Absolute beginner needs all your advice

(33 Posts)
Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 00:27:12

This is a long one ...

I need to have my house remodeled to accommodate my lovely sister who is now living with us. She has various cognitive and mobility needs and so will live on the ground floor of our 3 bed mid terrace. I'm taking the opportunity to do other work so it's one lot of upheaval and then hopefully a wonderful home to live in.

I am a total building novice. I've no partner or parent to talk this through with and no friends who can invest enough time/thought into the detail of such a project. I've seen the wealth of experience on this board and hoping for some (any!) guidance/suggestions.

Our largish, rectangular downstairs bathroom will become her en-suite bedroom and this is the trickiest room. The chimney breast will have to go. Currently all of the plumbing is near quite the large window at the rear of the room (and house). It therefore makes sense to put the en-suite facilities there but this means the bedroom will not have a window. I can put Perspex in the top of a partition wall for light but there will be no view out. To split the room long ways to accommodate the window would leave less than a metre width and would make the bedroom too long like a hallway. I would really like the bathroom facilities to be brought to the opposite side but think the raising of the floor and laying of new pipes will be costly.

I am also removing the upper part of the chimney breast from the bedroom above - this is a wall of one neighbour.

I am relocating our upstairs bathroom with a sloping roof into the bigger bedroom next to it to make a new family bathroom with a shower, so far that seems ok.

Another chimney breast, upper and lower, will come out. This is on my other neighbour's wall. It will create more space downstairs in our dining room and upstairs in the hallway leading to the soon-to-be swapped bedroom/bathroom upstairs. That will allow me to bring the doorway of the former bathroom/new bedroom forward to make a bigger cozy child's bedroom out of the room with the sloping roof.

Thank you if you've held on so far. Finally, downstairs has a funny little arch between the dining room and tiny kitchen. I will knock that small wall out to make a kitchen diner.

As I understand, 3 support beams will be needed. Two for the chimney breasts and one for the kitchen/diner.

So, I've had 4 builders visit who have said broadly similar things, given similar prices and timeframes, which I find reassuring.

I'm lying awake (again) struggling with the complexity of it. I can draw an outline of each room, place radiators where I want them, think about new sockets, select flooring for the whole house but I am worried that I have not had an architect plan or consulted a structural engineer. Do I need to? If I did what could I expect their costs to be? Do I need to check with my insurance company that I can do this? This may sound upside down but I am lost and panicked. The longer this takes me the longer we live in unsuitable environment the greater the strain on all of us as a new family of four rather than three. I'd really appreciate the benefit of your experience, thanks for reading this far!

OP’s posts: |
Mosaic123 Thu 14-Oct-21 01:09:24

I think you need a project manager. Can any of the builders supply one or suggest one?

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 01:28:37

Thanks so much for your suggestion. A project manager sounds absolutely ideal but I'm counting every single penny and the builders I have are very small family firms. At this point trying to find somewhere we can afford to move into whilst the work is done. Thing is I can't give up or postpone and must find a way ASAP but on a v limited budget.

OP’s posts: |
thatonehasalittlecar Thu 14-Oct-21 07:51:28

A lot of what you’re planning will need building regs sign off, and some of that will require proof that you’re doing it safely - eg structural engineer plans for the new supports. So yes, you do need to speak to a structural engineer!

It’s all doable yourself, but it takes time and organisation.

The first thing to start with is research. Break your project into bits and start with one section - eg removing the chimney breasts. Then research this thoroughly. Off the top of my head, you’ll need a party wall agreement (as it’s on a shared wall) and the way you make it secure may differ depending on if they still have their chimney (eg steels v gallows brackets).

Then you’ll need to get the structural engineers in to draw up plans. You submit these to building control, who will also inspect at several points during the work, and sign it off as safe at the end.

You also need to get building regs approval for things like making a new bathroom / reconfiguring bathrooms.

Re-routing pipes etc isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things - the problem will be the waste pipe having enough ‘fall’, but it’s not impossible - or you could look into a macerator (I know nothing about these except people put them in when it’s tricky to get access to the main waste, and they have a rep for blocking a lot).

I would start by contacting the building regs team at your local council. Mine were extremely helpful on the phone (always follow up with an email so it’s all in writing).

I would also check if you can make a bedroom that doesn’t have a window - not sure it’s allowed. This could affect insurance and resale value - you don’t want to spend loads thinking you’re adding value with an extra bedroom, but then find out it can’t be classed as such. Also bear in mind an extra bedroom may put you into a different council tax bracket - although nothing you can do about that! Just worth investigating.

I project managed a total renovation myself and learnt a lot, but it was stressful and complicated. I made a few costly mistakes, but it’s been worth it!

If there’s any way you can stretch to a few hours of an architect’s time, I would - this is a major overhaul and they will be able to make much better use of the space than you will. I would rather spend money on that and have to do some work myself (eg decorating).

You don’t need to use them as a project manager, so that can save you money. But getting them to draw up plans will help your builder and likely speed things up for them, so perhaps not add too much to the overall cost.

Best of luck with it! How lovely to have the opportunity to share your house with a bigger family.

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 09:50:54

@thatonehasalittlecar thank you so much for sharing all of this. It's a voice of reason in a sea of absolute mayhem. I will talk to council and agree an architect is probably a good investment, especially as in the longer term I may well be able to buy the upper floor of my neighbour's house and it makes sense to get a whole plan even if I can only see part of it through now. The issue is that we are living in a very poor environment. Renting somewhere else is so terribly expensive but perhaps that's what we need to do as we can't stay like this. Someone should really crack on with inventing magic wands.

The most important thing I've got here is you spelling it out slowly and carefully, helps me see the bigger picture, thank you.

OP’s posts: |
RitaFires Thu 14-Oct-21 09:55:25

Would you be eligible for some kind of grant as you're converting part of the home to be more suitable for somebody with a disability? I would definitely check into that before proceeding further.

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 10:06:27

@RitaFires I think we would too but it is a 26 week wait for an initial assessment, I reckon that brings us close to a year before completion. Also, we've been wasting a few weeks already to be assessed by my LA as my sister moving from a different LA so that's 26 weeks from the unknown point she becomes resident.

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minipie Thu 14-Oct-21 10:19:41

Agree with everything thatonehasalittlecar says.

I would say the best thing you can do is choose your builder very, very carefully. Ask on local forums, neighbours, parents at school for recommendations. Ask to speak to at least two recent customers before choosing.

An architect or project manager can help with drawing up a detailed spec for getting quotes for the work, so you know what’s included and don’t get nasty additions later. This also means all builders are quoting to the same spec rather than one seeming cheaper but it’s because he’s not included xyz or plans to cut corners. Getting a detailed spec drawn up before you get final quotes is very very worthwhile IMO and really reduces stress and unexpected costs later. This can be a standalone job for a project manager or architect, doesn’t mean you have to employ them for the whole project.

I am a little surprised that the builders you have spoken to have not mentioned possible issues about the windowless bedroom, possible need for party wall agreement, need for building control approval etc. I think you need a builder who is familiar with doing large projects and will raise these things with you.

Good luck! What a lovely thing you are doing for your sister.

Geneticsbunny Thu 14-Oct-21 10:37:42

Just to add you may need party wall agreements with both neighbours if you are taking chimney breasts out.

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 10:59:25

Thank you both for this, I'm feeling a lot calmer with this advice and the fact it's been echoed throughout. Contrary to the norm the online advice is much better than the IRL advice. I think I need to step back and start again. Something wasn't sitting right, even with my naivety. Taking all this on board.

My sister living with us is a really wonderful thing but at the moment very hard going as we don't have any support or helpful environment. It's hard finding the mental strength to manage all the problems we currently have and the challenges of change, especially alone. That's why your responses are really appreciated.

OP’s posts: |
languagelover96 Thu 14-Oct-21 15:03:11

Choose your builder wisely. Get recommendations and check references properly. Look online and read reviews as well. Research grants for those with any disability too, see what is available.

DespairingHomeowner Thu 14-Oct-21 20:50:01


Would you be eligible for some kind of grant as you're converting part of the home to be more suitable for somebody with a disability? I would definitely check into that before proceeding further.

Agree. Does your sister receive PIP/ can you apply, which I think makes you eligible for some other benefits

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 20:57:03

Yes, receives PIP and requires 24hr care but only grant I'm aware of is a Disabled Facilities Grant. DFGs are assessed by Occupational Therapists and we will have a minimum of half a year's wait for an initial assessment- this can only follow once she is officially resident.

I've contacted an architect today and will start looking for 6 month rentals. All the advice I've had on this one post has been worth its weight in gold. I'm beginning to see that by buying in help we'll get further and it's an investment in long-term gain. Weird as it sounds I feel a bit like I have permission almost. There's clearly more underlying issues with me than the house!

OP’s posts: |
sospspsp Thu 14-Oct-21 21:16:34

I'm sure you don't have to pay VAT on disabled adaptions to your home?

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 21:22:20

Wow, I did not know that, thank you.

OP’s posts: |
whatisheupto Thu 14-Oct-21 21:27:12

You will need a window in the bedroom to meet fire escape regulations. Moving g pipework isn't that bad and will be worth it.

Is there the possibility to create another space for a carer to stay in, someone that isn't you? In case that is needed in future? I read she needs 24 hour care.

It is a wonderful thing you are doing for your sister, you sound lovely.

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 21:41:14

@whatisheupto Thank you, if you knew her you'd know it's our gain. That is true about the fire escape, it's also one of the reasons for her to be downstairs. Fire Service have noted her as a 'stay put' visitor and I don't like this at all. Her mobility anyway affects her independence on stairs and this will worsen over time.

Excellent point about the future. I'm hoping at some point to buy my neighbour's first floor, knock it through and make our current ground floor her domain. I still need time with my kids and they need their space/privacy too. We've had great fun playing dodgeball together this evening, much hilarity, but sometimes they walk through the door and just want space, I need to make sure they get that. I can do a 'for now' plan that ties in with a longer-term.

It's been such a stressful time, I could feel myself getting an ulcer last night. Now, less than 24hrs on from posting, I can see this working out somehow. Thanks all for info/support.

OP’s posts: |
WoolyMammoth55 Thu 14-Oct-21 21:48:17

Hi OP,

Well done you on being a wonderful sister.

We did an extension last year including adding a downstairs WC and knocking down some walls, adding beams.

My order of works was:
1) structural engineer (though we actually used a Chartered Surveyor for this bit as he is a friend) to advise on layout, scope of works, and draw detailed plans.
2) submit plans to building control team at the council.
3) got 3 quotes from reputable local builders BASED ON THE DETAILED PLANS.
4) did party wall agreements with neighbours - contracts drawn up by our surveyor with his plans forming part of the contract - i.e. the neighbours consented to the works as drawn on the plans - nothing more or less.
5) chose our builder, agreed start date and (dream!) finish date, agreed budget and contingency. We also identified key trades - i.e. plumber and heating engineer - and made separate deals with them as we had recommended people in mind who were more cost-effective than using the builder's in-house guys.
6) chose and procured bathroom fixtures, flooring, doors etc.
7) moved out and tried not to stress as it all went slightly over time and budget!
8) liaised with building regs team throughout to ensure they were happy to sign everything off.
9) moved back in delighted with everything except the bank balance smile

I agree with PPs that the bedroom will need an outside window for ventilation or will not be in line with building regs.

I'd also agree that in the great scheme of things the cost of moving waste pipes isn't prohibitive given everything else going on.

I think first of all you need plans, so do contact an architect or SE or Chartered Surveyor to get those, then get them submitted to building regs, and then go from there.

Best of luck with it all!

Straysocks Thu 14-Oct-21 22:00:02

@WoolyMammoth55 Really helpful to see it put in steps like that, thank you. How long did all that take? I know the projects will be different but I kind of want to move now, even before plans agreed because our current environment does not help us at all.

OP’s posts: |
WoolyMammoth55 Thu 14-Oct-21 22:13:27

Well TBF we were held up by all the lockdowns!! So my timeframe was longer than typical I'd say. We were moved out for 4 and a half months but we did refurbish the whole house, every single wall back to bare bricks - I don't think your works sound as much.

The thing is that they can't knock any chimney breasts out without party wall agreements, and the agreements aren't valid unless they're based on detailed plans (so that your neighbours can see what they are agreeing to). So although I hear your pain and need to crack on, I don't think you can skip any of these steps.

Please call your council building regs team in the morning for advice. Ours was a really responsive, lovely group of guys who answered every question.

But none of what you are doing will be cheap so it's important that you get your ducks in a row and spend the money doing it right first time!

moveblues Fri 15-Oct-21 09:00:37

Ask for a referral for a community PT. they should be able to talk this through

SecretDoor Fri 15-Oct-21 09:27:07

Would it be easier to move to a more suitable property?

ablutiions Fri 15-Oct-21 10:42:57

It's also worth thinking for your sisters room not to have a full en-suite that's separate.

You can do something like this to save a bit of space and make access easier if she is in a wheelchair later on (no cumbersome doorways and scope for a hoist if needed)

A wet room with shower seat is a good way to go.

Agree with all PP re a Structual surveyor.

And don't forget you can always come back on here with plans and ask for help and guidance.

TwigTheWonderKid Fri 15-Oct-21 13:49:02

No advice on the process or building-related stuff but in terms of your sister's needs will the bedroom and bathroom be big enough if her mobility reduces and she needs to use a walking frame or wheelchair? You'd also need to make sure door frames are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

SecretDoor Fri 15-Oct-21 17:29:34


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