Open plan conservatory options

16 Sep 2015
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United Kingdom
Apologies for the long post, I wanted to get across my current situation and try to work the most sensible way forward, so i've tried to describe as much as possible. I do get to my actual questions down below and hopefully then it will be more obvious why i've posted this in the building regs/planning forum.

So.. I moved into my house about 10 years ago. There's a lean to style conservatory on the back of the house/kitchen. It's relatively small... about 3.6m x 1.7m. When I moved in, there was a door/window frame between the kitchen and conservatory. There was a window there but no door. The conservatory has a brick wall on one (short) side, the other short side is two single glazed windows. The long side has a small section of brickwork, two approx 0.75m single glazed windows and an approx 1.5-1.8m double glazed patio door. The roof was twin wall plastic sheeting. The ceiling was a suspended arrangement with really thin plastic semi transparent tiles in. There's a pretty big double radiator there connected to the heating system just like any other radiator.

Since then a few things have changed for various reasons.

Firstly I did the kitchen. As part of that, we removed the window and the door/window frame between the kitchen, it was open anyway, so that would be fine right?!... Regardless, the old (previously) external window sill was removed, the wall was made level with the internal units and a 900mm work top was placed where the sink is and it fit perfectly over the wall and tidied everything up nicely. The top of the opening was made into a shallow arch (at the edges). The opening was all plastered when the kitchen was done.

At that point everything seemed mostly fine, it seemed a bit cold in the conservatory in the middle of winter, but with the radiator on it was reasonable (but we rarely used it anyway). The kitchen was usually warm enough (from the same radiator and also being open plan with the dining room and its radiator).

During some pretty serious rain, a puddle on the floor in the conservatory led us to identify a leak with the roof where it joined the house. The lead (which seemed to be covered in some sort of horrible tar type stuff) had all cracked and obviously the cause of the leak. We repaired this 'temporarily' with some of the plastic stuff you'd normally use at the edge of the roof into the gutter (eaves guard? felt support tray?) turned upside down, one edge under the lead the other down the roof. Again that worked well as a temporary measure.

Onto the ceiling tiles. They slowly began breaking for one reason or another. Mostly due, I think, to becoming brittle in the sun over the years since it was built. Enough broke that eventually I just removed the remaining ones and replaced them (again temporarily!) with squares of plasterboard. I took the opportunity to put a load of insulation up there at the same time as I began realising that I was probably losing quite a lot of heat through the entire conservatory and whilst messing with the ceiling it seemed like an easy temporary win. Again, this worked rather well. In the winter the conservatory was much more usable and the radiator didn't need to be anywhere near so hot.

However, in the summer, it seemed to have the opposite affect and with the sun lying on the insulation through the plastic roofing I think it got so hot in the roof space that the plastic sheets began cracking. Yet again another 'temporary' measure... We stripped the plastic sheets off, put some breathable membrane stuff down as if we were laying a real roof then put some of the plastic sheets back on. One of them was in such a bad way that we needed to replace it, so 'temporarily' we put up some ply and some shed like roofing felt. This stopped the roof leaking again. Yay.

More recently, we had a new boiler installed, the original was in one of the bedrooms. The new one has been installed in the conservatory (on the house wall), with the flue going out of the small brick section of the long side of the conservatory. The short wall of the conservatory originally had some hardboard pretend panelling stuff attached to it. I replaced this with some 25mm batten, some 25mm celotex like insulation and some pink plasterboard.

Now we get to the present. We have been doing the garden/patio and concluded that it would make sense to try to tidy up the conservatory at the same time. We've even pondered moving once we'd tidied everything back up.

So this is where I start to wonder what my options are, how planning/building regs might affect those options, how does everything currently stand in the eyes of building regs, etc.

Starting with how I currently stand... with all the 'temporary' changes i've made. What's my situation? Can I get in any sort of trouble for having done these things and left them for varying lengths of time? Is there anything I should be doing before I worked out what to actually do to sort everything out? Can I just call my local building regs people and ask for advice without potentially causing myself problems? Do they offer any advice for free before I work out what I want/am allowed to actually do and then pay them money when I submit the plans to them?

Next, what can I do with the conservatory as it stands? I've tried deciphering the various planning and building regs information that i've found online. But i'm still pretty confused. Ideally I would like to leave it open to the kitchen, replace the roof, hopefully get some more light from the new roof back into the kitchen area.

In relation to leaving it open, putting a window and door in place would be a bit crappy. It would look fairly crap from both the kitchen and the conservatory side as it would mean the window either had to go on top of the worktop or the worktop would need to be cut for the window to go back in. It would mean undoing the archway. But I think that means I would need to make it a proper extension?

If that's the case, is there any hope I can modify what currently exists so that it meets building regs? What would I need to consider? I read about the possibility of meeting some requirements by beefing up certain things like insulation in some places in favour of other things that you can't do. For example the single glazing is obviously an issue, but is there any chance that putting a proper insulated roof and ceiling in place rather than the old plastic that existed originally would mean I had any chance of actually doing that? How would I even go about working out that out? As I said, i've tried deciphering the various building regs, but it's proving quite difficult to understand what actually applies to my situation (if anything) and where I should be concentrating my efforts.

The other obvious concern is whether the footings are deep enough (I have no idea, we've not looked yet, but I doubt they are) would the only option be to rip it down and start again? Obviously i'd like to avoid that if possible! Would ripping it down and rebuilding it be covered as a permitted development or would I need to get planning permission?

To sort the roof out something i've been thinking about is using the lightweight tiles. To do that would I need planning permission? Is there any chance that using them with the existing conservatory would be possible even if the footings weren't deep enough? It seems to be what they're designed for!

And lastly some sort of glass in the roof. A sky light seems to be cheaper than a proper window but from what I can tell they can only be used in an uninhabitable area. Presumably if the conservatory became an extension it would be a habitable area and therefore I couldn't use a skylight and i'd have to use a roof window? Is that purely down to the heat loss/performance of the sky light vs the roof window? Does the sky light not meet whatever building regs say a roof window's maximum heat loss should be or something?

Oh... there is one more thing, the single glazed windows. Is there anything I could do with those? Is secondary glazing a real option to meet building regs or is it just likely to stop me having to mop the condensation from the windows every morning?

I'm sure you can probably tell, I don't really want to end up spending loads on whatever I end up doing. Especially as we're thinking about moving soon. But I need to do something both to tidy up what's there to help sell the property in the future and so that I can actually sell it without lots of hassle.

Any other ideas/suggestions are welcome!
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If you are thinking of moving then you will have to declare (because you will be asked) to the prospective purchaser any work you have done.

You have a choice of, probably in decreasing cost:
(a) a proper extension to building regulations
(b) a conservatory or lean-to of some description, and reinstate door/window to the kitchen
(c) demolish the lean-to, and reinstate door/window to the kitchen

You'd have to decide what the costs are and what it's likely to add to the value of the house (if anything). However a substandard extension being used as a habitable room will be flagged up by a surveyor and, in an extreme example, could compromise the mortgageability of the property if the surveyor considers the kitchen isn't usable making the property uninhabitable.

Option (c) of showing prospective purchasers a nice tidy exterior area and casually saying "of course you could consider putting a conservatory here if you wanted to" allows them to consider the option without committing you to the expenditure -- and although some people like conservatories some people don't.

Replacing a door/window is likely to be notifiable to Building Control unless you use a FENSA or other contractor able to self-certify and notify for you.

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