Making Room in the Attic

Many homeowners looking for additional living space are looking up – into their attics, that is making room in the attic. And why not, the space is there.

Reasons for adding living space and building out an attic.

Attics are a great place to store old family photo albums and Christmas decorations. But attics are also great spaces to have 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 below. When you make room in the attic, you free up space for bathrooms, closets or other welcome additions.

Attic conversions are proving extremely popular with homes that have little yard space – such as inner-city dwellings that are on small lots. Why not, making room in the attic is using space that exists into usable space. 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.

Roomy, old-fashioned homes with attics are great for conversions. However, you can also convert homes with lower-pitched roofs when you raise a roof or add dormers to the home. 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. You can use the space behind the knee wall for storage and ductwork.

Attic Heating and Cooling issues

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. Make sure your heating and cooling system is properly balanced. Homeowners should not notice a meaningful difference in temperature in the attic 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.

Attic building issues and concerns

While they add living space, Attic conversions can also affect the living space on the downstairs level. Keep in mind that you’ll need a space of three feet by ten feet for a staircase in the space below the attic.

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

You can hide a closet under a staircase or you can place the staircase along a bedroom corner. Remember, that you can end up with cracked ceilings due to your construction work in the attic.

Attic build out and construction costs

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.

You might recoup the cost of making room in the attic over time. It might take you five or so years but you’ll get to enjoy the space over that time. You’ll want to keep cost contained and use your existing heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing systems for your attic project.

Making room in the attic is only one of many home remodeling ideas for you.

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 easier than at 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