In 2013, the government relaxed planning laws to make it easier to convert empty office spaces to residential homes, in order to ease the private and social housing shortage.
This move is playing a key role in increasing the number of domestic properties available on the market, but when converting old offices, it is important to take into account the long-term function and performance of the finished building, and address the very different requirements of residential developments.
Many of the offices that sit empty today were built in the 1970s and 1980s, when regulations regarding thermal, fire and acoustic performance were not as stringent as they are now. As such, significant alteration may be needed to comply with today’s standards.
Over the past few years, guidelines relating to the thermal efficiency and environmental impact of new and existing developments have undergone substantial upgrades.
Such regulatory changes mean that the majority of offices will need to be thermally upgraded to enhance energy efficiency and to be suitable for residential use.
One of the simplest ways to meet current regulations is to use an internal wall insulation system. These are ideal for hard-to-treat surfaces, offering enhanced thermal performance, while also being time efficient to install.
Another issue to consider is that of fire safety.
When redesigning the layout of a building, the means and routes of escape are very likely to change. Additional fire exits and stairwells will need to be designed in to comply with fire regulations.
Measures can include passive fire protection solutions, such as high-performing fire partitions, as well as active fire protection in the form of sprinkler systems or fire suppression and detection systems.
Finally, the control of noise transfer, both within and between dwellings, needs to be taken into consideration, as the acoustic requirements of a residential property are very different from those of a commercial development
Controlling noise and impact sound in an office-to-house conversion will be difficult due to the variety of potential flanking paths that already exist.
If this work is done poorly, noise could not just be a source of irritation, but could impact on the health and well-being of occupants. To prevent this, there are a number of solutions that can be used to control noise transference of both airborne and impact sound.
Converting offices into houses may help to ease the housing crisis, but it is important that thermal, fire and acoustic standards are met and, where possible, exceeded.
As such, developers need to focus on the specification for the project at the design stage to ensure the building is successfully converted into residential properties.
By getting this right, developers can easily create safe, comfortable and sustainable dwellings for residents.
Tom Cox is innovation and product manager at Saint-Gobain Isover