The Ultimate Guide to Attic Remodeling

Posted by Bob Wiedenmann

In my family, the attic is a place to dump stuff. Old photo albums from Grandma, the baby crib with the cracked headboard, unwanted Christmas gifts and of course old magazines that we’ll never read again.

Don’t judge—we know you probably do it too. We’ve seen enough homes by now.

The good news is, an attic space can be a value-add to your home, not just a repository for junk, if you optimize the space. Consider it “flipping” a part of your own home, in a sense.

Is My Attic Suitable for a Remodel?

The first step to remodeling the attic is to figure out if you have the right type of space. Here’s where to start:

Have a contractor inspect the attic. Having a contractor inspect an attic space is absolutely essential before you start any work. This is because building codes can be finicky, and you must make sure you are able to meet them before you convert your attic. If you fail to do this, you could end up with fines or other headaches in the future, especially when you decide to sell your house.

Typically, a contractor will check to make sure there are at least two escape routes from the attic, possibly through a window and also down a flight of stairs. This is essential for emergencies. It’s also important to make sure that the ceiling meets the requirements to be considered usable. A typical rule is around 7 feet of height.

A contractor will also make sure the construction of the home can handle work being done in the attic, and support activity up there to boot. For example, joists in the floor may need to be supported so they are able to handle the added stress that comes from people moving around, weight of added furniture and any work you choose to do to the flooring or the walls.

Making the Most of Your Attic Remodel

Families living in small homes with attics may find themselves looking upward as they think of ways to expand their living space. Children grow and they accumulate more and more things, such as toys and electronics. As they grow, they take up more physical space. 

As your family grows, you might find that the number of bedrooms or bathrooms becomes too small for your home, but finding a bigger home just isn’t a realistic option. What to do? A Middletown home renovation could be the solution to your problem. 


Heating and Cooling for Your Attic

As you discuss your ideas with your home renovation contractor, don’t forget that you’ll need to make that new living space comfortable. You’ll need heat for those winter months and air conditioning for the hot summer months, if you use air conditioning. 

Ask your designer to look at your current HVAC system. You may need to make some adjustments so you don’t overload its current capacity. If needed, an HVAC contractor can make needed changes to your system. 


Heat-Recovery Ventilators (HRVs)

Sounds intimidating and technical, but a heat-recovery ventilator has a simple concept. Typically installed in an attic or similar space away from the living area, an HRV circulates air from inside and outside, focusing on pulling moist air out of the house from the bathroom and the kitchen. The system works to retain as much of the original heat from the air as possible, so that energy isn’t lost within the home. Then, the unit moves in fresh air from outside, pumping the original heat back into it. The temperature in the home remains much the same, with only about 20 percent of the heat lost. This may sound like a lot, until you consider that the alternative for retaining a safe level of moisture would be to open a window in the winter.

The same method works during the summer with the cooled air of the air conditioner. The chill is retained in the air being pushed outside, so there is very little loss of energy.

For a small family, a generator may need to run less often, whereas a joined family or one full of holiday guests may need more air movement and moisture reduction. For these times, the system can be adjusted to move more or less air to keep the air quality high even in times of change.

The cost of such a system can give one pause—at around $3,000, it’s not a casual decision for most families. However, the benefits can mean safety, comfort and monthly savings. This is especially true in climates where maintaining a constant temperature in the home is crucial along with air quality. In fact, these systems are even required in Canada—where winters require homes to be tightly sealed against the cold. Similar climates, though not quite as harsh, certainly apply to Connecticut homeowners.

Attic Remodeling Process

After your contractor secures the necessary permits, the next focus will be on the flooring. Joists and supports will be secured first, followed by the subfloor. This is an essential step, as it sets the stage for the space being walked on. Building codes may require that you have a staircase leading from the attic, so make sure to figure this into the budget and the timeline. Joists in the floor of the attic may need to be strengthened. This is all part of preparing the space to physically support being used by people, so be patient with all of the steps.

Selecting Materials

Next, your contractor will focus on the type of flooring that you’ve chosen, as well as drywall to fill out a shape for the space and seal off any odd areas. During this step, you’ll likely be asked about insulation, and don’t be tempted to skimp on this for the sake of cost. The fact is, insulation will make the difference between whether your new space feels like a converted attic or an actual room. This is because your attic is the most vulnerable to losing air, being at the very top of your home, and so it can feel drafty and cold in the winters, and especially stuffy and hot in the summers. Also, it’s very difficult to go back in and change your insulation choice once the entire project is done. Make the right choice the first time and skimp on something accessory-related when you get to a later step to account for it. Insulation is very important for this type of renovation. Hint: For the ceilings, focus on R-30 insulation, and for the walls, R-13.

If you have a slanted-wall attic space, ask your contractor if it’s possible to use the edges or corners of the room as storage. This prevents the very low corners from being wasted space, and if you’re converting the space to a bedroom, it helps the person in there to create a real living area.

Attic Remodeling Ideas

If you’re fortunate enough to have an attic in your home, then you’ve got a whole lot of extra floor space you could be putting to good use. That is, if you choose to finish and upgrade it. Like basements, finished attics can add tons of square footage to your home’s floor plan, and if you are looking for a great way to expand the size of your home without undertaking a major addition, this could be the answer.

We’ve collected some amazing ideas you can use to transform all that space into something that really works for your family and your lifestyle.


Kids Space

Of the people who live in your home, it’s the kids that generally eat up the most space – and more specifically, it’s their stuff that occupies the most space. Most families find they have enough toys lying around the house to fill a whole new house, and while the type of toys and activities change with time, it’s something you will live with until they all head off to college.

Transforming your attic space into a kid-friendly zone is a great way to reclaim your living spaces, and the change is well worth the time and effort if you feel your life is being taken over by toys and games.


Man Cave

Most guys find that as soon as they move from bachelor pad to family home, the space that used to be used for football games, playing pool or playing poker with their buddies disappears.

An attic offers a large space that can easily be transformed into a great man cave. Just make sure your builder pays special attention to soundproofing! Gameday can get noisy.


Guest Suite

If you need space in your home for guests or your older kids are begging for their own space, then your attic might be the perfect solution. Most attics can be transformed into a few decently sized rooms for visitors or older teenagers, or even into a separate apartment with an outdoor staircase.


Family Room

A large attic space can become an amazing family hangout space. Turn it into a cinema-style movie room or into a library and music room if your family is culturally inclined. Adding a casual hangout space to your home this way allows you to reclaim formal living rooms and dining rooms or just to declutter your main living spaces.


In-Law Suite

One potential use would be to transform your attic into a mother-in-law apartment. Increasing numbers of mature adults prefer to be in a family home situation rather than moving into a traditional retirement facility. Your attic could be a perfect solution.


1. Make Sure You're in the Zone

If you're planning on completely converting the attic into an apartment, you should check with your city's planning and zoning office to find out what you need to do to legally add rooms like a bathroom and/ or a kitchen space. Additions of this nature can cost a lot, so you don’t want to launch into the project before finding out if you’re zoned.

A qualified builder/remodeler can help you make sure. The flip side of the expense is that in the grand scheme of things, you may actually save money. Retirement homes are expensive. Plus you may have “built-in” childcare that will help offset some of the cost.


 2. Ensure Your Attic is Accessible

Having adequate space in your attic may be great, but only if it’s accessible. And keep in mind that accessibility for a more mature adult may not be the same thing that it is for a younger person. If you’re serious about creating living space for an older family member, you’ll want to make sure that your attic is easily accessible and that it’s also safe to get to.


3. Let in the Light

Many attics are a bit short on light since they generally weren't designed as living spaces. Skylights can let in lots of natural light. You may also choose to install some larger windows in the attic space. The good news is that today's windows are much more energy-efficient than older windows. That means you can let more light in without sacrificing heating or cooling capacity. Additionally, letting in lots of natural light opens up the space and makes it feel even larger. You can also use mirrors in the space to capture and reflect light—again, creating the sense of a larger room. Of course, you'll also want to pay attention to the lighting that you install to make the space safe and comfortable.


Additional Bedroom

If your children are getting bigger or their possessions are starting to crowd you out of the house, why not make that attic into an extra bedroom? Get rid of those old clothes and outgrown toys that will never be used again. Separate what you’ll keep, such as holiday decorations, and find a new place to store them. It’s time to expand. 

Master Suite

If your home is feeling tight and you’re finding there’s not enough room and privacy for everyone, then it might be a good idea to transform your attic into a master suite. You’ll free up space on lower floors, and because most attics are large, open spaces, there’s room for a bedroom, bathroom, office and even a sitting area!

Media Room

Depending on how the rest of your home is set up, you might want to create a media room in your attic. It can be an ideal spot for watching TV or movies. You can create a great gaming room. Or you could simply make it a quiet and comfortable space for reading or listening to music. Even if things get a little loud (watching TV or listening to music), you’ll be removed from the rest of the house.

Home Office

Increasing numbers of us work from home—either part-time or full time. Simply setting up a desk in an old bedroom isn’t always optimal. You could create a comfortable home office in the attic that’s quiet and removed from the normal interruptions you’d face on the main levels of the house.

Craft Room

Perhaps you have a hobby or a craft you enjoy. Attic space can be a great place for a craft or hobby room. Because it’s separate from the rest of the house you don’t have to worry about leaving half-finished projects lying around. Even if someone does come in to visit, they don’t expect a craft or hobby room to be spotless.

Whatever your needs for space in your current Connecticut home, don’t overlook your attic. You’d be amazed how that unused space can be transformed into a comfortable, usable space.

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