How to Make Your Attic More Than an Attic

Empty attic space.
With a little elbow grease, this attic could be a home office, game room or even a guest suite.­
­ Sarjeant

­If your home's attic is nothing more than wasted space, you may want to remod­el it. Perhaps you're considering major reconstruction or just trying to gain some office space. Before you rush out to the local building supply store, take a few moments to read this article and consider your needs.

Your attic must conform to some basic structural necessities for this project to work. Consider these four factors:


  • Can the foundation support extra weight of an addition or even added gables on the roof? Most building codes now require a floor to support 30 pounds per square inch (2.1 kg per square cm).
  • Are your ceilings at least seven to eight feet (2.13 - 2.43 m) high? Unless you've got a family of hobbits, seven feet is the minimum height for comfort. Your neighborhood may have height restrictions, so be sure to check local building codes before adding dormers that may violate the code. And when you measure, consider how thick the added materials will be, and thus calculate headroom accurately.
  • Insulation framed for the rest of the house, which is in a 2x6 foot (0.6 x 1.8-meter) frame, isn't deep enough for the attic. You'll need to reframe for the attic's 2x8s, or add 2x2s to the existing frames.
  • The structure of a house's ceiling is not the same as that of a living space. The ceiling may need to be reframed or reinforced to provide the extra support needed [source: Remodeling Center, Editors of Mother Earth News].

­Gather the tools and materials you'll need before you begin and make sure they're clean and ready to use. Depending on your project, you'll likely need a protractor for calculating angles. You'll need other measuring tools as well, such as a measuring tape or stick and a level. The work you do may require a jigsaw, table saw and/or a hand saw. If you're using boards, you'll want to have a good sander on hand. If ceilings are high, you may need to use scaffolding [source: Clement].

Once you have drawn your plans and obtained your tools and materials, you're ready to go! Check out the next section for some general tips.


Attic Refinishing Tips

Before you make any big decisions about remodeling your attic, you're going to need to think about not only what you want, but what options will work in your space. Consider the following points:

Make sure your attic is capable of a remodel. Check your tresses. If they form a "W" shape, they may be too difficult to remodel around or bring in extra costs. You're looking for the "A" shape that won't interfere nearly as much [source: Remodeling Center].


What does your house already have to offer? If you're going to need to add in a stairway, you need to consider how much space you lose from lower levels. Stairways take up a lot of space.

Building permits require inspections, and inspection order is often dictated by the officials. Check the order of yours as you may want to consider it when planning your remodeling schedule [source: Fritschen].

If the sloping roof meets the walls at an awkwardly low point for the user, you may want to plan for wall to be placed farther in. This will decrease the room size, but you can use the area between the new wall and the existing wall as storage, which will likely be much more useful than having area of the room too low to walk in [source: Fritschen]. Plus, some areas have height codes; this is a useful way to meet them [source: Remodeling Center].

You'll need some control over the temperature, so plan on adding in insulation and windows. The windows will not only add in some greatly appreciated light, but they'll act as great vents in warmer months.

Remember that the rest of the house will be affected by this project as well, so plan accordingly. Adding a staircase will take up space and disturb your living spaces. So will the process of running wires and piping. Construction will have to start on the lower levels and work up [source: Sulski].

What do you want to do with your attic space? Create a home office, a bedroom or a studio? Read on to find out more about some specific ideas.


Attic Offices

You may be one of the people who have discovered that working from home can be a pleasure. Many companies are now offering their employees the chance to work at home on a part-time basis. An attic office, away from the rest of the family, may be just the ticket. Plus, if you're self-employed, you may be able to take a tax deduction for your office space.

Perhaps the most important consideration for a home office -- whether in the attic or elsewhere -- is to make sure the space is fully wired for all imaginable technology. Put in more power than you think you will need -- there's sure to be a new or improved version of every machine you own coming soon. You may also want to consider sharing your home office with other members of your family now or in the future, which means adding additional outlets, cable and phone jacks for computers, fax machines, copy machines, phones and internet connections.


Beyond the wiring issues, you need to give special care to lighting. In addition to skylights and desk lamps, consider planning and positioning your desk to take advantage of natural light. Having a home office doesn't mean you have to feel "cubed-in." One option is expanding your office to take advantage of your outdoor environment. A beautifully landscaped vista can improve both your mood and your productivity [source: 5 Tips for Remodeling Your Home Office].

Pay special attention to making sure that the floor is able to support full bookcases or heavy file cabinets. An attic remodel can offer you the chance to install enough built-in shelving to meet all your needs. You can customize the shelving with your own design or with inexpensive and flexible office furniture options.

Not planning to work at home? Need an extra bedroom more than you need a place for a desk or file cabinet? Read on to learn more ideas on how to renovate your attic.


Attic Bedrooms

Whether you're seeking an extra bedroom for company, a large master suite or privacy for a teenager, converting an attic into a bedroom often makes sense. Also, creating a bedroom increases resale value of a home more significantly than do most other attic redesigns.

Does a room have to be anything specific to be considered a bedroom? In some cases, it just has to do with the size of the windows and a closet. Bedrooms are required to have at least one window large enough to use as an escape in case of a fire. Regardless of your original intended use of the space, it makes sense to fit it out as a bedroom. That way, as your family grows or shrinks and needs change, you can adapt the space easily [source: Goering].


To renovate attic space into a bedroom, you'll also need to include proper insulation. Most attics are not well insulated, because they were never intended to be living spaces. After the area is insulated, you'll need to drywall or panel to cover the wooden frames [source: Maxwell].

Sufficient ventilation is also important, as is enough light. Several skylights will allow you to save on energy costs [source: Maxwell]. If the area gets too hot during the summer, you may wish to purchase special curtains or blinds designed specifically for skylights.

If the flooring is solid and even, you may choose to keep it as is or refinish or paint the wood. Carpeting will help muffle sounds, so consider this option depending on what room or rooms are one level below.

You may need to install a staircase if you've been using a pull-down door with stairs to the attic. Check the building code requirements in your community, as they differ. Most building codes require a single or double handrail [source: Maxwell].

Do you have a teenager with a garage band that wants to become an attic band? Perhaps you need space for the aspiring artist in your family. Read on for more information about how to renovate your attic to meet these needs.


Attic Music and Art Studios

If you're going to convert the attic into a music studio, soundproofing it is a good idea -- for your sake and perhaps your entire neighborhood! And if this music studio is for a group of young people who aren't playing classical string quartets, make sure the floor is strong enough to withstand dancing and stomping. The wisest course of action is to meet with a structural engineer to determine if the flooring needs to be reinforced [source: Service].

An attic is an ideal candidate for an art studio, especially if it has "impossible" sloping ceilings and angled corners that can make for great storage or display areas. These angles also add character to your studio. Light will be a primary concern; adding dormer windows and skylights is an option. Of course, if photography is your medium, you would probably rather have a darkroom. Painting the walls a light or neutral color can provide an instant gallery space as well [source:].


Before beginning your project, don't hesitate to consult with professionals for advice on taking advantage of your space. You may need building permits and professional consulting. Depending on your plan, you may also choose to hire a contractor to do the work.

Reclaim that unused space for whatever you and your family most need at this time. Plan for flexibility and resale value, even if you intend to stay in your home. You can create a beautiful addition at a lower cost than new construction and enjoy the new office, bedroom or studio for years to come.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Anderson, Tania. "Shop to It: Tuesday Tips: Making the Attic Liveable."
  • Clement, Mark. "Remodel Your Attic Space." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Editors of Mother Earth News. "A Decision Maker's Guide to Attic Remodeling." (Accessed 1/20/09)
  • Fritschen, Dan. "8 Tips to Make Finishing Your Attic a Breeze." January 17, 2008. (Accessed 3/6/09)
  • Goering, Matt. "Boston Attic Remodeling." (Accessed 1/20/09)
  • Jensen-Van Heste, Kris. "How to Install Attic Insulation." (Accessed 3/05/09)
  • "Converting Your Attic Into an Art Studio Room." (Accessed 1/21/09)
  • Maxwell, Steve. "Bringing an Attic to Life." Casaguru. (Accessed 3/05/09)
  • "Attic Remodeling Requirements." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • "Attic Remodeling Tips." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • "Is Your Attic Worth Remodeling?" (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Remodel Office. "5 Tips for Remodeling Your Home Office." (Accessed 1/21/09)
  • Service "Reclaim Your Unused Space." (Accessed 1/21/09)
  • Sulski, Jim. "Attic Alternatives." Housetask (Accessed 03/06/2009)