Attic Remodeling - Things to Consider

Use the found space in an unfinished attic and convert it to bonus space - for storage or for living space. Here's what to consider when you're finishing an attic.

By Gene and Katie Hamilton

An unfinished attic can be found space because converting it takes advantage of the existing walls, windows, stairs, roof, and siding. To evaluate how best to use the space take a look at its structure on a walk-through inspection. Use the findings to determine if you can use the attic for storage or living space based on the code requirements of your local building department.

** Use a long measuring tape to note dimensions

** Make a rough sketch of the attic space with the dimensions

** Use a smartphone or camera to take pictures of the space to use as a reference

Inspecting the Attic

Look at the attic ceiling or sheathing (the underside of the roof) for signs of any sagging areas and damage from insects, rot, or condensation. Pay particular attention to roof penetrations like the plumbing vent and the chimney, where leaks may occur. If there are windows note whether they’re structurally sound and operate correctly.

Note the type of insulation and if it should be increased for energy conservation.

If there are recessed lighting fixtures in the ceilings of rooms below the attic, inspect the fixtures.

Look for bathroom vents to see if they go to the outside.

Notice electrical wiring to see that it is not damaged or spliced. Find any electrical outlets or fixtures.

Key Issues

  1. The location of the stairs is a prime factor that determines whether an attic has living space potential, so is the width and depth of stair treads. Take measurements.
  2. Headroom is important. It should be no less than 80 inches, measured vertically from the finished floor at the landings.
  3. Generally, if the attic floor has two-by-six joists or larger joists and the span between the load-bearing walls on the floor below does not exceed 10 to 12 feet, the floor is strong enough to support a living area. Talk to a contractor about requirements of your local building codes.

You may decide to upgrade the insulation and use the attic as strictly storage or create a new living space. Whatever direction you go, get advice from a contractor and the local building department to assure you.

Related article: Attic Worksheet Inspection Checklist