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Attic Renovation

What to consider when Planning an Attic Renovation Project

By Mark J. Donovan



Most homes have large attic spaces, particularly homes with steep roof pitches. Consequently many homeowners contemplate an attic renovation project to convert a large, useless space into an additional living space. Attic renovation projects frequently include building rooms such as bedrooms, office space, and even the occasional bathroom.

Before embarking on an attic renovation project it is important to first plan it out carefully.

Planning an attic renovation project requires the consideration of a number of key elements in the attic. These elements are discussed in detail below.

Ingress and Egress to the Attic


In planning an attic renovation project it is important to consider how you are going to get access to the future living space. If a staircase or normal door height entranceway already exists, then you are all set, at least from an ingress/egress standpoint. However, if entering and exiting your attic is currently via a simple pull down attic stair case, then you will need to determine where a standard staircase can be added in the home.


Attic Renovation

Photo by Mark Donovan

Attic Renovations and Headroom


Attics that have highly steep roof pitches, e.g. a 12/12 pitch, are ideally suited for creating attic living space. However, even with steep roof pitches, there is less living space that can be carved out of the attic then most homeowners realize.


First you need to determine the maximum ceiling height of the attic space. You need to realize that the higher the ceiling height the narrower the flat ceiling area. Second, knee walls should probably be installed to the minimum headroom level required. This height may be as low as only 2 to 3 feet, or could be as high as 6-8 feet. It really depends upon how you want to use the attic areas where the roof line ties into the outer walls of the home. Sometimes these areas can be used for closets or storage areas, so that the area behind the knee walls is not totally unused space.


Attic Renovations and Existing Attic Framing


Another key element that needs to be evaluated when undertaking an attic renovation project is how the attic is framed. For example, what type of ceiling joists were used in the framing? Ceiling joists of the lower level are effectively the floor joists of your attic area. Frequently attic ceiling joists are inadequate for supporting the weight of a living space. Consequently larger sized lumber may need to be sistered, or married, to the existing ceiling/floor joists. If the existing ceiling joists are inadequate you will inevitably wind up with cracked lower level ceilings.


Attic framing also frequently has cross braces and collar ties running throughout them. You may need to meet with an architect or your local building inspector to see what you can do to replace these structural supports in a way to create a larger unobstructed living space.


Attic Renovations and Lighting


If you are lucky, your attic may already have some windows in it. If not, you should seriously consider including one or two dormers in your attic renovation project. Dormers enable windows to be installed into the attic area allowing natural light, as well as provide for some additional headroom space. Installing skylights into the roof line is another great alternative.


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Attic Renovations and Heating and Cooling


Attics can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Consequently it is important to insulate them well. However, even with insulation installed, attic living spaces can still be uncomfortably warm and cold, so you will also need to carefully consider how you will heat and cool this space. Sometimes, it makes the most sense to install a localized heating/cooling system in the attic, versus tying the space into the main HVAC system.


Installing a Bathroom in the Attic


Installing bathrooms in the attic can be tricky. You will need to tie it into the existing vent and drain stacks, so you may be limited to where you can actually locate the bathroom in your attic. In addition water filled tubs are very heavy. Additional structural support may be required under the tub area to support this weight.


You will also need to snake plumbing supply lines up into the attic. This can lead to having to remove sheetrock in the lower level to get access to the existing supply lines.


Without a doubt, an attic renovation project is a great way to gain more living space in your home, however planning it out first is absolutely critical in ensuring a quality and safe living space. With the planning tips discussed above your attic renovation project should go a lot smoother.

For help on Attic Conversion and Attic Renovation Projects, see HomeAdditionPlus.com's Attic Conversion Bid sheet. The Attic Conversion Bid sheet will help to ensure that you hire the right contractor so that your attic conversion project is built correctly, on time and budget.

How to Finance your Attic Project -  can help provide funds for your new home improvement project if financing is required.

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