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Attic Alternatives

By Jim Sulski

Summary: Attic conversions let home owners turn attics into additional living space.

Many homeowners looking for additional living space are looking up - into their attics, that is.
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Once an area to store old family photo albums and Christmas decorations, attics are now being used to house viable home living space such as bedrooms, sewing rooms, home offices and workout rooms.

Adding living space to the attic also allows homeowners to reconfigure their living space downstairs. If a homeowner adds bedrooms to the attic, they can remodel the bedrooms on the first floor into family rooms, dens, or additional kitchen or bathroom areas.

Attic conversions are proving extremely popular with homes that have little yard space - such as inner-city dwellings that are on small lots.

Fortunately, such homes - usually built prior to World War II - are also perfect candidates for attic conversions as they have roomy unfinished attics with strong floor joists and high-pitched roofs for good ceiling heights.

But attic conversions are not limited to only the roomy, old-fashioned attics. Homes with lower-pitched roofs can be converted into additional living space if you build up by raising the roof or adding dormers.

A common design is to create a cathedral-like ceiling out of the sloping pitch of the attic roof.

The sloping pitch of the roof will result in a knee wall - a vertical wall about three feet high - on the sides of the attic. The space behind the knee wall can also be utilized for storage and ductwork.


One concern of homeowners is heating and cooling an attic space.

Insulation and moisture barriers can drastically help to control an attic's temperature. In addition, balancing the home's heating and air conditioning system with ductwork dampers can improve temperature stability in the attic.

Because heat rises, heating an attic is not as much as a problem as keeping it cool. With a properly balanced system, homeowners should notice no more than a temperature difference of a few degrees in the attic even on a hot summer day.

Additional windows will also help as will a continuous ridge vent on the roof. One way of completely controlling an attic's temperature is with a separate heating and cooling system. The addition of such as system can cost thousands of dollars.


While they add living space, Attic conversions can also affect the living space on the downstairs level.

For example, on homes with no existing staircases to the attic, a large amount of space downstairs - usually about three feet by ten feet - must be designated to install a new staircase

Another concern is the installation of a mechanical chase through the first floor and up to the attic. The chase is used to run plumbing, ductwork, electric lines, etc., from the basement to the attic and is usually about one foot wide and one foot deep. The chase is concealed with drywall.

It can sometimes be hidden in a closet or placed in a bedroom corner.

Another minor concern with attic conversions is cracked ceilings on the first floor that can occur when installing the attic floor.


To add living space to an attic can range from a few thousand dollars into the tens of thousands, depending on the size of the project, the construction and type of amenities sought. A walk-in attic will cost less to convert to living space, as raising a roof dormers add dollars.

An attic conversion is also is an investment time-wise. For relatively simple jobs such as partitioning off rooms, an attic conversion can take between a week or two. The construction of a major addition - such as raising roofs and adding plumbing for a bathroom - can take more than a month or two to complete.

As with other home remodeling projects, those costs can be recouped by homeowners on a long-term basis - at least five years or so.

Costs can be kept contained by connecting into the home's existing services such as the heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing systems.

For example, the benefit to placing a bathroom in an attic is that you have existing plumbing below that you can tie into. As a result, constructing additional space upstairs can be not as difficult as adding space on the back of the house."

Although much of the attic conversion work can be handled by the do-it-yourselfer, the experts said work such as adding dormers or installing floor joists may best be left to professional contractors and remodelers.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. March 14, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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