Using a converted basement for bedrooms

Specialised basement contractors in London can help you navigate the city’s basement bedroom building regulations. Around the country, planning rules have been relaxed to encourage developers to address the shortage of smaller “first step” housing units. At the same time, the regulations still make it difficult to let basements as living space. Most of the regulations relate to main living areas and especially to bedrooms.

Regulations vary considerably between boroughs, so basement contractors in London need a fair bit of local knowledge to help you arrive at an acceptable design and navigate the planning process required. If you want to use a converted basement for bedrooms – whether for your own use or third party – you should consult your contractor earlier rather than later.

Bedroom windows and fire regulations

Regulations about windows have less to do with the provision of light than with fire safety. They usually specify that a basement bedroom must have a window that opens wide enough to be used as a fire escape. If that isn’t possible, a separate fire exit to the outside has to be provided.

The cost of providing an acceptable fire exit will vary considerably depending on your existing building and the plans you have for its converted layout. If a rear door proves necessary, it could require an external excavation with steps to ground level, eating into your garden, and an internal passageway that eats into your floor plan.

From the lighting point of view, it is quite possible to direct substantial natural light into basement living spaces without conventional windows. Light wells often achieve excellent results. Other creative solutions include light tunnels, reflective surfaces, mirrors and translucent walls, floors and staircases. In addition, modern electric lighting can simulate natural wavelengths very precisely. Whether your local council approves an indirect lighting solution for a sleeping area will often depend on the quality of your design and presentation.

Bedroom ventilation

Building regulations often refer to “habitable” rooms. This phrase always includes bedrooms but also includes “living rooms” when they are the principle occupied rooms of the household. Generally speaking, if you are using a room only occasionally – for example as a games room, bar, kitchen or storage space – the definition does not apply.

Regulations rarely make specific requirements for basement rooms; they apply equally upstairs. However, they were often drafted with upstairs rooms in mind and so assume there are conventional windows, which have to be 1/20th of the room’s floor area. Background ventilation is also usually specified; this can mean airflow through the house.

Fortunately, most councils recognise that basement contractors in London know alternative means to supply basements with equivalent or superior ventilation and will grant permission to the right design. They are particularly favourable toward energy efficient technologies such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. If your basement design is compatible with MVHR it may be an opportunity to create a space with pure allergen free air and lower your fuel bills at the same time.