When your DIY loft conversion is a nightmare

new house lounge
My house is a charming Victorian property in a quiet coastal town, part of a small row of houses on the banks of a little brook.

Or that’s what the estate agent told me when she showed me this place because it was so “full of potential” (a phrase that just means you’re buying the worst house on the street).

In reality, my house doesn’t have a single level floor or square corner and being on the banks of a  brook just means you have to keep decorating, because your home LAUGHS in the face of damp proof courses.

All this, though, is nothing compared to the Loft of Horror.

The Loft of Horror is what happens to the second floor of your home when the previous home-owner decides he wants a loft conversion and, heck, he’ll just have a go at doing it himself. How hard can it be, I imagine he asked himself.

A bit harder than he imagined, is the answer. The Loft of Horror used to be accessed by this rickety, almost vertical, metal ladder/staircase contraption. I had to have it removed before we moved in, it was such a safety hazard. Once you got into the loft, things were even more fun.

Friends, it was an encyclopaedia of bad DIY – one gable end was riddled with damp where rain was coming through the roof and the ‘walls’ were made of plywood nailed to the beams. Oh, and there was no electricity – the previous owner had just drilled a hole in the bedroom ceiling and ran an extension lead through it. An innovative approach to wiring, I think.

It’s taken more than two years to undo this handiwork – repairs to the roof and chimney, drying out the walls, putting in a new staircase and bannister, strengthening the floor, putting in proper sockets and lights. Then we insulated the whole space, boarded the walls and had the room plastered.

Like most things in (my) life it wasn’t what you’d call a textbook DIY experience. The first builder died just after putting in the staircase (which didn’t fit). The second builder died just after putting in the replacement staircase (which did fit). The first time we had the walls plastered, all the plaster fell off the walls a week later – plaster and gloss paint don’t mix, it turns out.

Anyway, this week saw the finish line.

While we were in Devon our decorator came to finish painting the loft, and I returned home to a gleaming white loft room, complete with nice new shelves for Flea’s books and toys. There are lights, sockets and skirting boards. The sun streams in through the new skylights and it’s all quite lovely.



What the hell is that?


Where once there was silence, there’s now a beep.

It’s clearly electronic in origin – since it happens precisely every 20 seconds. It’s loud enough to be heard through the entire house. Wandering around cocking my head to one side like a spaniel allows me to determine the sound isn’t coming from downstairs. It’s loudest on the first floor landing. If I go up to the Loft of Horror, it’s considerably quieter.  Where is it coming from?


It’s 1am and I’m still trying to work out what the wretched noise is. I’ve disconnected all domestic appliances, alarm clocks,  turned off my mobile phone, and disconnected the carbon monoxide alarm.


I turn off all the electricity in the house at the main board.


I am getting a bit cranky by this point so in a move that will disappoint The Sisterhood I admit defeat – and phone a man.

“Please help me, there’s a weird noise in the house, I don’t know what it is and I am going MENTAL”

My friend thinks. “Didn’t you have this once before, and it turned out to be a low battery in the smoke alarm?”

Genius. I breathe a sigh of relief and take the battery out of the smoke alarm in the kitchen and – just to be safe – the one in the hallway, too. Thank goodness that’s sorted!


“Why isn’t it stopping?” I whimper.

“Is there a smoke alarm in the loft?” the chap asks.

I run up to the loft. No dice.

“No, there isn’t one here,” I say. “Although weirdly, there’s a bracket for a smoke alarm on the wall. I wonder where the smoke alarm is?”

And then it dawns on me.

The smoke alarm is behind the newly damp-proofed, boarded, plastered and painted wall. And it’s still beeping.


Anyone know how long those things take to die? 

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