Structural systems make loft conversions a breeze

Chris Ingram, Founder of Continal Underfloor Heating, offers some top tips on how underfloor heating can take a loft conversion from good to great.

Underfloor heating (UFH) systems were once confined to newbuild properties and ground floor renovations, but advances in heating technology mean this is no longer the case. Today, it’s as easy to fit UFH in a loft conversion as it is on any other floor in a property. UFH also brings with it benefits that traditional radiator systems simply cannot offer – benefits that we believe make it the best heating system to specify for a loft conversion.

Consider, for a second, why someone decides to convert the loft in their home. Invariably it’s because the family has outgrown the existing home and is in desperate need of more space, wanting either an extra bedroom or bathroom, or both. But going up into the loft is actually a relatively expensive way to create more space in a home. It usually costs more per square metre than putting an extension onto the back of the house, but if there isn’t the space out back to extend into the garden, the loft conversion becomes the best option if the family isn’t looking to move.

Once the decision to convert the loft has been made, it’s vital to maximise every possible inch of space, and that’s where UFH comes in. Wall space in a loft is always at a premium, and so trying to work out the best places to install radiators between the dormer windows, low roof heights and staircases, while still giving yourself enough space for a bed, wardrobes and any other furniture can be a real headache. By specifying UFH instead, builders can maximise the usable space within the loft while also giving the homeowners the sense of warmth and luxury that UFH always provides.

Get the floor height right

Wall space isn’t the only thing that can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful loft conversion. Ceiling heights are equally important and can often be tricky to get right. The original plans for a loft conversion are often created long before any real thought is given to how the space will be heated, so it’s very important to choose a system that isn’t going to dramatically increase the floor height from what’s shown on the plans. Otherwise, this can cause real problems around the stair area, leaving mismatched heights for the top step compared to the rest of the flooring that could be awkward for the homeowners to traverse, even if the system raises the floor height by as little as an inch or two. Luckily, modern, quality UFH systems offer a number of different options to overcome any such floor height issues.

The floor of a loft conversion is usually a suspended timber construction, and so the UFH system installer would typically lay diffuser plates onto the suspended timbers. But as part of the wider loft conversion, a lot of other building structures also need to be run within the floor area. Steel beams are often inserted into the floor to help take the weight of the additional floor, as well as a lot of other metal and timberwork. Consider the electrical systems, wires and drainage/water pipes that also need to be run through the floor, since there’s usually very little space in what remains of the ceiling above the room.

All of this means the floor is already pretty full of other services, before you start trying to run a pair of UFH pipes between every wooden joist. Our answer to this problem is to instead choose a system such as our OneBoard® structural system. Regardless of what heating system you use, every loft conversion needs a layer of composite board or chipboard, which is placed directly onto the joists to act as the structural floor. OneBoard® consists of a composite chipboard panel that forms the structural floor, but which also incorporates SUPERflex™-12 pipe embedded within the chipboard, and a heat dissipation foil for excellent heat output and response. The system can be used with any choice of floor covering when a capping of 6mm ply is added, providing a highly efficient UFH system without any significant increase in floor height or weight, and which can run seamlessly beneath carpet, tiles or any other floor covering.

Plan ahead for a discreet, accessible system

Loft conversions alone are rarely big enough to require anything more than a one-zone system, even if the area comprises a bedroom and adjacent en-suite bathroom area. The living space might be divided into two rooms, but the en-suite would usually be considered as part of the bedroom when it comes to planning the heating controls, so in almost every situation a single-area control pack is all you will need.

As long as that control unit can be connected to the property’s existing heating, the UFH can be run alongside it with no need for additional manifolds or actuators. The control unit itself can be placed discreetly out of sight inside the eaves storage that is usually created at the far end of the property, beneath the gable-ended roof. The single-room pump unit and control would usually be stored there as well, so they are always easily accessible for service and repair. The pump unit will be wall-mounted, but we would always recommend that you make sure the pump comes properly sound insulated – ours always are – as they are usually right next to a bedroom.

With just a little bit of planning, and by specifying the right materials, UFH can provide the perfect solution to heating the loft conversion in any property, giving homeowners every inch of the additional space they’re looking for, while also being simple to install as part of the larger conversion project.

If you are ever in doubt about which UFH system to choose, contact a reputable manufacturer like Continal Underfloor Heating, that offers an in-house design and support service. Our Technical Advisers are ready and waiting to answer any question you may have, and we can provide you with a full design specification to make the project straightforward.

For more information, contact our Technical Advisers on 0333 800 1750.