What you need to know … when renovating a flat

By April 17, 2020 Managing a Renovation

With so much uncertainty in so many areas due to the global health crisis, many house-moves and renovation work projects are, rightly, paused for now. 

However, to the extent it’s possible to do so, we suggest continuing to work on finalising the planning/ designing/ decision-making during this ‘on hold’ period.  When normal-ish life resumes, you can have made (most of) the remaining design/ choosing, etc. decisions and obtained related costings, with less time pressure than usual, and be ready to start ordering and getting on site at an appropriate time. 

Working on your renovation project may also be a welcome distraction…  We’ll continue to share content to advise and inspire.

Renovating a flat

Every home renovation job is different (which is why we love our job…), but there are specific challenges common to renovating flats. If they’re considered early on, they can usually be resolved successfully – with the appropriate expert help and some careful planning.

Party Wall Awards;

If you’re doing work to load-bearing walls, or to (or near) foundations, you’ll need to consider the Party Wall Act.

With neighbours above and below, as well as to the side, you may need PWAs in place with several different owners.  (Usually, Awards should be served on the freeholder and all long-term leaseholders – tenants don’t usually need to be notified legally but it makes sense to give them plenty of notice.) 

Bespoke large joinery unit and black modern ceiling lamp styled by Absolute Project Management
This lovely flat renovation didn’t involve any structural work so fortunately no PWA was needed.
Large storage system in the living room styled by Absolute Project Management
Originally converted from offices, the flat had lots of boxing, columns, and lowered ceilings to work around.

Management companies and Freeholders;

Depending on the nature of the work and the provisions of your lease, you may need permission from the management company and/ or the Freeholder. Expect this to involve paperwork, fees, and some amount of time waiting for permission.  We advise getting this started as soon as the scope of the job is confirmed.

Communal plumbing;

Some flats share various elements of the plumbing e.g. a shared water tank for mains water or a communal heating or hot water system. This often means that, to make changes to your plumbing, the water for the whole block needs to be turned off. This requires more co-ordination and permissions.

Access restrictions & protecting communal areas

Your contractor may not be allowed to use the shared lift (or it may be too small/ unreliable), so ensure they price for the time and work to carry things in manually.

This is worth considering e.g. when choosing large format tiles or big appliances (American fridges…) Similarly, they will need to allow for adequate protection to and cleaning of the finishes in the communal area.

Old pipework exposed in a wall in flat during renovation
Some of this pipework forms part of the communal heating system so water to the whole block has to be turned off to change it.
Staircase in Bauhaus building with blue plastic protective sheeting during renovation work
Protecting communal areas requires special materials as well as labour costs.

Concrete shell

In modern purpose-built blocks or converted commercial buildings, the main structure will be concrete – including the floor/ ceiling slab. (In houses/ conversions, this is usually timber joists and beams, with gaps – in which you can hide plumbing, downlights etc.)

If your floor & ceiling are concrete, these elements will need to sit on top of the slab. Ensure your electrical & plumbing plans factor these in:

  • Cables to be chased into the ceiling/ floor
  • Soil pipes & ventilation ducts to be concealed in boxing/ false ceilings
  • Shower areas may need to be raised to allow for drainage
Bathroom floor with electric under-floor heating and step up into shower area
Pipework can’t be concealed in this concrete slab, so we are using slim electric under-floor heating, and have a small step up to the shower.
Boxing to neatly conceal ventilation ducts in flat being renovated by Absolute Project Management
Ventilation ducts have to run to pre-existing external louver points – so they are concealed with neat boxing

Window coverings

A particular bug-bear of ours; in modern blocks of a particular era, and in some converted buildings, the windows go right to the ceiling with no space to fit a curtain rail or blind. There is usually a solution (e.g. a very shallow or recessed track, or frame-mounted blinds) but we’d always advise designing this element early on in case it requires a technical (read ‘expensive’) solution.

Large living room and kitchen with bright lighting styled by Absolute Project Management
Lovely windows right to the ceiling require special curtains on a recessed track:

We regularly tackle these kinds of challenges, so if you are planning to renovate your flat, get in touch!