Frequently Asked Questions about Open Plan Layouts

Can I have an open plan layout in my property?

  • In all probability, yes you can. However there are laws designed to protect the public which limit what you can do. A fully open plan layout might combine living, dining, kitchen and staircase into a single open plan area. The more open the layout, and the higher the property, the more restrictions you will encounter.

What types of open plan layout are there?

We have some terminology that we use to classify these layouts:

  • A level 1 open plan layout combines a kitchen with another habitable room
  • A level 2 open plan layout combines a habitable room (not a kitchen) with a staircase
  • A level 3 layout combines both of the above, i.e. a kitchen and possibly other rooms are open to a staircase.

What sorts of open plan layouts are allowed and not allowed?

  • The primary law in this area is the building regulations, which are written in very general terms. There is national guidance, however, on how regulations should normally be implemented.
  • In two storey houses (or two plus basement) you will be allowed almost any open plan layout. On the Isle of Man you will need fire suppression in order to allow such a layout (see 2 storey examples).
  • In three storey houses (or three plus basement) the guidance for England and Wales permits level 1, and level 2 if you fit a fire suppression system in the living area when converting the loft. You may be able to achieve level 3 but this will require some specialist fire engineering input and an enhanced alarm system (see 3 storey examples).
  • With four storeys and above you may be able to achieve open plan layouts, but you are likely to require either a second escape staircase, or a significant fire suppression system. You will definitely require either a suitable Approved Inspector, or a Fire Engineer (see 4 storey examples).
  • In flats no higher than first floor, you should usually be able to create level 2 or 3 layouts, though there may be some constraints on the location of the kitchen (see flat examples).
  • In flats above first floor, you are permitted to create open plan layouts if you install a fire suppression system. However the guidance is still being developed and you may need to consult a suitable Approved Inspector or a Fire Engineer.

I’m a landlord. Am I allowed open plan?

  • This is a complex area. If you are going to rent out your property, you also need to comply with the regulations applicable to landlords: in England and Wales, these are the Housing Act and the Fire Safety Order, embodied as guidance in the LACoRS guide. These regulations apply even if you are not changing the layout. The LACoRS guidance is not very different from the building regulations, but you should consult your local authority’s private sector housing team as to what is expected of you. The LACoRS guide does permit open plan layouts except where a house has been subdivided into bedsits where residents lead essentially separate lives.
  • As a landlord you need to comply with the law whether or not yor property is classed as an HMO (house in multiple occupation), and regardless of whether your local authority wishes to inspect or licence it.

Where do I start?

  • You should clear your proposed layout with a building control professional before building it. If you have not yet started building, you have the right to choose between local authority building control, and private sector Approved Inspectors. Approved Inspectors tend to offer some value-added services and some may be able to approve a wider range of layouts through the use of fire engineering expertise.
  • For a level 3 layout or a higher property, we recommend beginning with discussions with an Approved Inspector to discuss the types of layouts that they can approve.
  • For more typical cases an architect or loft conversion specialist with detailed knowledge of the field may be your best place to begin.