Revised May 2021: Finishing your attic with an attic conversion (aka an attic remodel or attic addition) can be just the right solution when your home feels cramped. And remodeled attics often offer an opportunity for unique design approaches that can be charming, bold, or exciting, or all of the above.
Small Lot, Tight Budget: An Attic Conversion May Be a Great Solution
If your home can’t be expanded outward with a traditional home addition, expanding into the attic may be a great way to add more living space. Not only that, but it can also increase the value of your home. And depending on your home may cost less, per square foot, than a traditional addition.
Just Imagine What You Can Do with Your Attic?
A well-designed and remodeled attic conversion can be transformed into a whole host of living spaces. For example:
Additional bedrooms with an extra bathroom
Playroom for your kids
Guest room or suite
Romantic (and private) master suite with a fireplace, large windows and skylights, a luxurious master bath, plenty of closets and storage, and maybe a private balcony or porch
Quiet home office or study
Home Gym or yoga studio
Craft, sewing, or hobby rooms
Music studio or game room
Photo courtesy Andersen Windows
Attics Conversions offer Unique Opportunities and Sometimes Challenges
Attic remodeling can offer you unique opportunities other areas of your home can’t offer. But some attics can present challenges that can be resolved but may make the remodel less cost-effective than other ways of adding more living space.
When planning an attic remodel, the project designer must accommodate and sometimes replace, move, or modify existing beams and floor joists. They can take advantage of sloping ceilings, which add charm and unique opportunities for storage. If the current attic doesn’t have enough headroom, part of the existing roof may need to be raised.
Most unfinished attics have an access hatch or pulldown staircase. When converting the attic to living space, a new staircase building code compliant for living areas must be worked into the design.
One key to making the most of your space is paying close attention to details so that the project can be planned around the specific function you want the space to serve. The more specific you can be about the function, the easier it will be to balance the structural reality of the attic with functional elements such as storage, lighting, and plumbing.
For example, to accommodate storage, we often recommend built-in cabinets that can tuck in along the roof slope. This provides storage while “squaring up” the living space with the highest points of the ceiling. Depending on the existing structure of the attic (and your budget), the roof can also be opened to create higher ceilings and taller windows that take full advantage of that rooftop view.
An Attic Remodel that Works Well Year Round
You may know people who have converted their attics to living space and find their new space is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Fear not! That does not have to be. Because:
Comfort and Energy Efficiency Can Be Benefits of Finishing Your Attic
How does converting your attic into living space make your attic energy efficient and comfortable? Glad you asked.
You may already know that in most homes, how energy efficient your home is affected by how energy efficient the top part of your home is constructed. By the top part of your home, we mean specifically the upper part of your home’s envelope. What’s a home’s envelope? Good question.
Any space you heat or cool in your home is called your home’s “conditioned space.” The parts of your home that surround your home’s conditioned space is called the home’s “envelope.” This includes walls, windows, doors, the area directly over the uppermost conditioned area in your home, foundation walls, and under the basement wall or slap of your home.
All homes have an envelope. Unfortunately, most homes, especially older homes, don’t have very energy-efficient envelopes.
There are two elements key to how energy efficient your home’s envelope is. They are:
- how air-tight the envelope is and
- how well the envelope is insulated
When you convert an unfinished attic into living space, you change the location of the upper portion of your home’s envelope from above the ceiling of your existing top floor to between the remodeled attic’s new ceiling and the roof*.
So, converting your attic into living space gives you an excellent opportunity to make that part of your home’s envelope energy efficient. And that will also help make your attic more comfortable year-round. All that is needed is the new part of your home’s envelope to be air-tight* and better insulated*.
Making your new attic remodel energy-efficient helps make your home more energy-efficient, even more so, than simply adding more insulation to your existing unfinished attic.
But to assure your attic is comfortable year-round and is heated and cooled in an energy-efficient way, you need to do one more thing.
When you add more living space, with attic conversion or a traditional addition, chances are your existing heating, and cooling system isn’t sized correctly to heat and cool the new space effectively or efficiently. Even if your current furnace and A/C have the heating or cooling capacity for the added space, your existing ductwork and ventilation system wasn’t designed to move air into more space than it was designed for.
The best solution is to install the type of heat pump called a “mini-split.” There are incredibly energy-efficient, high-performance mini-splits that will heat and cool your new space while saving you money on energy costs. Also, mini-splits don’t require ductwork. They have special wall or ceiling mounted units in each room or group of rooms, and you can control the temperature for each unit independently.
We Make Attic Remodeling Easy
Merrill’s team is committed to making your attic conversion easy from start to finish. First, we will look at your attic and let you know if your attic is a great, good, or poor candidate for being converted into the type of living space you want. We will look at your attic for its design possibilities, building code and zoning compliance, engineering issues, and if your attic is suitable for how you want to use the new space.
If your attic is a poor candidate, we can suggest other options for adding more living space to your home. For example, an addition on the back or side of your home may be a better solution. A pop-top addition or adding a new level to your home are options when you can’t build an addition to the side or back of your home.
If your attic is a great or good candidate, we will help you explore your attic’s possibilities. If you have no ideas beyond what you want to use your attic for, no problem. We will develop ideas and options. If you already have ideas, we can develop them into plans, and if you wish or if we see something you may not have thought of, present other options you may want to consider.
If you’re thinking of converting your unfinished attic into some wonderful new living space, we’d be delighted to take care of all the details that will ensure you can enjoy your beautiful new living space for many years to come.
*Some types of attic conversions, like dormers, change the angle for part of the existing, and a new wall section is built. This wall will also be part of your home’s new and improved envelope.