The titanic

Over the top basement conversions: A Journey to the centre of the earth with London’s Iceberg homes.

In London’s overheated property market it seems houses are for now only millionaires and not the likes of you or I any more, and with the cost on average 3 bed home in the capital now reaching the dizzy heights of approximately HALF A MILLION POUNDS!

(Source: Land Registry), and the effects of  mass immigration into our country over the past decade, the UK is running out of homes so people aren’t moving, they are improving. Big style.

There is now a shortage of houses, meaning rents and mortgage values are sky high, in fact way higher than they should be, and the rich of our capital city are digging deep.

In their pockets, and into the ground.

The National Housing Federation estimated 974,000 homes were needed between 2011 and 2014 but figures from 326 councils showed only 457,490 were built.

The super rich in London started a trend a few years ago with extending their homes, however many of the posher regions of the capital do not allow extensions above ground due to restrictions on land and planning laws protecting historic areas, so what have people done?

People have built DOWNWARDS into the ground.

You may have read about this somewhere in the news, they are calling them Iceberg homes, meaning that in many cases, just as a real iceberg, the house is larger underground than it is over ground, in fact often the basement or cellar extension is considerably larger than the house itself.

This is achieved by instead of extending UPWARDS our OUTWARDS with something like a loft conversion, the builders extend DOWNWARDS, into the ground beneath the home, often to create extra living space, or in the case of the City’s mega rich, entertainment space, garages for luxury cars etc.

Oh how the “other half” live eh?

So what actually is an Iceberg home?

iceberg home
An idea of an iceberg home.

It’s normally something that has appeared in recent years in only the poshest of London suburbs such as Kensington and Chelsea, and this is coupled with the fact that the local council have, up until now, relaxed planning to let them take place.

The guardian newspaper reported that out of almost a 1,000 planning applications for basement extensions sent to London councils, only 80 were turned down, but as more or problems start to happen, the council appear to be considering doing something about it, although it’s too late for some.

It’s not just “normal” folk who are against these mega basements

Dame Edna Everage

Yes, as you cam imagine, the people who build these mega basements are wealthy and live in expensive areas, alongside more well known faces, such as Barry Humphries, the actor who plays Dame Edna Everage (above).

It was reported recently in The Times that he has major concerns with a neighbour’s development which will see a Victorian home adjoining his, having a deep basement dug down to create extra space.

He is reported to have written to his local council stating that another home in his street recently collapsed as the old homes could not take such a a major alteration.

And it’s not just Australian drag artists (!) who are complaining…

Only about 3 years ago, UK newspaper The Daily Mail reported that Goldman Sachs director Christoph Stanger had enraged his own neighbours with his basement conversion because the foundations shifted, ever so slightly, but enough to affect the adjoining houses.

This meant that in some cases, cracks had appeared in his neighbours homes and even door frames shifted inside their house, so the doors would not open!

You can also imagine the sort of people who live in these posh streets not taking too kindly to their peace and tranquillity being ruined by years and years of noisy building work, often for people so rich they hardly ever use their home.

Kensington and Chelsea, London
Kensington and Chelsea, London. (OK yah dahlings)

Are there dangers in building downwards?

Damn right there are.

As far as London goes, the city is mainly built on CLAY so you cam imagine what happens to that if we have a particularly dry spell, lasting months, as we did a few years back.

Clay has a high moisture content and is therefore ideal to dig down as it is fairly easy to remove the soil, as opposed to a city like Plymouth, my home town, which is built on limestone.

victorian terraced villa after wall coatings painting
A house in Plymouth

The problem with clay-rich soil is it DRIES OUT during hot weather and when that happens, some of these gorgeous basement conversions may actually end up collapsing in on themselves, or at best, experiencing extreme cracking and subsidence.

Another issue with digging down to create more room is the fact that in many cases you do not know what you are digging down into.

If you live somewhere that has been a settlement of sorts for centuries, there could be pipes, cables, old tunnels, mine shafts, old cellars from a previous house on the site, all sorts of stuff.

So if you are mega wealthy and it’s your butler reading this (!) a thorough survey is needed before any works take place and a below ground survey is expensive, but for many of these homeowners, money does not seem to be a problem.

Other important factors to consider would be:

  • Drainage
  • Heating
  • Ventilation
  • Lighting
  • Air conditioning
  • Fire escapes
  • Reinforcing of foundations/underpinning
  • The effect on your neighbours.

…….all of which are far more costly to achieve underground.

Bear mind also that planning permission may be required.

Many of these homes are susceptible to flooding, so a pumped drainage system is often used, forcing waste water upwards and into drains.

Bear in mind if you are flooded and there is a power cut, this system will not work unless you have a backup power source and believe me, in my previous home with a garage under the house, if the power on the pump fails, that’s it, it’s gonna flood.

It almost begs to ask the question, “do you really NEED to build this extension, on an already large property?!

So how does “one” go about instructing their “little man” to create an Iceberg extension?!

very wealthy people

Well, kindly put down that earl grey tea M’Lord, and I will take the liberty of explaining!

Firstly you would need an idea in principle.

A simple plan as to what you require from this particularly major home improvement.

It would be nice to consider your fellow neighbours at this point, although most will surely object, but after all, that’s why these people are so wealthy?

There are many specialist cellar conversion companies, many of which can be found online easily, although if you yourself live in a street where this type of work is taking place, why not go and speak to the company working down the street?

After a survey is completed, the company can then put a proposal to you, outlining the scope of the work, typical timeframe and of course, how much it will cost.

The work may take several months, or even years, and the property will not be habitable whilst works are taking place, thus adding to the cost as you will have to move into a rented home.

Or of course if you are mega rich, you will have to instruct the butler to move you all to your little place (grand mansion) in the country for a while. Oh what fun!

Of course there is a LIMIT (surely?) to how far down people are prepared to dig?

Basement conversions are a popular way to increase space into your home but please, if you are going to do this, consider your neighbours, the age of the house, and also whether, hand on heart, you really need an iceberg home?

Image credits: (C) Daily Mail

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