Whether 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
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. 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.
Ceiling Finish: "Wall" Frames
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.
Ceiling 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.