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Create fun space, raise resale value by Paul BianchinaWith a tough real estate market, many people are choosing to stay in their homes and remodel to suit their needs, rather than move. A good remodeling can create customized space and increase resale value while allowing you to stay in your current neighborhood and not have to uproot the kids from school.

One possibility when looking for additional living space might be lurking right above your head: your attic.

Attic conversions can offer several advantages over conventional room additions. They are already enclosed, which can simplify weather and security precautions during the remodeling and can often cut framing costs. And since there are no setback issues with an attic remodel, they may be easier and less expensive to get building permits and homeowners association approval for.

And let’s face it — attics are pretty cool. Their unique combination of angles, jogs, slopes and out-of-the-way corners can create rooms that may well become your favorite spots in the whole house. Your attic conversion might become a home office, a spare bedroom, a craft and hobby room, a kid’s playroom, a home theater, or an expansive master suite.

Proper planning is essential In some cases, you may be lucky enough to have a “bonus room” in your house, which is essentially an unfinished attic space that was designed from the outset to be enclosed for living space. This is the ideal situation, since the framing has already been done with the necessary span and load calculations already taken into consideration.

For most people, however, it’s a little more involved than that. To achieve a successful attic conversion, you need to have an adequate amount of floor space and head room, as well as adequate structural framing.

Depending on the height of the roof and the number of angles in the framing, a rough rule of thumb is that 1/3 to 1/2 of the floor space in the attic can be converted into actual living space. So, if your attic has around 600 square feet of gross floor area, you should be able to get approximately 200-300 square feet of floor area that will have useful headroom. The steeper the pitch of the roof, the more square footage you will typically be able to convert to floor space with good headroom.

Use dormers for more space and ventilation

A dormer is a space that is cut into the main roof of the house, perpendicular to the main roof’s slope. Dormers can be made in any number of styles and sizes, and they can increase usable floor space dramatically. A dormer also allows you to increase headroom as well as to add windows for light and ventilation.

Dormer design needs to be carefully considered. The size, shape, roof configuration, siding, trim and windows all need to match or compliment the existing home. A well-designed dormer can not only add to the livability of your attic, it can also enhance the appearance of your home. On the other hand, a poorly executed dormer stands out like a sore thumb, and can really detract from resale value.

Another challenge you will have to face with your attic conversion is providing adequate access. You’ll need to design and construct a stairway, which is subject to strict criteria from the building codes and can sometimes be a tough design task in its own right. Plumbing, electrical wiring, heating, air conditioning and ventilation also all need to be considered.

For a project of this type, you’ll probably need the help of a qualified designer, architect or structural engineer to get everything correctly laid out to satisfy the building codes. After that, you’ll probably find that this is a little too much of a project for the average do-it-yourselfer, so look for a licensed general contractor with lots of experience working with residential remodeling.

An attic conversion can be a challenging project, but done correctly it can also be a fun, exciting and visually stunning addition to just about any type of home.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

Copyright 2009 Inman News
See Paul Bianchina’s feature, Pros and Cons of Linoleum Flooring.
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