Many of us have loft areas in our homes and it is often unused. Lofts are the space above our plasterboard ceilings where the supporting beams for the roof are. In most cases, these beams are untreated rough wood which doesn’t look great and also can give you some pretty nasty splinters! If you venture into this space you have to be careful to walk and place objects on the wooden supporting beams. If you stand on the plasterboard below your foot will most likely go straight through and into the room below. This makes the loft space dangerous and unusable. However, you can make some or all of your loft safe to use fairly easily.
First of all before venturing into your loft make sure you put on a good quality face mask. Your loft will be dusty but it could also be full of insulation fibres or even asbestos – so don’t take unnecessary risks. Secondly, make sure you have a small supporting board to stand on while you inspect or work in the loft space. The board is laid across a few supporting beams and you can then stand on it without the risk of your foot going through the ceiling of the room below.
It is sensible to assess the insulation of your loft before you do anything. Insulation is cotton wool like material that is light and easily compressed. It should be laid in between the supporting beams and there could be another layer over this hiding the beams from view entirely. If all you can see is insulting material then walk with care – finding the beams will be hard and you risk putting your foot through the ceiling. Make sure you get a long piece of wood that you can lay over the insulation and across several beams to give yourself something safe to stand on.
If you don’t have any insulation – get some. Insulating your loft will make a big difference to how warm your house feels and also how expensive your energy bills are. If you are at all concerned with the environment then maximising your insulation is a great way to do your bit. The government recommended depth of mineral wool insulation is 270mm which is usually 100mm between the floor beams and then 170mm over them running in the opposite direction to the beams. If you don’t have this thickness or your insulation is old and worn, then get more or replace it. You can buy this from any DIY shop or order it online. It will come in rolls and it is easy to lay down and cut to shape.
Board It Out!
The first step to making your loft area usable is to add a layer of floorboards. These large wooden panels fit over the supporting beams and insulation. You can simply screw or nail the boards into the supporting beams. Now you have a continuous and safe floor which you can use to walk on and also that will provide support for furniture or any items you want to store in your loft. If the supporting beams are uneven you might want to place another layer of wooden supports onto it to form a flat wooden skeleton which you can screw the boards into securely.
If you correctly insulated the loft with glass fibre insulation to the government recommended 270mm depth (https://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-insulation/roof-and-loft ) then laying boards directly onto ceiling joists or trusses will compress the top layer of insulation. This will reduce the thermal performance of the insulation by over 50%! So do not secure the floorboards directly to trusses/joists. Instead use some special spacers to create space for the insualtion.
You can buy raisers or loft legs which fit between the supporting beams and floorboards. These spacers provide a gap for the top layer of insulation so it is not compressed. We said before that the second layer of insulation which laid over the lofts supporting beams is 270mm thick so you need loft raisers of that size. You may want to add even more insulation in which case you need larger loft legs. You can buy ones that allow a top layer of insulation 400mm thick.
The base of the loft legs are screwed into the supporting beams, then the top layer of insulation is laid around them and then the floorboards placed over and screwed into the top of the loft legs. The Loft spacers should be placed according to the size of the floorboards so that two boards meet in the middle of a loft leg and can be secured to it. Check with the manufacturer for instructions on how to space their products. You don’t need to board the whole loft space. You can choose to board a small area near the loft hatch for storage. This is easier, faster, cheaper and still gives you some good extra storage that is easily accessed directly from the hatch. The video below shows you how and also how to fit loft spacers or loft legs.
Now your flooring insulation and boards are in place you can decide to go one step further. You can buy thermal wrap and staple it to beams that raise up to support the apex of the roof. This will improve your insulation even more and can box off the unusable and unsightly corners of your loft space. You could even board over this layer. Note that if you have correctly installed loft insulation at the floor level, you do not need to insulate further with foils at the ceiling level.
Your loft is now ready to go. If you don’t have electricity up there you can install battery powered lights. Go to town with storage boxes make it nice with a rug and fit a good ladder so you can access your new room easily.