Evaluate Your House for an Attic Bedroom

Article From HouseLogic.com

By: Benjamin Allen
Published: December 18, 2009

An attic bedroom might be your solution for adding living space without the complication of easements or zoning regulations.

When your family grows and you need more living space or you need more space for guests, consider converting your attic to a bedroom. Attics bedrooms are snug and private, and converting an attic avoids many zoning and easement restrictions of a full addition. An attic conversion is a good investment, too. According to Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value survey (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2009/costvsvalue/national.aspx), an attic bedroom conversion that includes a small bath retains about 75% of its value.

Plan on spending $150 to $200 per square foot on your attic bedroom with bath. To evaluate the potential of your attic for a conversion, consider four aspects: building codes, the support structure, systems running to and from the attic, and access.

Know your codes

Although homeowners often interpret building codes (http://www2.iccsafe.org/states/2009ICodes/Building/Building_Frameset.html) as obstacles, keep in mind that codes exist to help you make a lasting, safe home. Because local codes vary, it’s a good idea to contact your local building inspector for a list of codes you need to comply with in the process when considering remodeling an attic.

For attic living spaces, codes generally mandate a certain ceiling height over half the floor area, usually at least 7 feet 6 inches high over a minimum floor area of 70 sq. ft. If you have an attic shorter than required by code, you won’t be able to remodel the attic into living space.

You’ll also need to consult with an architect or structural engineer to determine if the joists of the attic’s floor meet local codes and will provide enough support to carry the additional weight of a remodeled space, and if the rafters will provide enough support for the roof. Costs for the consultation may run anywhere from $50 to $150 an hour.

Codes also require bedrooms to have at least two exits, one of which must be a door or doorway. A window can provide the other exit. With an attic, that means you need to provide a fold-up escape ladder readily accessible next to the attic’s window.

Evaluate the support structure

How difficult the remodeling will be depends if you have rafters or trusses (https://www.bpghome.com/products/versa-lift-ultimate-attic-storage-system/accessories/testing/) holding up the roof. Rafters provide an open space that you can readily remodel. Your prospects for creating usable living space diminish drastically if you have trusses, W-shaped framing that supports the roof. Converting trusses to open living space requires a structural engineer or licensed architect to assess the situation and decide how to modify it to make the space structurally sound.

“It’s likely that removing the roof and trusses entirely and then rebuilding the roof would be easier and more cost effective than trying to convert trusses to rafters,” said Mark Eggers a contractor in Des Moines, Iowa. “But anything is doable.”

Modifying a truss-framed attic involves installing additional framing members–called “sister” supports–along the bottom of the trusses to strengthen the floor, and along the top framing members of the trusses to support the roof and to provide room for insulation. Once the sister framing is in place, the interior framing or “webbing” of each of the trusses can be removed.

Extending systems

Three systems directly impact the expense of remodeling an attic into living space: electrical, plumbing, and ventilation (or HVAC).

* Electrical: Wiring can be run where needed without too much trouble. The one factor to consider is if your circuit breaker panel has room for additional breakers, and if your existing service can handle the increased load. A licensed electrician can tell if you’ll need additional circuits and if your breaker box can accommodate them.

* Plumbing: When designing your attic remodel, help keep costs under control by locating the new bathroom close to the main stack-the large pipes that carry wastewater to your sewer or septic tank. By placing a new bathroom near the stack, you can more easily tie in drains from a sink, shower, and toilet, thereby reducing the distance you’ll need to run plumbing-especially important if the new plumbing must be installed perpendicular to the floor joists.

* HVAC: If your house has forced air heat, contact an HVAC specialist to determine if your blower has the capacity to move enough air to both heat and cool your attic. If it doesn’t, electrical heating can suffice and smaller air conditioners can help with a single room such as the attic. Be sure your electrician is aware of your heating and cooling plans in order to determine the total electrical requirements of your new space.

Gaining access

An attic room requires a standard staircase to meet code. A ladder is insufficient. If you don’t have an existing staircase, adding one will take up space in a room below the attic. If you need to add a staircase, consider converting a closet space. You may be able to modify the space under the new staircase to make up for the closet space you lose.

Staircases that are a straight run are easiest to construct but take up the greatest area, just over 40 sq. ft. Depending on the materials used and the quality of finishing touches, such as newel posts and hardware, costs can range from $500 to $3,000.

Spiral staircases take up the least area but are typically more expensive. Prices start at about $3,000 for a kit, and you’ll need to pay for installation as well.

Exterior access–a staircase outside the house–may be a solution if zoning allows it, but a building inspector may consider an exterior staircase indicative of a multiple-unit dwelling. If so, you’ll have to make sure your home is zoned for multiple units. Planning new stairs in an existing home can be complex; consult with an architect for the best solution.

Benjamin Allen has been the editor of dozens of home improvement, remodeling, and home repair books published under the Better Homes and Gardens, Home Depot, Stanley, and Ortho brands. He currently is a freelance writer and editor and makes his home in Des Moines, where his craftsman style house built in 1912 keeps him busy with repairs and a long list of upgrades he is slowly working through.

Reprinted from HouseLogic (houselogic.com) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Copyright 2009.  All rights reserved.