Tuesday Tips: Making the Attic Liveable

It towers over our houses, holding up our roofs and protecting us from the elements. Yes, the attic is such a multi-tasker, providing storage for our fake Christmas trees, luggage and the China dishes we inherited from Aunt Sue. But these days the attic is looking a little more appealing as a place to maybe hang out or to write the great American novel. So here are a few tips for giving your attic a new purpose:

Tip #1: Figure out if your attic can even be changed into a liveable space. Obviously a crawl-space attic won't do. But if your attic was framed with rafters, which are beams that support the roof, rather than trusses, which are triangular wood structures that sometimes extend to the floor, you may be in business. If you can walk around your attic, you likely have rafters. Trusses often require you to get on your hands and knees to crawl around the space.

Tip #2: You'll also need to know if the ceiling is tall enough for modern-day humans to walk around in. The space has to be at least 70 to 100 square feet and at least half of the floor space should have ceilings that are about 8 feet tall.

Tip #3: When in doubt, talk to a couple of remodeling companies to get questions answered and to get an idea of the cost. Remodeling the attic is not one of the most popular projects, so people know less about what's involved. It may seem harder than you think.

Tip #4: Figure out what to do with the space. Think of it in terms of a third or fourth floor of your house rather than a finished attic. Some of the options include family rooms, children's bedrooms, a master bedroom, a loft studio, an office or a home gym. Mark G. Richardson, president of Case Design, a remodeling company based in Bethesda, says many Washingtonians are turning their attics into master suites, playrooms, hobby rooms and home offices.

Tip #5: Once you've determined you can do a liveable attic, start thinking about the design. You'll want a professional to actually draw up the plans but you should consider if you want to put in a dormer, which will add some head room and space. Also consider skylights, stairs, hardwood floors or carpet, windows, a deck, shelving and storage and insulation.

Tip #6: When trying to figure out who should do the work, ask the prospective remodeler how many attics they've done. You'll want someone who's done more than one or two in their lifetime. And ask if they do background checks on their workers and whether they use their own employees or subcontractors. And finally, ask for references and visit their finished attic projects.

Tip #7: The more bells and whistles you add to the attic, the more expensive. Duh! But if you want any of the bells and whistles, some of the most important in the eyes of Richardson are the skylights. He recommends at least three to four skylights to make the space brighter and not feel like it's just a finished storage area.

Tip #8: Once you have a beautiful finished attic, you must have a way of getting up there. The stairs should look like a set of stairs rather than a fancy ladder.

Tip #9: Consider a separate heating and cooling system for the finished attic. If you set foot in your attic these days, it's probably hot enough to take a couple pounds off of you. So you'll want the ability to cool off that new finished floor of the house without robbing cool air from the rest of the house.

Tip #10: An attic remodeling project is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you're ready. You'll have construction going on right above your bedrooms, with dust settling on lower floors and lots of banging and noise just above your head. Richardson even recommends building an outside set of stairs to the attic to minimize the disruption to the house. "It's not uncommon for someone who's not lived through it to experience some levels of pain that they're not tolerant of," Richardson says. "Make sure that if your pain threshold is low, you're working with the right company."

So, have you re-done your attic? What was the project like? Post a comment and tell me about it.

And while we're on the topic of home improvement projects, have you thought of what you're getting dear ol' dad for Father's Day? I'm looking for ideas so please send them my way: shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  June 10, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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I ran across this article at 340AM after it was posted. I really wish there were more comments. I am interested in doing an attic remodel, if only to use it as storage space, but have NO IDEA how to do it. The article was informative, but it would have been helpful to read a couple of quotes from some companies who either specialize in attic remodels or who have done some and who could list some additional problems. I have also read that there are some "do it yourself" kits, where you can install the flooring to support the items you want to store. What about comments about the use of cedar planking instead of wood flooring/drywall? The derth of silence here is killing me.....

Posted by: tlawrenceva | June 10, 2008 12:36 PM

Hi Tlawrenceva,

My company contributed to the tips in the article. I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have in regard to remodeling your attic and also send you some before and after images of projects. Feel free to email me at ablue@casedesign.com. Thanks

Posted by: Tony from Case Design | June 12, 2008 12:02 PM

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