Your renovation problems, solved

From adding an upstairs bathroom in a terraced house to heating a 150-year-old cottage, expert renovator Michael Holmes answers your renovation questions

TODO alt text

Q. Should I move the bathroom upstairs in my terraced house or keep the third bedroom? Vimukori, via Twitter

A. There’s usually a renovation solution that allows you to add a small bathroom or shower room on the first floor of a 19th-century terraced house without sacrificing a bedroom by remodeling the existing layout and taking space from between the two largest bedrooms.

If this renovation isn’t practical, then sacrificing the smallest bedroom can make sense, but it does depend on the location and the type of occupants/future buyers. Young professional couples would usually prefer a first-floor bathroom over a small third bedroom/box room, but in areas where there is strong demand for three-bedroom homes and lower incomes, families may be more willing to compromise.

If values justify the renovation investment, then a good solution is to convert the smallest bedroom into a bathroom and the loft into a new master bedroom, with en suite bathroom or shower room.

Latimer road london terraced house renovation bathroom

Click here to take a look at a terraced house renovation where the bathroom was moved upstairs.

Q. I’m renovating a cottage in Norfolk and would like advice on which heating system to put in? It has four bedrooms, is semi detached and 150 years old. Simon Haben, via email

A. There’s often less scope to improve energy efficiency in period houses, but do consider upgrading loft insulation to reduce your home’s heat requirement – this is a good idea regardless of which heating system you add. You may also consider adding internal wall insulation and double glazing – but be careful not to compromise your home’s character.

For most people, running costs are the main consideration, and if mains gas is available in the road, then this is currently the cheapest option. If there is no gas, then oil is likely to be the cheapest option to install and run, although if you have the space to store biomass fuel you should also consider this more ecological option. The installation costs for a biomass heating system are high, but with renewable heat incentive (RHI) payments from the government you can recoup the costs over time and have a cost efficient, ecological heating system.

If space for an oil tank is an issue, then consider LPG with a tank buried in the garden, or going for an electric heating system that does not require any fuel storage. If you have funds to invest in making your home very energy efficient, you can also consider other renewable options powered by electricity, such as a ground or air-source heat pump, both of which are also subsidised by the government.


All of the above options can be combined with a wood-burning stove, which is a carbon neutral heat source that also provides a great feature.

Q. Are there any limitations on the size of rooflights you can fit in a single-storey extension? Jude Townley, by email

A. Apart for your available budget, there are only two real limits on the amount of glazing you can introduce into a single-storey extension or renovation.


A similar project would cost £3000 per m²

The first is whether the structural design can accommodate the large areas of glass. This can be overcome using an internal or external structural frame – think of a conservatory or orangery. The ultimate renovation solution is to build your entire extension from structural glazed elements to form a glass-box extension.

The second is the building regulations, which require new extensions to be energy efficient (building standards in Scotland). The standard Elemental Method of demonstrating compliance limits the overall glazed area of doors and windows relative to the floor area of the extension or renovation.

If you want a lot of glass in your extension then you will need to use the Carbon Index Method of compliance. This imposes allows you to offset the additional heating and cooling required for larger areas of glazing by compensating for it with energy-saving features in other areas – like extra insulation or solar panels.

You will need an energy consultant to produce a calculation that demonstrates that the carbon dioxide output of the proposed scheme is no worse than would be achieved had the design complied with the standard Elemental Method.

Q. The front elevation of our 1960s house is built in a dated, pinkish Fyfestone (concrete blocks that resemble stone). What are our options for getting rid of this or covering it? Ed Cottrill, by email

A. Popular renovation options to conceal dated artificial stone cladding include paint, render, timber cladding or a new natural stone cladding.

Exterior paint is the lowest cost option – but make sure your walls have a clear cavity, as it is not advisable to paint solid walls due to the risk of causing damp problems.

Sand and cement render, either self-coloured or painted, is likely to be the next cheapest option, but can require maintenance over time, especially if painted, and is only as good as the wall behind it, so can crack if there is any movement.


Click here to take a look at our 5 top tips for transforming the exterior of your home

Modern polymer reinforced renders are a more expensive option than sand and cement, but with a self-coloured, crack-resistant finish can be a low-maintenance long-term solution. They can also be applied onto external insulation systems to upgade your home’s energy efficiency.

Timber cladding is growing in popularity. Choices include traditional New England-style painted shiplap cladding or weatherboard, or, for a more contemporary look, square-edged boards that are stained or left to weather naturally are popular. Painted softwood is the cheapest option, but for a longer-lasting solution, opt for hardwood, heat-treated softwood, or fibre cement reinforced boards that look convincingly like timber, but require very little maintenance.

Consideration needs to be given to door and window openings and how these will be treated, together with fascia boards and soffits at the junction of the roof and walls. Gutters and downpipes should be removed and refitted after the renovation job is complete.

Altering the external cladding of a dwelling can usually be undertaken under permitted development rights – the exceptions being conservation areas and other designated areas, like National Parks, where a planning application will be required. Listed buildings will always require consent.


Q. We live in a large Victorian rectory with five bedrooms. My husband wants to put a staircase in to access the loft, instead of having to use a ladder. To do so, we’ll need to divide the current bathroom into two and have been quoted £21,500 for the work. Is it worth the money? Stella Male, by email

A. The economic justification for all home improvements depends on the location and the value of the property relative to the cost of the proposed renovation work. Some home improvements are worth undertaking purely for the value it will bring in terms of enhancing your lifestyle, and so you also need to consider how long you are likely to remain in your home to enjoy the benefits.

Inevitably it is more likely to make sense to undertake significant alterations if the property needs improvement anyway, because it is tired and rundown or the layout is inefficient. If you are planning a bathroom renovation anyway, this will be a significant factor, as will the planned use of the loft: if it is intended purely for storage, the work involved is unlikely to be justified, but if you plan to add further accommodation then this will add value to the property and offset some of the renovation costs.


If you’re looking at the possibility of a loft conversion, take a look at our beginner’s guide

In areas where space carries a premium, a loft conversion will more than pay for itself in added value. You should be able to get an idea of the value of local properties by researching recent sale prices published by HM Land Registry.

Q. What is the most economical way to heat a 1970s two-bedroom bungalow that at present has an open fire in the lounge and electric night storage heaters in the bedrooms? Fiona Evans, by email

A. Whatever system you opt for, it’s worth investing in making the building energy efficient first. A 1970s house may have no insulation, but typically lends itself well to adding a double layer of loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and perhaps floor insulation between the joists.

It is unlikely to have been built with double glazing , so, unless you already have this, consider installing new windows.

Changing the open fireplace for a wood-burning stove will also make a difference, as a stove is up to 80% efficient compared to as low as 15% for an open fire.

Night storage heaters are a way of using cheaper off-peak electricity to heat your home and hot water, but this is still an expensive option compared to mains gas, oil or LPG.

A gas boiler and radiator central heating for a two-bedroom house is likely to cost £2,000-3,500 and so has one of the lowest installation and running costs. Ecological options like ground and air-source heat pumps are also cost effective to run, but will have higher installation costs. You can find up to date relative costs for different fuel and heating options at Nottingham Energy Partnership

February 2016

Find more information at Nottingham Energy Partnership

Q. Can I extend into my side return under permitted development? Our house is currently four metres from the boundary. Our neighbour has two kitchen windows and a door that overlook the renovation. Jane Lloyd, via email

A. Providing the details and dimensions of your design comply with the rules for permitted development you can fill in your side return without needing to make a planning application.


If your renovation does require planning, Click Here to see our essential guide to planning applications

This assumes the side extension is no more than 50% of the width of the original house and does not project back any further than the original rear wall– i.e it is not a rear extension – in which case it is likely to require permission in this instance.

The eaves height cannot be any higher than the existing house and the materials must be similar in style. If you are unsure, consult your local authority’s planning department for advice.

Planning permission is not the only consideration: you also need to check whether your proposals affect any legal rights over the land enjoyed by other parties, such as easements for drainage and other services, rights of way, rights of support and, in this instance, due to the neighbour’s windows and door, you need to check your proposals do not affect their right of light.


If you’re looking to add a rear extension under permitted development, Click Here

Providing your proposed extension is only single storey and your neighbour’s windows and (if glazed) back door are set back from the boundary by at least one metre, it is unlikely that your proposed extension will reduce their available light to the extent that they can claim compensation, however, if you are unsure, then it is worth getting an expert opinion from a specialist surveyor.

An alternative is to approach your neighbour and see if they have any objections or are willing to consent to the scheme. If you are working on or near the boundary, you will need to notify all affected landowners under the Party Wall Act (England and Wales) anyway, and this should draw their attention to any such issues and give them opportunity to respond accordingly.

For RICS useful guide to Rights of Light Click Here

For more on permitted development, visit the Government Planning Portal

Q. Our 1940s house has parquet flooring that has been laid on a concrete sub floor. The parquet blocks are loose and we have been advised that the floors will need to be lifted and re-laid. Can we fit underfloor heating under when this happens? Is the age of the blocks likely to cause an issue? Alison Bonsall, by email

A. Underfloor heating (UFH) can be made to work with almost any floor finish providing the material’s thermal resistance is not so high that the heat cannot get through it efficiently. For this reason, thick block parquet, like heavy carpets and underlay, is not a good choice with UFH. There is also a risk that with any solid wooden floor the fluctuating heat and humidity levels can affect the moisture levels in the timber causing it to move, twist and warp – although this is less likely in very old timber that has had years to season.

If you want to reuse the old parquet then one solution would be to cut the blocks down to reduce their thickness and then glue them onto a thin layer of plywood laid as a subfloor over the UFH system, making sure that you use a flexible adhesive suitable for use with UFH.


If you have any more questions about underfloor heating Click Here (Image from istock)


If you have a renovation question you’d like the Real Homes team to answer, email