Before You Turn Your Attic Into A Room…

before you turn your attic into a room

Are you thinking of turning an unused attic into a room? It’s a great way for Bay Area homeowners to gain extra living space or create an income-earning rental space. In either case, it is worth the time to read these considerations before making the space official. 

We also recommend reviewing our post, Converting Attic Space to Living Space: How It’s Done, for more specifics about the actual process. 

7 Considerations Before Turning Your Attic Into A Room

From ensuring you’re building the space to code and keeping yourself well within the law. In addition to following these guidelines, you’ll also ensure your attic room is safe for occupancy, comfortable, and energy-efficient. 

Contact your local building department

If this is a DIY project for you, you’ll be working directly with your local building department. In order to be built to meet current federal and state building codes, you’ll need to know what the current fire, earthquake, safety, and energy efficiency codes are and adhere to them. To do that, you’ll schedule regular inspections pertaining to different phases of construction – framing, electrical work, sheetrock and drywall, fire sprinklers, etc.  

If you are hiring someone else to do the work, make sure you hire a licensed contractor (you can verify their licensure, insurance, and bonding with your building department). In that case, the contractor’s job is to ensure all of the work is done to code and that each of the permit cards is signed off so your attic renovation is finalized. 

There is a basic “rule of 7s” for attics, which means the finished attic space must have at least seven feet of height from floor-to-ceiling, seven feet wide from wall-to-wall, and be at least 70 square feet. If your attic won’t accommodate that, the project may be a no-go. 

WARNING: Failure to build your attic to code can have serious consequences ranging from large fines to diminishing the resale value of your home. 

Consider a durable ceiling finish

If your attic ceiling is on the seven to eight feet high (or has pitched, A-line ceilings) speak to your contractor about using a more durable ceiling finish to protect it from dings as furniture and furnishings are moved in/out and put into place. Some ideas include: 

  • Beadboard 
  • V-groove wood paneling 
  • Ceiling tiles (these can be as simple or ornate as your design taste) 

Think about skylights or solar tubes

This is a great time to consider skylights or solar tubes. They are a smart way to have “free” daylighting and can be added to your roof to gain a lighter, brighter, and more spacious feel in your attic space. If you do choose to add them, we recommend having the work done – or approved – by a licensed roofer to eliminate any risk of leaks or moisture control issues down the road. 

Be careful about lighting selections

Even the best of daylighting ideas fade once the sunsets. Most of our clients choose to install recessed cans as a way to gain the lighting they want without impacting the air space. Any fixtures attached to the ceiling will take inches off the headspace around the fixture. That’s fine if you’re dealing with an A-line or sloped ceiling with lots of room from floor-to-ceiling at the peak, but not so pleasant for people who are 6-feet tall or taller in a 7-foot space. 

Consider alternative insulation options to increase usable space

Instead of using traditional batt insulation, consider using insulated wall panels or spray foam options to minimize interior wall space and optimize the usable square footage in the room. In a small attic space, gaining a few extra inches on each wall makes a big difference in how the room looks and feels. 

Even more importantly, using spray foam insulation in the exterior walls and roof will exponentially increase whole-space comfort, minimize energy consumption, and will also help to dampen the sound when it rains. 

Think about quiet flooring when turning an attic into a room

Your attic was built with the idea that nobody would be living up there, so there wasn’t any attention placed on soundproofing. Once somebody’s living up there, the clomp-clomp of their steps, the scrape of a chair being pushed back from a desk or table, and even the sounds emanating from stereo systems or televisions can be obnoxious for whoever lives below. 

Make sure to take this into consideration. Consider amending or shoring up the existing floor joists to make them sturdier (and less squeaky),  and be extra generous with soundproof flooring options, such as thicker, sound-resistant padding under carpets or hard surface flooring. 

Take extra precaution with toilets/sinks/baths

If you’ll be adding a bathroom and/or kitchen area, you want to be extra careful that the added plumbing is done by a professional to minimize the chance of leaks. Often, plumbing issues in attic spaces go unnoticed for too long because the water seeps into the interior wall spaces. Also, make sure the new plumbing lines drain all the way down to the ground to increase drainage pressure and to properly vent the sewage gases. 

Are you thinking about converting your little- or unused attic space into a comfortable living space? Contact us here at Attic Solutions.

When You’re Ready, We’re Ready

We can help you every step of the way, from clearing out old insulation, cleaning up and sanitizing any evidence of previous pest, mold, or mildew issues, and keeping your insulation plans on track. We are local, licensed, and come highly vetted. Our team looks forward to providing a free quote and competitive prices. 

attic space into living space

Converting Attic Space Into Living Space: How It’s Done

The average national cost for attic renovations is $49,438

Considering how much space you will gain with a finished attic, this cost could be very worthwhile.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about converting an attic space into living space.

Ensure Your Attic Meets Building Codes

Before you begin to think about attic storage ideas and what your finished attic will look like, you need to deal with building codes.

Check with your with your local municipality about the building code in your area.

A building inspector can come to inspect your attic to see if it meets the codes. He or she will give you a list of the necessary codes that need to be met. 

Your attic room might not currently meet the code requirements, yet. If so you must factor in the necessary changes during your renovations.

There are three main aspects to attics building codes.

Ceiling

In order to turn your attic space into living space, the ceilings must be 7 feet from the floor.  

If your attic isn’t 7 feet, you could lower the floor or raise the attic height. You’ll need a skilled contractor for either project.

Egress

If you plan to turn your attic space into a bedroom, you’ll have to have at least two exits. One can be the staircase to the lower floor. Another exit could be a window.

Ideally, you’ll have an in-wall escape ladder tucked behind a cabinet door, just in case you need to use this exit. 

Joist

The attic floor joists need to meet certain codes to be able to support the weight of your renovated living space.

Extra weight comes in the form of plumbing, drywall, and lighting. 

Once you’ve dealt with building codes, you can turn your attention to light in your attic.

Think About Natural Light

One of the tricky things about converting attic space into living space is natural light. 

Typically, attics don’t have many windows. Adding dormers can be pricey and will eat up wall space.

A better option is to install skylights.

These allow both fresh air and a flood of natural light into the space. Plus, installation is simpler this way.

Skylights look stunning on slanted ceilings! You can even get solar-powered shades that you can control with a remote to keep the temperature perfect in the attic.

Opt for Spray Foam Insulation

If you are creating an attic bedroom, you’ll have to think about insulation.

The attic is often the hottest room in during the hot months. It can get icy cold in the winter. The quality of insulation in the attic affects how comfortable the finished attic is. 

Traditional insulation is fiberglass batt insulation. You might recognize it as the pink fluffy stuff that you’ve seen sticking out of walls in basements.

But, to make an attic room that is comfortable in every season, you want the best insulation you can. That way you won’t spend tons of money and energy heating and cooling the finished attic.

Though it’s more expensive, foam insulation forms a tight air barrier in every tiny crevice. Plus, rodents and insects can’t chomp through the stuff which is a bonus.

And since it takes up less space, you will have more room overhead this way.

Do You Need a New HVAC Zone?

If you are planning to convert your attic into an attic bedroom, you might want to make sure the temperature is right in the space.

You can have an HVAC professional create a new zone for your finished attic. Then it would get its own thermostat so that the attic rooms are heated and cooled properly. 

You really want to do this step now before you’ve finished the space. It will be much more work and money down the line.  

Think About Soundproofing

What room of the house will be directly under the finished attic space? If it’s a bedroom, you will want to seriously consider soundproofing the attic flooring.

Even walking around on the attic flooring can sound extremely loud in the room below.

Thicker floor joists and dense-pack insulation that is blown in over the bays will help a lot. A good carpet with a thick underpad will also help minimize the noise.

Get Creative with Storage in the Finished Attic 

Likely, you’ve been using your unfinished attic as a storage space. But once that space is an attic bedroom, you’ll have to reconsider where to put things.

Your attic probably has some awkward angles and nooks that run along pine chases or chimneys. Use these spots to your advantage as storage solutions.

There are tons of awesome attic renovation ideas to inspire you online.

For example, low walls are a great spot for DIY open shelves.

You can also put in some recessed cubbies or a recessed chest of drawers. 

Adding a Bathroom 

Adding a bathroom to your finished attic is a genius idea if you can swing it.

You can expect a 60% return on your investment if you sell the house down the road.

If you have pipes in the attic already, putting in a bathroom up there won’t be too difficult. If the plumbing isn’t already in place you may want to go with up-flush plumbing.

This type of plumbing lets you put a shower, toilets, and sinks in places without a nearby drain. 

Final Thoughts on Turning Your Attic Space Into Living Space

Renovating an unused attic into a finished attic is a smart way to add more living space to your home.

You can use the finished attic as a bedroom, lounge area, den or playroom. Then, if you ever decide to list your property, your house will be able to sell for so much extra because of the additional living space.

At Attic Solutions, we can sanitize, remove and replace your old insulation. Request a free estimate today.  

attic vents

Do You Need to Cover Your Attic Vents in the Winter?

Worried about those attic vents?

Did you know that approximately 2% of building fires happen in the attic? That’s about 200 residential fires that happen each year because of a problem in the attic. Other significant problems in your attic may include black mold, mildew, or pests.

The best way to stay away from these problems is to understand the purpose of your attic and how to maintain it. In the sections below, we’ll dispel the myths of when closing the attic vents is warranted along with other common attic misconceptions. Read on.

Attic Vents 101

Why does your attic have vents anyway? Most people know that attics help your house release excess heat during summer months. The attic acts as an intermediate layer. It bars the heat of your sun-drenched roof from the rest of your home.

The vents allow the super-heated air to flow out. Then, cooler air from outside sneaks in to replace it. In that way, it keeps your house cooler and your heating bills down.

It only seems logical that closing those same vents during the winter would help keep the warm air inside. That would, of course, reduce your heating bills and keep your home at a cozy temperature.

But there’s more to this puzzle, as you’ll discover in the sections below.

Is More Attic Ventilation Better?

Just as you would size a furnace or air conditioner for your home, you also size your attic. You want a precise amount of ventilation to keep your home properly heated and cooled. If you have too much or too little, you’ll end up with energy inefficiency and moisture problems.

The same can be said of roof ventilation. Just as with space, too much or too little space will cause major problems.

Roof vents create additional access points for moisture to seep in and leaks to occur. Some vents are necessary. But if you needlessly increase your roof penetrations, you run greater risks:

  • Moisture damage
  • Higher cooling bills
  • Blowouts during strong winds
  • Sparks entering and causing a fire

So, how do you know how much ventilation you need? Without exception, speak to a professional contractor or architect. In general, homes need a ratio of 1:300.

For every 300 square feet of ceiling, you want 1 square foot of ventilation in your attic. Other factors to include are resistance and interference from things like grates, which impede air flow. That means that your entire vent opening doesn’t count as ventilated space.

Are Vents Only for Warm Climates?

Your roof ventilation can increase your energy efficiency during the summer. We discussed that earlier. What we didn’t mention was insulation, sun exposure, and shingle type are exponentially more important factors.

If they determine the dollars you save, your vents determine the cents.

Even if you own an old home that doesn’t have roof vents, installing vents may not be your best option. There are other, lower-risk, cost-effective ways to decrease your homes cooling bills.

But are air vents necessary in cold climates? Yes, they’re paramount, even if they require you to occasionally get rid of attic pests.

You see, the colder your climate, the higher the chance your home will benefit from ventilation. The colder it gets, the more you’ll have to contend with condensation. And condensation can be a home destroyer.

If your attic already has ventilation, it doesn’t have the high-rated rigid insulation you need for a closed attic. This insulation prevents condensation from seeping into your roof sheathing. It can cause mold, mildew, and even roof seepage.

Take into consideration how dew forms on the grass in the morning when cool, moist air hits warm sunlight. The warm air from your ceiling causes the same effect.

Over time, this condensation can cost tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Worse yet, black mold can have severe health consequences. That includes everything from allergies to pulmonary hemorrhages. It’s well worth it to keep those vents open and keep moisture out during the winter.

Doesn’t Warm Air Release Through Attic Vents in the Winter?

This is a common misconception. Because heat rises, people believe that ventilating your attic during the winter must mean you are letting hot air out. Which, in theory, would lead to higher energy bills, right?

But…

The loss of gain of heat in your attic is only marginally affected by your vents. We mentioned this earlier. Your insulation is hands down the determining factor in how well your attic retains heat. If you want to save money on your winter heating bills, replace your insulation with a newer, heavy duty option.

But be sure to check with an expert to make sure it’s the right kind. Getting the wrong kind on insulation can create as many problems as it fixes.

In general, your furnace should not be heating your attic. Whether you keep your vents open or closed will have a negligible effect on your power bill, but it’s sure to affect condensation.

Rooftop air vents are meant to be kept open year-round. They take little to no maintenance, but that doesn’t mean you should never check on them.

In order to keep your family safe, routinely check your entire home to make sure it’s in good running condition. Use a maintenance checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything. This winter, start in the attic and make sure your vents are open.

Then, check your furnace to make certain it’s functioning and/or your chimney to make sure it’s clear of debris. Then check the seals of all your doors and windows.

If you’ve done that and you’d still like to save money on your electricity bill, install heavy duty curtains. They can add an additional layer to the barrier keeping you warm.

What’s Next?

Now that you know what to look for with your attic vents, you know not to touch anything. That’s great news. It means less work for you and more time to enjoy your favorite show. So, snuggle up and stay warm.

If you found this material helpful, come peruse our library full of articles on attics and renovations.

So long and good luck!