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Without a doubt adding the staircase is one of the most important elements, in both an aesthetic and practical sense, of your new loft conversion.
Getting the staircase and access right will have a massive bearing on the success of your project.
But the building regulations throw up a number of
things that you will need to consider when planning your new staircase.
Adding a new floor or story to a home requires a permanent staircase except when a basic storage solution is being built.
In a very few instances a fixed ladder can be used but the vast majority of conversions will need a staircase. In any event, it is highly unlikely that you would even consider a ladder.
The usual solution is a traditional flight of stairs. Installing this style of access is usually straight-forward though it is desirable that there be a clear 2m of headroom though 1.8m or sometimes less can be worked around.
The usual standard width that the staircase needs to be is 800mm though in certain circumstances space saving stairs can be used which lowers the width required to 600mm.
And, of course, the structure must comply with the building regulations.
A landing will probably need to be provided at both the top and bottom of the staircase.
Another style of staircase often considered when converting the loft is a spiral design.
They look good and seem to save space but often use up more than a traditional staircase. And, actually using a spiral stair can often pose problems – especially when moving furniture!
Where Will The Stairs Go?
Deciding on exactly where to locate the stairs is a major part of the process when you plan a loft conversion and may have to involve some kind of trade-off on your original ideas, as it is unlikely there will be enough room on the second-floor landing to install a flight of loft stairs.
In most houses there is little space for a second staircase as bedrooms and bathrooms take up all the available second-floor area.
Because of this it may be necessary to sacrifice a second-floor room to locate the new staircase and make a bigger, or even two rooms, in the loft. Of course any potential problems will depend on the house itself.
The good news for those who live in a traditional Victorian terrace is that there is often no problem whatsoever with the stairs as the new staircase can usually be sited directly above the existing stairs.
This is because terraced houses were often built with the staircase against the outside wall which makes it very easy to place new loft stairs against the same wall.
Semi-detached houses sometimes have the same arrangement but a conversion can run into difficulties when the house has a hipped roof.
If this is the case than placing new stairs atop the existing ones will probably be impractical as there won’t be enough headroom.
There are two solutions in this circumstance but both involve some extra construction by either converting the hip to gable or, probably the easier route, by building a side dormer.
But there are some other alternatives to locating the stairs when the roof is hipped.
Quite often the easiest course of action is to mirror the location of the ceiling joists by locating the new staircase parallel to the path of the joists which should be front to back. This is a common work-around used by builders.
Another is to build the loft staircase at a right angle to the loft space so that the new loft conversion is accessed from the side rather than front on as is usually the case.
This is achieved by positioning the new staircase adjacent to the internal wall that divides the bedrooms.
Whichever solution the architect or building company comes up when positioning the stairs it is hugely important that the staircase itself is well designed and sympathetically blends in with the rest of the house.
Although building a flight of loft stairs isn’t easy a competent professional should have few problems and there are a number of advantages in having your loft stairs custom built.
Unlike pre-built units you will be able to specify the design and incorporate features such as ornamentation and decorations.
You can control the overall design maybe leaving open risers if your house reflects a more modern style.
The problem with custom built stairs is one of timing. Individually designed and tooled items are notorious for being delayed or not delivered on time.
An efficient and cost effective loft conversion relies on all the component parts being built and installed in time and in order.
If the custom built staircase is delayed then work on converting the loft will grind to a halt.
It is perfectly possible to buy pre-built stairs for loft conversions and these units can prove to be very cost effective.
The important point when ordering these kind of loft stairs is to ensure that your measurements are exactly right.
Another potential obstacle apart from getting your inches and centimetres mixed up is that because loft conversions are generally unique it is difficult to find a pre-built unit to slot straight into place.
The stairs manufacturers will have systems in place to get around this but the process is a bit more involved than buying an off the peg suit.
Using The Space
The actual staircase itselef will either be built on site or, and a far more economical way, is to choose one of the many models of pre-manufactured staircases.
One thing to consider when planning your loft stairs is ‘what will you do with the space underneath?’
The area under the actual staircase should not be wasted and could have many uses.
Additional storage or small work station for example. You are converting your loft to increase space so there is no point in allowing any ‘dead’ space so make sure you include the area under the stairs in your planning.
As for the loft stairs themselves there are several alternatives.
For a look at each staircase option click one of the links below:
A Cool Looking Spiral Staircase
Whichever access solution you decide upon do take your time. Getting the staircase right is a fundamental aspect of your loft conversion and is probably the biggest decision you will have to make.
For more info see the related pages below
Structural calculations for loft conversions are of course hugely important to ensure safety and that the proposed plans meet building regulations
What is the difference between planning permission and building regulations approval for loft conversions ?
Using And Fitting Loose Fill Insulation In Your Loft