My adult son wants to convert my attic to live in it. Do we need planning?

Property Clinic: With clever design, it may be possible to create an exempt development

I am a mature lady with some health issues living alone in a remote three-bedroom bungalow in the west of Ireland. My son, who is in his 30s, has offered to convert the attic so he can be on the property, but, with his own entrance at the gable. It would be a kitchen, diner, one-bed, one-bathroom unit. My question is, does this require planning permission? There will be no Velux just two skylights at the back of the house. Please advise as planning takes so long and obviously costs. Thanks for your advice.

Pat McGovern writes: Your query requires two answers: the first dealing with planning and exemptions and the second dealing with compliance with building regulations. But before I address either point, I should point out the assumptions I am making. As it is a bungalow in the country, I am assuming it has a traditional cut-timber roof and not a prefabricated truss rafter construction. Generally, trusses are not suitable for adaptation or conversion to open usable attic spaces. I am also going to assume for the purposes of the planning question that the attic was not presented for use as a habitable room on the drawings on foot of which the original planning permission was granted.

To be exempt from planning permission, the floor area of the attic must be less than 40sq m (431sq ft) – most attics are, but the combined floor area of this conversion and any other extensions in the past must come in under 40sq m (refer to Class 1, Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001). Even if that requirement is satisfied, there is another that may affect your plans: creating a separate self-contained residential unit with its own independent access is not an exempt development under the planning Acts.


Now for the building regulations question. The lack of windows makes the proposed dwelling non-compliant in terms of daylight, ventilation, and fire escape. You will need windows to ensure adequate means of escape in the event of a fire, and these, in an attic situation, are usually top-hung Velux windows. A dormer window, while better, is much more expensive to build and will change the overall look of the house (unless to the rear). It is important to consider the positioning of the Velux windows to ensure compliance with building regulations. The sill must be at minimum 600mm from the floor; a maximum height of 1,100mm from the floor and the maximum distance from the Velux to the eaves is 1,700mm.


From your own point of view, there may be an impact on your enjoyment of your own home. For example, there will be additional noise with people walking above your ceiling. Other things to consider are fire safety, where your water storage tank will go (this is normally in the attic in a bungalow to ensure adequate water pressure without the need for a pump), how you will split utility bills, and even storage issues such as where you will store your Christmas tree!

With clever design it may be possible to create an exempt development. My advice is to consult your local architect, building surveyor or engineer who will direct you following an inspection of the situation on the ground.

If the extension goes ahead and is not exempt, the local authority planning enforcement section may be notified of the breach of planning laws and an enforcement notice may be issued. This should be a consideration for anyone who intends to build an extension or convert an attic or garage.

Pat McGovern is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,