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How to Convert an Attic into Living Space

Converting an attic is cheaper than moving

When space becomes becomes cramped in a home, moving is not always the only solution. Quite often extra living space can be arranged using the resources already at your disposal - and usually at a much lower cost than moving.

There are two ways that you can gain extra living space. One is to extend the home physically by adding an addition; and the other is to make use of what is usually wasted space in the attic. The latter is often preferable because it provides extra living space without cutting down on the size of the property itself.

How Much Space is There?

Because there are so many factors involved in obtaining the most usable space available when converting an attic, it is best to hire an architect or qualified builder to determine if your attic can even be converted. All of the work done to convert your attic into living space must comply with the requirements of the Building Code, and before work can begin, accurate plans must be drawn up and submitted to the Building Department for approval. In most cases the architect or builder will handle the building code part of the job for you.

There are many things to consider before you can begin converting the space. First you must check to see exactly how much usable space is available, because there might be far less than you think. The problem with converting attics is that the floor area is as large as the space beneath it, but because the roof slopes inward, the amount of that floor area that is of any real use can be quite small.

The design of the roof has an effect on the space available without any modifications. For a roof of any size, a gable-ended design will provide more immediately usable space than a hip roof. In this situation, extra room can be added by installing dormers, but knowing exactly what you have to work with will give you an idea of how much work will be involved and whether it is wortwhile.

How Will You Reach the Attic?

Having usable space available with the addition of dormers or as the roof stands is one thing, but getting to that space is another thing entirely. If there is not already an existing staircase to the attic, one will have to be fitted, because ladders are inconvenient and usually not allowed. If the staircase has to break through the ceiling into the attic, it will need a large opening and might interfere with roof supports, pipework or the chimney.

Electric

Your lighting and power accessories will undoubtedly need new circuits, which means having adequate space available at the electrical panel. If there is no space available, the panel will have to be extended.

Strengthening the Floor

Unless you are very lucky, it is unlikely that the original attic joists will be able to provide the necessary support for the added weight of new framing, dormers and furnishings. There are two ways to strengthen the floors: extra joists of the same size can be fitted between the originals, or a separate structure can be built over top of them and supported by the load-bearing walls. The floor is then covered by tongue-and-groove plywood.

Adding Walls

The internal walls of your new living space can be lightweight stud partitions. Walls should be put together on the floor, lifted into place and then securely attached to floor and ceiling joists. The final step is to apply insulation, vapor barrier and drywall and have fun decorating!

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