Advice on Loft Conversions

When it comes to loft conversions, choosing the right doors, windows and stairs is important to ensure both your home and your family are safe.

Here JELD-WEN's product manager Chris Miller, answers some FAQs:

1. Do I need to fit fire doors in a loft conversion?

Yes, fire doors are essential in loft conversions.  You need to change any existing doors in the loft to fire doors and any new doors added to the loft also need to be fire rated. Building regulations state that you need to create a safe corridor from the loft to the outside of the building, This requires changing all the existing doors on rooms on the escape route to fire doors.

The reason for fitting fire doors is to provide an escape corridor between the loft and the external door, ensuring that if there was a fire anywhere in the house, those in the loft conversion could make a safe exit.

If the rooms on the escape route from the loft don't have fire doors already, it may mean having to replace the frame too, as fire doors normally have a thicker construction than standard doors, which adds to the cost and complexity of the job.  To help with this we developed a range of fire doors that offer 30 minutes' fire rating, but within a standard 35mm thick door construction (fire doors are usually 44mm thickness).  This means the frame does not need to be changed, therefore saving on time and cost.  This is only available with JELD-WEN's FireGuard™ doors though, which are offered in our moulded, veneered and paint grade ranges.

2. Do fire doors in a loft need door closers?

Building Regulations now allow fire doors to be fitted without self-closers, as some homeowners didn't like their aesthetics. What is really important with fire doors is to use them properly, keeping them closed, which protects the escape route, particularly at night. 

3. Do I need to fit any special windows in a loft conversion?

All loft conversions require a window through which a person could escape if the stairway does not, for whatever reason, provide a safe escape route.  Building Regulations state that window openings must be 450mm or wider to comply with this. These windows should be supplied with non-locking fasteners, which are also available on standard windows for use in fire escape situations. We also recommend Release Restrictors for windows in fire escape situations.

Escape windows in the loft should be easy to access and be close to eaves level, which is vital in case of a rescue from the outside. Find out more about fire escape windows.

In large homes with a loft floor area of more than 50m², or more than two rooms used for living space, it's best to check with local Building Control as other fire safety requirements may be applicable. 

4. What other fire safety precautions should we take?

Mains powered smoke alarms should be fitted on every storey, including the landings and the alarms must be linked so that they all sound, even if only one is triggered.  This ensures that those who are in the loft are alerted immediately and have the best chance of escape.

Careful planning at the early stages of a conversion is worthwhile and means you should benefit from the peace of mind that you have a compliant and safe loft. It also means you avoid having to carry out remedial work afterwards. 

5. What type of stairs do I need to fit in a loft?

Paddle stairs are available for a loft conversion, but only where there is not enough space for a conventional flight of stairs, as they are very compact and so are suitable for loft spaces with limited access.  But, they should only be used where there is not enough space for a conventional flight of stairs.  Also, they should only be used in this situation and must only be used where the staircase serves a single habitable room (plus a WC).  You should always seek approval on choice of stairs from the local Building Control Department.

It is always worth checking that any stairs you buy are certified to the British Woodworking Federation's Timber Stair Accreditation and Fire Certification Scheme.  For more information visit the website www.bwf.org.uk

FireGuard™ doors, fire egress windows and stairs for loft conversion are available from JELD-WEN retailers by calling 0845 122 2890.