Some years ago in 2015, shortly after I moved into my present house, I considered completing a railway layout that I had started, with assistance from my father, back in the early 1990s when I was a young lad but which had never been completed. I posted a thread about it on this forum, the upshot of which was that the attic in which I was thinking of completing such a layout did not seem suitable and in any event that it would probably be better to start from scratch than try to revive an old layout now in poor condition; at the time, having recently moved house, I did not think that the amount of effort and money required would be feasible, and I had worked out that I would not have been able to do what I wanted to do in the space available in the loft (4.1m x 3.1m) so I left the matter there and have not done any railway modelling since.
However, I have of late been overtaken by an urge to try railway modelling again. I still live in the same house, none of whose main rooms are available for railway modelling purposes. I should like to build a new layout, and have worked out that I can fit what I consider to be an interesting design into a 4m x 3m space (and probably a slightly more interesting design into a 4.1m x. 3.1m space - I had not found my records of the exact measurements of the loft when I was preparing the plans).
I have spent some considerable time researching building regulation issues relating to lofts. The regulations themselves are drawn very vaguely and thus appear to leave a great deal of room for differing interpretations; the most authoritative guidance on how they are likely in practice to be interpreted by local authorities that I have been able to find is here.
According to that website,
If your project involves adding a permanent fixed stair or fixed ladder, installing a floor or lining walls/rafters then the works are considered to be a loft conversion and an application will be required, irrespective of the proposed use of the room. The key thing to consider is: if it looks like a room – it’s a room.
As I understand the regulations, the critical issue is not so much how people actually use the room, but rather whether the characteristics of the room are consistent with it being used as a "residential room" (sometimes called "habitable room"). Thus, if I have understood the regulations correctly, there would be no (legal) issue with me building and using a model railway in a loft that is not a "residential room", but if I were to change the loft so that it becomes like a residential room (e.g., by adding insulation to the inside of the roof), Building Regulations compliance would be required. As should be apparent from the pictures on my earlier thread, the loft already has lighting and flooring.
Compliance with the Regulations would be impractical in my situation: I do not wish to make the sort of major changes to the main part of the house (installation of fixed stairs and consequent changes to the landing, removing the original, period Edwardian wooden doors and replacing them with modern fire doors, etc.) that would be required for Building Regulations compliance.
Thus, if I am to use the loft, it will have to be used largely as it is, with limited insulation from outside temperature differences, wiring only for lighting, cross braces of wood in the main walking space, and no natural light or ventilation. I could have a built-in loft ladder fitted (I currently have to get a portable ladder from the garden to access the attic), and possibly also a Velux window without invoking the Building Regulations (at least, the people who sell a combination of fixed ladders and Velux windows implicitly seem to think so). I should have to work around the cross-members, use a portable electric heater in the winter, endure the heat in the summer, and use a long extension cord from the sockets on the landing to power the layout (and heater in winter).
Has anyone here any experience of using an unconverted loft to house a model railway and whether it is merely sub-optimal or whether it is irredeemably unsuitable? This chap seems to have put a model railway in an unconverted loft which looks very similar to mine (although he did insulate the roof with stapled on foil and paint the brickwork, as well as adding power sockets - query whether this would invoke the Building Regulations), and there seem to be many other layouts in unconverted lofts.
The only other possibility is to have a substantial shed built at the bottom of the garden. That would give me a similar space to the loft (possibly slightly (~20cm in width) more as there would be no chimney breast) and would not have the cross-member, insulation and ventilation issues of the attic, as well as not needing to climb a ladder to reach it. Having looked into the matter, given the size of shed/outhouse that I could fit into my garden, planning permission would not be required, and Building Regulations would not apply either (provided that the building meet certain relatively easy to accommodate criteria).
However, my garden is small, and I have recently had work done to it, some of which would have to be undone to accommodate an outhouse. Also, these sheds seem to be fantastically expensive (my research so far suggests £10-£20,000 for a shed of similar dimensions to the loft space). Prefabricated sheds seem to be a little cheaper, but I have no as of right rear access to my property, and one cannot (presumably) drag a concrete shed through the hallway, dining room and kitchen of a small terraced house. Rear access is physically possible, but the land to the rear, which comprises an access drive for a set of three modern terraced houses built in the middle of a triangle of land bounded on each side by back gardens of much older terraces, is privately owned by a local property developer who seems to let the property to tenants on leases short enough not to show up on the Land Registry. I could seek permission for access for a lorry to unload a prefabricated shed, but I am not sure what, if any, response that I might get to such a request, or even whether the owner's address as found on the Land Registry is up to date.
Also, security in a shed is a concern: burglars would have difficulty getting into the main house, let alone the attic, but a shed is a much easier target, especially as they tend to be less substantially built. I could not sensibly drag all the various items of rolling stock from house to shed and shed to house every time that I wanted to go and use a model railway.
Has anyone here any experience of shed building for model railway purposes and in particular any insights into the issues that I outline above?
I should be very grateful for any insight.
Edited by jamespetts, 11 February 2018 - 21:24 .