Extend Up, Not Out

Factoring in the cost and stress of buying a house, it’s little wonder that people are looking at their current homes and – in a trend known as ‘improve, not move’ – wondering how they can make changes to achieve the extra space and improved comfort they desire.

It’s easy to assume that this trend is only evidenced in London. New London Architecture, an independent forum looking to help shape the capital’s architecture, even hold annual ‘Don’t Move, Improve!’ awards for extensions and improvements to homes in the city. Justifiably so: the scale of ambition and quality of finish has to be seen to be believed.

And while it’s certainly true that the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea remains top of the pile for people investing in improving their pile, and the south east generally outperforms the rest of the country, the figures bear out a national movement. The number of improvement projects requiring planning permission has increased in every region and country of Great Britain except Scotland.

Why not move?

A shortage of housing continues to drive up prices, with higher stamp duty rates also acting as a deterrent to would-be movers. The cost premium of a house with just one extra room, added to the fees associated with moving, is significantly outweighed by the possible cost of providing that extra room in an extension – and maybe leaving some budget to really put the personal stamp on the property.

Extra space is the most common requirement of home owners, who perceive older properties to have more generous room sizes than new houses. And there's a wider issue in play that some buyers might not be aware of: shortfalls in the build quality and energy efficiency of new homes means they will need to undergo a retrofit of their own by 2050 if the UK is to meet carbon reduction targets.

Is it any wonder, then, that improving an older property is more attractive?

Of course, even the most ingenious architect will struggle to design an extension where there is no land available – mid-terraced properties being a good example – so it’s little surprise that loft conversions and ‘room in a roof’ solutions find favour as home improvement projects. Converting the loft can add 10% to the value of a property, so extending up rather than out represents an attractive option.

Up in the roof

For older properties, if the roof covering is reaching the natural end of its service life, introducing extra accommodation in the loft is a good opportunity to also bring the roof up to modern standards. That means adding insulation and replacing traditional sarking felt with a breathable sarking membrane – assuming the roof has a sarking layer at all, in which case repair and refurbishment is likely to be all the more critical.

In an old roof the timber rafters may be no more than 75mm deep, increasing the difficulty of applying modern insulation solutions. Of course, for the roof to be effective the timbers must also be in good condition, which might necessitate the replacement of structural timbers as part of the works – all of which can lead to an extensive programme of works.

Rafter replacement, fitting a new sarking and covering, cutting and fitting insulation, and finishing the ceiling internally are all tasks to be carried out sequentially rather than concurrently. What if there were products that could combine a number of these steps in one time-saving operation?

All-in-one roof panels

There are several panel-based solutions available on the market that offer a possible solution to the challenge of making old roofs suitable for modern living.

Typically featuring high performance rigid insulation integrated with timber sheets or structural members, and usually incorporating breather membranes and vapour control layers too, they can be craned into position - thus avoiding the need for separate components to be carried up to the roof, cut and installed.

Best suited to simple roof forms like the aforementioned terraced houses, but with the potential to be adapted to more complex roof forms (some manufacturers provide design services and can manufacture components bespoke to a project, cutting down on site modifications and waste), they can accommodate roof windows for natural light into the loft. They sit on a purlin, which is already likely to be present if the original roof timbers were the smaller variety mentioned earlier, or which can be introduced into the building if necessary.

Individual products fulfilling many functions: replacing existing timbers, providing a well-insulated room in the roof, and minimising changes to the roof height. As a means of making home improvement as cost-effective and stress-free as possible, they certainly tick plenty of boxes.