Should You Convert Your Attic Into Living Space?

Photo by Taryn Elliott

Attics can make some of the coolest living spaces around. They’re especially popular as bedrooms, particularly for children. At the same time, converting an attic does bring its considerations and its potential challenges. With that in mind, here are some points to consider before deciding whether or not to convert your attic into living space.

Do you really have enough space?

If you’re planning on having the attic space used by adults, then, as a rule of thumb, you want at least 7 feet (2 meters) of space between the bottom of the ridge timber and the top of the floor joists. More is better. If you’re sure the attic is only going to be used by children then you can go lower. Keep in mind, however, that children grow and can grow quickly!

You also need to consider whether or not the amount of usable floor space you’ll gain is enough to warrant the costs of the conversion. A lot of attics have sloping ceilings. This means that at least some of the space is likely to be unusable except, perhaps for storage.

What do you use the attic for now?

If your attic is already in use as a storage space, then what are you going to do with whatever’s stored there? Are you prepared to get rid of it? If not, do you have someplace else to store it?  

Attic storage is generally cold storage so moving the items to a basement, garage or outbuilding would probably be fine. You do, however, need somewhere to put the items, or else you’re just swapping one problem for another.

How much longer do you plan to be in your home?

In short, are you likely to be able to stay in your home long enough to recoup the costs of the conversion, let alone benefit from it financially? Remember, attic conversions may add value to your home. In themselves, however, they might not add enough value to justify the cost.  

Sometimes their real benefit is extra convenience. For example, having an attic conversion may allow you to stay in a home you love for longer.

Are your foundations strong enough to take the extra load?

Using an attic for living space can require it to hold a lot more weight than a storage space. You, therefore, need to be confident that your foundations are up to it. You would need to get professionals to give you the final say on this. You can, however, probably take an educated guess based on the conditions in your local area.  

In short, if your local area is known for subsidence or other issues that may cause earth movement, then your foundations may not support the extra weight of an attic conversion. If, however, the ground is solid, you’ll probably be fine.

What would be the impact on your home’s exterior?

The main purpose of a roof is to protect a home (and its occupants) from the weather. It really is worth paying the cost of high-quality (and insured) roof contractors to make sure your home gets the maximum level of protection against the elements.

At the same time, your roof and, more specifically, your roofline can actually play an important role in your home’s appearance. If you have to raise it or adjust it in any way to enable an attic conversion, you may find that your home loses some of its curb appeal.

Now, you may think this is a fair trade-off, and, if so, that’s fine. Just be sure to take it into consideration before you make any final decisions.

What would be the impact on your home’s interior?

The main consideration here is the staircase. Can you have it exit to a hallway or will it need to exit into another room? If it does need to exit into another room, what impact would it have on the use of that room? For example, a staircase running along the side of a room is much less intrusive than a staircase right in the middle of it.

You’ll also need to think about insulation in general and sound insulation in particular. This is especially important if you’re thinking of using an attic as a child’s bedroom. Children are going to want to play and that is going to lead to noise. This means that you’ll need to ensure that there’s decent soundproofing.

Last but definitely not least, you’ll probably need to add utilities to the attic, e.g. electricity, gas, water, and internet. This can lead to disruption in other parts of the home while the work is carried out.

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