Convert to a Livable Attic

Convert to a Livable Attic

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Many home owners with an unfinished attic are sitting under a large possibility if they decide they want to add more living space to their home.  Rather than excavating a basement or building out additional square footage, consider remodeling an unfinished attic if you’re looking for more space. Attic spaces can be converted into various new livable spaces from additional bedrooms to entertainment rooms.

But before you get too excited about adding this upper area to your home, be sure to check municipal and state building codes regarding what you are and are not allowed to do.  Consider things like living in a historic district, or obtaining the required zoning permits required to change the use of a dwelling. It’s also important to consider what the expansion might do to the home’s appraised value, real estate taxes, and resale value.  Use the following guidelines to convert your old dusty attic area into a great new space of your home.


Consider the Viability of Converting.

The features that will decide the suitability of the roof space for a loft conversion are the available head height, the pitch or roof angle, and the type of roof structure. There may also be other obstacles such as water tanks or chimney stacks. An inspection of the roof space will reveal its structure and physical dimensions.

  • Head Heightattic-slideshow-dormer-birdseye_62c5fdb37702a3e3e5d658803f4b0964

Take a measurement from the bottom of the ridge timber to the top of the ceiling joist; the useable part of the roof should be over 7 feet at bare minimum.

  • Pitch Angle

The higher the pitch angle, the higher the central head height is likely to be, and if dormers are used or the roof is redesigned, then the floor area can be increased.

  • Type of Roof Structure

Two main structures are used for roof construction — namely traditional framed type and truss section type. The traditional framed type is typically found in pre-1960s houses where the rafters and ceiling joists, together with supporting timbers, are cut to size on site and assembled. This type of structure has more structural input, so is often the most suitable type for attic conversions. The space can be easily, and relatively inexpensively, opened up by strengthening the rafters and adding supports as specified by a structural engineer.

For post 1960s homes, the most popular form of construction used factory-made roof trusses. These utilise thinner (and therefore cheaper) timbers, but have structural integrity by the addition of braced diagonal timbers. They allow a house roof to be erected and felted in a day. However, this type of truss suggests that there are no load-bearing structures beneath, and so opening up the space requires a greater added structural input.

This will normally involve the insertion of steel beams between load-bearing walls for the new floor joists to hang on and the rafter section to be supported on — together with a steel beam at the ridge. This added structural input requires skill, knowledge and equipment that would limit scope as far as DIY is concerned — and a far greater cash outlay. It is advisable to seek advice from specialist firms in this instance.

Dormer Extensions may be key.

The second option which does not require dramatic changes to the roof is to do the above and add dormer windows. This will increase the useable floorspace and can be used to add head height which gives you more options when it comes to placement of the stairs.   This may also be a cheaper option than physically changing the roof structure, depending on the size of the dormer.  Keep in mind however your area’s building codes and what permits will be needed for your addition.

Consider your budget.

As always, with any home improvement project, the budget will determine the ability to successfully implement a larger project such as an attic conversion.  The cost of the conversion will depend on your roof structure, the existing available space, and whether any alterations need to be made to the floor below to accommodate the staircase.

A basic ‘room in roof’ attic conversion is the cheapest and could start at around $17,000. This will usually involve:

  • the reinforcement of the floor
  • a few new skylights
  • added insulation
  • a staircase to the attic
  • electrics, lighting and heating
  • fire safety measures to comply with Building Regulations such as fire doors and smoke alarms


Be aware of the scale and scope of your project in relation to your budget before you move forward with your attic conversion.  With the appropriate preparations an attic conversion can be a great way to add some square footage to your house and add a brand new livable space to your home, but remember to keep a these guidelines in mind when researching your own project!

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