walls in London with only half a brick wall thickness. This type of construction cannot support a Steel beam and would result in a collapse so once again its essential you appoint a properly qualified professional Party wall surveyor. All our surveyors have a degree in Building Surveying without exception and this level of education is paramount for Party Wall considerations.
Under the Act the Building Owner has the legal right to use the full thickness of the Party Wall to accommodate their loft conversion, however, if they were to do this it would prejudice the Adjoining Owner’s future development plans. Its also high risk and damage to the cement render or brick face of the Adjoining Owners property is probable.
Through the Party Wall Award process, the Party Wall Surveyor will ensure that the plans and proposals only allow the Building Owner the right to use half of the thickness of the Party Wall or up to 112mm (4.5 inches) for insertion of the proposed Steel beams placed on load distributing concrete padstones or Steel plates. .
This will ensure that the Adjoining Owner has the right to also develop his property creating a similar loft conversion in the future without having to design around the Building Owner’s extension.
Contractor Hand Tool Use
The contractor will need to insert the steel beams into the Party Wall, they will need to cut pockets into the wall facilitating the beams. Therefore, its essential any Party wall surveyor includes a clause within the Award to cut out these pockets using non vibrational hand tool only. Its a simple task.
If the above method is not undertaken vibrations can cause loosening to brickwork and soot but can also lead to cracking and damage.
Party Wall Award Timing
A Party Wall Award for a proposed Loft Conversion is a relatively straightforward process.
However, there can be delays around the Party Wall Notice response stage and also around the timings of arranging a pre works Schedule of Condition Report of the Adjoining Owner’s property.
We would suggest budgeting in the region of 1 to 2 months from the point at which Party Wall Notices are served. It should be noted there is stator Notice period under section 2 (2) of the Act in any event.
We recommend taking this into account when planning a start date, the last thing you will want is the contractor booked and raring to go, with Party Wall Awards still some way off being agreed, there are often delays for surveyors holidays or Adjoining Owners access to conduct the all important schedule of condition.
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