Top tips for converting your barn

Permitted Development changes under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) Order 2013 and the 2014 follow up Order, have made it significantly easier to convert a barn or other agricultural building into a residential or commercial space. We look at some top tips for those of you considering exercising these temporary rights:

  1. If buying a barn for conversion, clarify whether Planning Permission is or is not required. The current recent rules mean that a conversion from an agricultural use to residential accommodation may not be required under permitted development. There are conditions, however, so be sure to check with your local authority before committing.
  1. Building Regulations – the property will still be subject to all the appropriate building regulation permissions required for residential use. All matters must be carried out in accordance with the building regulations.
  1. Sustainability – you may wish to consider your project in terms of sustainability and, if planning permission is required, the council may require you to do so before making your application. This includes thinking about practical levels of insulation and heating, which would in any case need to meet the minimum requirements of the Building Regulations Approved Documents for converted buildings.

Options might also include utilising natural resources such as rainwater harvesting or heating via solar power. If these are considered at the outset these can be incorporated and can look aesthetically complimentary to the property. Under floor heating and ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps can also be used to help reduce operational costs and minimise the strain on the local resources for more conventional fossil fuel types of central heating.

  1. Services – one should always consider when looking at costings at the outset, and preferably before purchase, the accessibility and capacity of local service provision – including water, electricity and, as is becoming ever more essential for modern life, broadband connection.

Water can be supplied via a bore hole or via the mains, which will also likely require a connection fee. Likewise, connecting to mains gas may require a fee and some disruptive excavation works – bottled gas is another option, though operational costs will be higher on occupancy.

In addition, foul drainage options should be considered including septic tanks, mini-sewage treatment works and the proximity to open water courses where licences may be due.

  1. Light – it may well be that no new openings are allowed in the property. Therefore, it may be that some lighting may have to be integrated when the property is re-roofed by installing Velux or similar roof lights. Creative partitioning of the space below should maximise the effect these have.

In addition, listed building protection may further complicate this – denying the developer the ability to open any new fenestrations in the external structure of a building as this would materially affect its appearance.

  1. Character – the character of the building, typically encapsulated in exposed stonework, beams and trusses, often helps to create authentic and attractive interiors which will maximise the appeal, charm and ultimately value and saleability of the finished barn conversion.

One should always have regard to appropriate materials for use in the conversion process.  In many period stone barns it is likely that lime mortars, lime wash and lime render were used along with natural timbers, typically of oak or similar.  In which case, it may well be that upgrades to the structure will need to be carried out in compatible or similar materials. Modern materials like portland cement will create dual issues of impermeability and undue rigidity which can lead to damp issues and external cracking respectively.

One of our own surveyors most recently had to install additional timbers in a period barn where, despite the barn being constructed at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the oak brace beam was actually French in origin. Recycling and reclamation yards and architectural salvaging yards can sometimes source certain timbers and other materials which are often necessary depending upon the design adopted.

When choosing an architect, ask for a portfolio of previous barn conversions. Ideally, your architect will fit with your style and vision for the conversion and historic success is a good indicator of a professional’s potential to fulfill your needs adequately.

  1. Finance – at the end of the day, the whole project must be carried out in such a way that the finished barn conversion can be mortgaged following completion. This may involve various inspections being carried out by a chartered surveyor or similar on an ongoing basis. It is usually not possible to get an NHBC certificate for such work.

It is recommended that anyone embarking on a conversion project ensures they have sufficient finance in place and incorporates into their calculations a contingency of at least 10%. Unexpected costs can arise, particularly when dealing with an older building which may reveal significant defects when elements are exposed.

Not cutting corners will pay dividends in the long term; aiding asset value, reducing running costs and improving the quality of the internal environment.

LCB / SRJ                                                                                                                                 16.09.14

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