How to Convert an Attic into a Living Space

Considering how to turn an attic into a living space can provide a homeowner with a unique opportunity to dramatically expand the living space inside a home. Depending on the type of home, an attic can often be a large area of wasted space. There is little purpose for a large attic except storage. However, if you have a garage, the upper part of a garage, or at least a designated area in the garage, can serve the same purpose. If your home has a large attic, consider transforming that space into one of the most unique and comfortable rooms in your home. You can turn an attic into a living space yourself. All it takes is patience and a few weekends of hard work. Following the guide blow, you can transform your attic into a beautiful and comfortable living space in just a few weeks.

Reconsider Access

If the stairs leading up to the attic are either nothing more than a fold-down ladder, of they are very old and rickety stairs, the first thing you will need to consider is replacing that form of access with something more aesthetically pleasing and functional. Your first project is to remove these old steps and build a new set of stairs.

Building stairs can be tricky. You need to make sure the rise and width are appropriate and to code. If you’ve never built stairs before, you may want to consider hiring a carpenter for this one aspect of the job.

Additionally, you should examine the windows in the attic (if there are any) and consider whether they are good enough quality for a finished room. If they aren’t, consider replacing them with good quality tempered storm windows. Also, unless you want to add significant cost to the project, avoid creating new windows along the roof. If you do this, you will need to hire a carpenter to build dormers.

One other thing to consider is if there are no windows in the attic. Many homes only have a vent installed in the attic space. This is very common. If you only have a vent in each end wall, you will need to cut a new hole for a new full-size window and then frame in the window. Then, once you determine where you ceiling is going to be (see section below), you will need to cut a hole in the wall and siding in order to install the vent at a higher point near the peak. This is important, because without a vent the section of ceiling above the insulated room can become overheated and destroy your roof shingles.

Finishing the Walls

Once you’ve finished installing your new stairs and new windows, you are now ready to start remodeling the room. If the attic is very large, you might consider dividing the area up into several rooms. However, most people create one large room in the attic because it is much simpler, it takes far few construction materials, and it creates a very nice large airy space when you are finished.

The first step to remodeling this space is to finish walls. Most likely they are either uninsulated or only partially insulated up to the roof rafters.

1. Make sure all electrical and outlets (phone, cable) are installed properly.

If this is going to be a usable living space, you need to make sure that there are outlets every four to six feet along the walls, as well as phone, computer, and television ports wherever you will want them in the room.

The best option is to install a new 15 amp or 20 amp breaker into your electrical panel and run that line up through your walls into your attic space (you may need to purchase electricians “fish tape” in order to finish this job. Also locate the phone and cable connections in the basement, connect new cables to those lines, and run them up the walls to the attic as well.

Run the electrical and communication cables through the wall studs by drilling Ã?¾” to 1″ holes near the back of the studs so that the wires can pass through them and along the wall. Install electrical outlets wherever you want them, and wire them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Insulate all of the walls and the ceiling (note the higher ceiling R-value)

Once the wiring is completed, you’re ready to install the insulation. Choose the insulation with the highest R-rating you can afford; R-16 or higher for the walls, and R-30 or higher for the ceiling. Make sure to cut each roll into sections to length, insert them between the studs with the vapor barrier facing the interior of the room, and staple the side flaps to each stud about every six inches.

3. Choose walls – sheetrock, paneling, or tongue-in-groove?

Once insulation is in place, you are ready to choose the material to put up for the walls that will have the most impact on how the room will look.

Sheetrock: Sheetrock is ideal for spaces that are used for bedrooms or family and movie rooms. The benefit of sheetrock is that you can paint them any color you choose. The downside is that sheetrock requires “mudding” which may require the help of a professional.

Paneling and Tongue-in-Groove: Paneling is very fast, however it requires to layers; a sub layer plywood and a top layer of paneling. Tongue-in-Groove boards take longer to install, but only require one layer and have a much classier and higher quality look. Wood walls are perfect for an attic that will be used as a game room or den.

Choosing a Floor

Type of floor you choose also depends how the room will be used. Carpets are good for bedrooms or an extra living room or movie room, while linoleum is good for a game room or den. Carpet requires some specialized tools, available at most hardware stores and it requires a little skill. However with enough research, anyone can do it. Don’t let the difficulty of the task turn you away from installing carpet.

Linoleum is good for rooms that could possibly have a mess spilled on the floor such as a game room. It can be even more difficult to install than carpet, unless the space is small enough to require only one sheet, in which case you only need to create a good template, and when you lay it down be very careful about not allowing bubbles to form.

In both cases, you will need to make a determination as to whether the existing sub floor is level enough to support the carpet or linoleum. If any of the floor boards are very old or uneven, you might consider either replacing the sub floor or applying a special concrete-like mix that professional floor installers use that helps to level out rough or uneven areas on a floor.

Choosing a Ceiling

Now that most of your room is done, you are at the stage where you can really make the room something special. As you consider the ceiling, you will want to make sure that you select nice lighting fixtures that compliment the ceiling material you choose.

If you’ve used tongue-and-groove walls, some people also use it for a ceiling. This seamless look of knotty pine can give a living space a very warm and inviting feel.

Applying sheetrock to the ceiling is the most common approach. This allows you to either paint the ceiling any color you choose, or you can apply a pattern to the ceiling using various brush techniques.

Enjoy Your New Room

There are few feelings quite as great as accomplishing such a project as this all on your own. Keep in mind that every project has its mistakes, but when you are through, you can be sure that you’ve created a great new space in your home that your family will enjoy for many years.

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