June 9, 2022

7 tips for your conversion project

So, you’ve found a building that looks promising, but you want to know how to check it over properly before you buy it? This is the article for you.

Intro

Conversions are quite special projects as there are so many unknowns. The tips that I mention here come from personal experience and may help you reduce some of the risks and unpleasant surprises that can come with a conversion project.

Zoning plan

Before you invest a lot of energy and money, check if your business is even allowed to be there. The zoning plan will tell you if, for example, storage is permitted in a certain location. If the zoning plan clearly states that only residential units are allowed, you’ll have a hard time opening your shop in that location.

Floor height & Load

Measure the floor height and check if it works for you. Can you install your desired interior and still have enough room for the electrical, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ducts? Don’t forget about the fire protection regulations! They often demand a certain amount of free space in the ceiling for smoke to accumulate in case of a fire. If you’re unsure, send the designs to an architect or another construction professional for a first evaluation.

Also, is the floor load sufficient for your needs? A former office building or parking garage may not have the floor load capacity you require. The drawings and/or the help of a structural engineer will allow you to answer this question.

Technical due diligence

You’ve checked the basics during your first site visit, now it’s time to have a professional company go through the building and evaluate it. They will thoroughly inspect the building, check that the maintenance has been carried out, go over all the paperwork, and create a report for you that states all the risks and potential costs.

Structural assessment

Have a structural engineer take a look at the structural drawings, the building, and any changes you would like to make. If, for example, you need to install a big ventilation unit on the roof, it may have structural consequences. A structural engineer will be able to tell you what the best location would be and which potential reinforcements would have to be made.

Sustainability

From a sustainability perspective, converting an existing building is nearly always better than demolishing one and building a brand-new building. If you want to certify your building with a BREEAM, DGNB, or LEED certification, it is wise to consult your sustainability company as well. How you handle the conversion will have an impact on the score that you can achieve under these systems.

Financial buffer

Even though they are good for the environment, conversions are not always very good for your nerves. In most cases, a conversion will be cheaper than a new build, but the cost uncertainty is much higher. Even if you’ve done all your checks, surprises are bound to pop up during the construction project, and surprises often cost money. That is why you must ensure you have a big enough buffer in your budget. Don’t assume that the building will need little to no work, as this is seldom the case. We normally set aside a 10% buffer for conversions, whereas for new builds we add a 5% buffer.

Conversion experience

This final item is one of the most important. Make sure that you work with companies that have prior experience with conversions. Conversions are quite special, and companies who have never handled a conversion will have to learn as they go. The mistakes they make will cost you money and delays, so be certain to assemble a team with conversion experience. Those experts will also know other companies with conversion experience, which will make everything easier for you.

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