Basement Conversions

Space is often at a premium and converting a basement can open up great opportunities. Former dark and damp unused areas can be transformed into stylish rooms for everyday use. Lounges, dining rooms, entertainment areas, playrooms (or even swimming pools!) can be created and all can increase the appeal and value of your home.

Nowhere, though, is it more important to have expert advice to ensure that you maximise the potential available and ensure that the structural integrity of your building is maintained.

Expert advice from one of the Specialist Xpress network firms can help you make your budget extend as far as possible and achieve great results.

You may find that you do not need to obtain planning permission for the conversion of a basement or cellar area if the floor to ceiling height is adequate, and without lowering the existing floor level. If you do need to increase the head-height available in the room, you might need to obtain planning permission, unless the work is designated as ‘permitted development’. If digging out a new basement, planning permission is likely to be needed and the change is seen as equivalent to extending the house. Your architect or contractor will need to advise upon this so that you do not contravene planning law.

You will definitely need building regulation approval if you are making any structural changes to the property or changing from storage area to habitable room (unless you are simply converting/upgrading what is already an area used for habitable purposes).

Specialist calculations and design will be needed if you are affecting foundation or wall loadings or changing support structures. Building Control will assess all aspects of the work to ensure that it complies with current standards and that it is structurally sound.

Your scheme will also have to meet regulatory standards with regard to the thermal efficiency, ventilation etc. which will ensure that the space has good air quality and is dry. There will need to be adequate means of escape in case of fire.

The firms we include on our panels will be able to give advice on all these aspects and will provide you with a full service from concept and design, right through to build and completion.

If your changes affect walls that divide your property from that owned by your neighbour (a ‘party wall’), you will need to inform them. Ideally, agreement is possibly though you may need to comply with Party Wall protocol. This is designed to protect both your neighbour (from suffering any damage to their property as a result of the work) and yourself (from being wrongly accused, later, that the works had caused problems).

A Party Wall Surveyor is appointed usually acting in both the interests of you and your neighbour, though they can appoint independently, if they prefer. Party Wall Surveyors are specialists in their field and will serve formal notices, as required, and complete schedules of condition.

Specialist Xpress has a network of Party Wall surveyors and will happily allocate one if needed.

Basement conversions aren’t cheap, which is why it’s so important to take some detailed advice up front which will mean that:

  • You get a chance to talk through your plans with a professional in order to make sure that they are realistic and can be built as you hope.
  • There are no obvious difficulties in the conversion that will mean the costs are much higher than you’d first expected.
  • You get chance to discuss options and perhaps different approaches with specialists who have wide experience in achieving the best results.
  • You can work towards building up a detailed and accurate budget for the works, including the type and standard of finishings that you want.

A surveyor colleague, well known to Specialist Xpress, used to say, ‘If the accommodation lies underground, you should treat it like a boat – the water needs to be kept out!’ He’s not wrong and protection of basements against water ingress is a key element of the conversion.

Your contractor, or architect, will advise upon the best option for you to keep the basement area dry, but generally there are two systems available – ‘traditional tanking systems’ are applied to the walls to hold back water behind the wall surface with impervious renders. ‘Cavity drain systems’, though, allow water to penetrate the wall and collect behind a surface layer, dropping to be collected or pumped away at the ground. You will need to weigh up the system best for your situation.

Unless your house is Listed (when formal consents will be needed for most changes), the basement conversion offers a ‘blank page’ for design. Because of its location, the basement can have its own character, quite different from the rest of the property if you prefer, and can be a place of style and personal expression, as well as offering additional useful space.

Small details make all the difference.

Lighting, surface finishes, arrangement and positioning of services, are all important here in achieving an end result that you are pleased to spend time in and are proud of.

Discussions with firms such as the ones that form the Specialist Xpress network will help you to achieve the best results and to have the basement you dream of.

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