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February 16, 2016
How to Turn Your Attic into a Living Space

How to Turn Your Attic into a Living Space

More and more, people convert attic spaces into flexible living spaces. Maybe you need an extra bedroom, an office space away from the kids, or a playroom that contains everyday kid messes. But converting such a large space can be intimidating. So where do you start?

Safety Codes

When you decide to convert your attic, make sure that your plans are safe and legal. Your architect and contractor will know the latest coding laws for your area. Also, ask your local zoning office for help.

To start, remember this easy rule of sevens: When finished, half or more of your attic must measure seven feet high or more. The space must also measure at least seven feet wide. The entire space needs to be 70 square feet at minimum. Talk to your building contractor to determine how your space can fit these regulations.


A pull-down ladder may not follow fire codes or other safety requirements. Also, pull-down ladders are less convenient than a traditional staircase. If you have to pull down a ladder every single time you want to go upstairs, you may avoid the attic altogether.

If you need to install a staircase, consider a switchback style. Switchbacks use a bit more square footage than traditional, straight-run stairs, but a switchback's square shape may still fit more easily into awkward spaces. Just make sure the landing accommodates any furniture you plan to take upstairs.

Plumbing, Electric, Climate Control

You may not need to expand your house's plumbing, but if you do, save money by placing your addition close to your current plumbing system's center if possible.

For electric, chat with a licensed electrician. He or she will tell you whether or not your house's breaker system can handle an attic addition. If so, you'll have no trouble running wires through the attic space. If not, plan for significant electrical work. Your electrician will spell out all the details.

For climate control, first consider how you want to insulate the space. The attic acts as a critical insulation barrier between your home and the outdoors. If you've ever taken a trip into the attic in the middle of the winter for some holiday decorations, you know just how cold attics can get-and how hot they are in summer months.

Talk with a specialist about expanding your HVAC system if needed. If not, a window AC unit and baseboard heating may suffice.

Support System

A finished attic living space weighs a lot more than mere attic storage. Hire an engineer to inspect your house's foundation and framework, ensuring that all infrastructure can handle the extra weight.

Chances are, your attic will need modifications to strengthen the framework. Rafters are fairly simple to work with and modify to fit your needs. Whether your attic features stick framing or traditional trusses, your professional contractor can help you figure out exactly what you need to do for strong support.


A typical attic doesn't generally have any Windows. You may not think you need any up there, but Windows help any space feel homey and comfortable, as well as brighter and bigger. Windows also provide an escape route during any possible emergencies.

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