How to convert attic to living space?

January 14, 2018
16 Amazing Attic Remodels

refinished atticWhether you envision your house's top floor as an away-from-it-all master suite, a quiet home office, or a hangout spot for the kids, don't lift a finger until you've read TOH's expert advice

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Account for Codes and Safety

Every attic is different, but a few established norms and practices will guide your renovation.

Follow the "rule of 7s": Enforcement varies, but codes typically say that at least half of a finished attic must be at least 7 feet high, and that this area must be a minimum of 7 feet wide and 70 square feet. A contractor or a local building official can help you assess how the rule will apply to your attic and how modifications like dormers can resolve height shortcomings.

Have a pro check the structure: A finished attic weighs a lot more than boxes of off-season duds. Hire an engineer to inspect your house's foundation and framing to ensure they can carry the extra load. At a minimum, you may need to strengthen the attic's floor joists, which are often too shallow or spaced too far apart for the job.

Assess your access: If you're building a stair-case from scratch, consider a switchback layout. It needs more room than a straight run (roughly 45 to 50 square feet per floor versus 33), but its footprint is more squarish than linear, so it will often fit in spaces where a straight run can't go.peaked bookshelf creating a focal point at the top of an attic stairway in this refinished attic Just make sure the landing is large enough to maneuver furniture upstairs.

Pictured: A focal point at the top of an attic stairway, like this peaked bookshelf, draws people up.

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Ceiling Finish: "Wall" Frames

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Ceiling Finish: Beadboard Panels

A timeless classic, these tongue-and-groove panels are easy to install and will protect the low ceiling from dings and dents.

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paneling with applied moldings in this refinished atticCeiling Finish: V-groove Wood Paneling

Photo by Bruce Hemming/IPC Images

Stained or left bare, wood makes a low-ceilinged attic feel snug and cozy. You can vary the look by using boards of different widths.

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Put in a Ceiling Fan for Better Climate Control

If you've got headroom, a fan will make a finished attic more comfortable in warmer months by giving you a cool breeze indoors. Flip the reverse switch in wintertime and it will push warmer air down to keep you cozy.

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tongue-and-groove panels in this refinished atticThe Best Attic Lighting

Photo by Alan Shortall/Cornerhouse Stock

Recessed LED fixtures tuck completely out of the way, don't generate unwanted heat, and can have insulation installed snugly, and safely, around them.

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Hush Up the Floors

Illustration by Eric Larsen

Attic activity can cause a racket in the rooms below. Beefier floor joists will quiet things down, as will filling the bays with blown-in dense-pack insulation. And don't forget the low-tech fix: carpet or area rugs.

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A Can't-Fail Color Scheme: All White

Photo by Robert Daly/Alamy

Painting walls, ceilings, floors, and even furnishings in a light hue ties together disparate materials, making even the tiniest attic feel larger and airier. Opt for warm whites, like ivory or cream, to avoid an antiseptic hospital look.

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Splurge on Spray-Foam Roof Insulation

Photo by Courtesy of Certainteed Corporation

It costs two to three times more than fiberglass batt insulation. But the roof is a major pathway to heat loss—and gain—so it's worth shelling out the extra bucks for spray foam. It forms a much tighter air barrier, and you'll get the same R-value with fewer inches of the stuff, so you'll have extra room overhead.

wood paneling used to warm the room in this refinished attic a ceiling fan installed in this refinished attic recessed LED fixtures in this refinished attic recessed LED fixtures in this refinished attic
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