Finishing an attic is less expensive than putting an addition on your house but it still takes time and money (more ideas for finding extra space at home). In fact it takes more time and money than you realize, so this article provides you with an attic remodeling checklist to help you research your project completely.
Why? When I owned a handyman business, we were finishing an attic for a homeowner in Stratham, NH. As often happens, this homeowner wanted to squeeze finishing their attic into a budget that wasn't quite big enough. To save money, the homeowner wanted to handle the building permits but didn't after learning their town required sprinklers for the third floor. The homeowner also wanted to save the flooring to later, to stagger costs so we cut but didn't install the baseboard trim.
Where this approach didn't work was the cost of the stairs, a key challenge when finishing an attic. We told the homeowner the “builder stairs” didn't meet code and would have to be replaced. The homeowner said he'd deal with the stairs when he did the flooring, so it wasn't part of our project. As we wrapped up our work and the homeowner discovered the cost to redo the stairs, he was suddenly over his budget and not very happy.
A lesson learned again! Every remodeling project, not just finishing an attic, needs a budget with allowances for products to be purchased by the homeowner, plus contingency of ten to twenty percent.
Checklist for Finishing an Attic
- Check building code requirements for finishing an attic. You'll learn what the requirements are for stair access, for egress (second exit), minimum ceiling height and more.
- Design your finished attic space with access (straight or switchback stairs, with room to move furniture into the attic), bathroom and storage. Place bathroom plumbing over/near existing plumbing to contain costs. Here you'll learn how much living space you're really gaining with This Old House recommending at least 7 feet wide, 70 square feet with 7 foot ceilings.
- Identify natural light sources when finishing an attic. Dormers should include windows and skylights (solar shades recommended) can add more sunlight to make sure the space is bright and livable.
- Get an engineering inspection to make sure your home's foundation and framing can support the weight you'll add finishing the attic. When finishing an attic, you often have to add floor joists for proper support.
- Determine your strategy for insulation, heating and cooling the new living space you create when finishing an attic. Spray foam insulation on the roof is more expensive to install but you'll save on utility bills. Verify your existing systems can handle the additional capacity requirements and a separate zone will serve you better.
- Consider built-in storage behind the knee walls to make good use of that space, rather than giving up attic storage space. You can save money here by using unfinished furniture rather than custom built-ins.
Energy Efficiency When Finishing an Attic
They say the first place to add insulation to your home is in the attic, as warm air rises. When you're finishing your attic, it's the ideal time to assess and improve on your attic's insulation and ventilation. You'll lower utility bills and reduce the chance of damage due to heat, e.g. ice dams and humidity.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's a diagram of how you want to insulate your finished attic, from EnergySmarOhio.com in their article on insulating attic knee walls.
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