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The Underused Attic

By MNR News posted 09-27-2021

In the quest for more room, homeowners are rediscovering an overlooked space.

When it comes to home improvement projects, the attic is the final frontier. In fact, nationally, basement renovations far outpace attics. But in an era when buying a new home is more expensive and competitive than ever, many homeowners are looking to their attics for additional space. Whether you need a new home office or an extra bedroom, it’s cheaper to convert an attic than adding a new room from scratch.

Assessing Costs

That said, attic makeovers are not cheap. Although some DIYers can pull together a simple man-cave for around $5,000 to $15,000 (not including beer), professional renovations are considerably more. Home Advisor estimates that nationally, the average attic renovation costs about $50,000. Here in the Twin Cities, some design-and-build firms charge as much as $140,000 to $200,000 for premium builds, depending on the size of the space, complexity, and added amenities (a bathroom can tack on $20,000 to $30,000). So, whether hiring a firm or going DIY, there are many expenses to factor:

  • Design and plans
  • Pulling permits and inspections
  • Site prep
  • New framing (and demolition work if needed)
  • Installing ducts and vents
  • New HVAC system
  • Building a dormer window
  • Adding stairs
  • New doors
  • Wiring
  • Lighting
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Flooring
  • Millwork and finish
  • Cleanup and waste removal
  • Final inspection (required in some townships and cities)

Before You Even Think About Starting

Be sure to check your community’s building codes before launching an attic renovation. Zoning laws in some areas prohibit using attics as living spaces. If renovations are allowed, you may still have to obtain a building permit (these can be very expensive), especially if you are adding wiring or ventilation.

Renovate Your Attic in 10 (not so easy) Steps

  1. Design It
    Hiring an architect to appraise the space and create a design is an investment that can save a lot of aggravation and costly mistakes. The architect can also help you map out the entire renovation process.
  2. Clean and Inspect It
    If your attic is already partially finished with a floor and walls, and is being used for storage, your first task is to clear it out. After that, inspect the insulation in the walls and beneath the floor, and determine its condition. If it’s compacted or damaged, you’ll need to remove and replace it.
  3. Wire It
    When you’ve got your permits in order, hire an electrician to install wiring in the walls and ceiling.
  4. Light It
    Your attic’s dusty, dim windowpanes might have worked fine when the space’s sole function was storage, but a living space needs more light. Depending on the room’s configuration, you could install brighter dormer windows or skylights.
    Tip: If windows aren’t an option, build ceiling lights into your wiring scheme.
  5. Ventilate It
    If your attic does not currently have duct work, consult an HVAC specialist to see what it will cost to expand your system. More cost-effective options include baseboard heaters and a mini-split air-cooling system designed for individual rooms.
  6. Subfloor It!
    Most modern attics don’t have floors and are made of little more than joists and insulation. Building a thick subfloor provides the foundation for carpet or other finished surfaces like wood or tile.
    Tip: A subfloor adds insulation value and reduces noise for the floors below.
  7. Insulate It
    If needed, replace and upgrade the existing insulation. Batt insulation with a vapor-retarding face is an ideal choice for attics because it is easy to install and can be layered where needed.
  8. Drywall It
    Who would think that sheets of cardboard and gypsum could so magically transform a space? This is the stage where your room really starts taking shape.
    Tip: If you’re installing the drywall yourself, take a page from the pros and hang it horizontally. Although it takes more care and effort, it will minimize the number of seams you’ll need to mud over, creating a cleaner finish.
  9. Paint It
    Before you break out the color palettes, be sure to thoroughly prime the drywall. After that, pluck your favorite shade from the rainbow and put on at least two coats.
    Tip: If the space is small and doesn’t have much natural light, go for lighter, brighter colors that open it up.
  10. Floor It!
    Lay down a classic look for your new home office with the warm glow of oak. Or indulge your inner hippie with a stretch of purple shag. It’s shag-a-delic baby! Whatever your taste or style, there are acres of floor options to choose.
    Tip: If you like a quiet home, carpeting provides maximum noise reduction. Wood floors, on the other hand, can make every footfall sound like a tap-dance routine.

Learn More About Remodeling an Attic

Before you pick up a hammer and build your dream attic, pick up a pen and do some research. Here are a few helpful resources:

Read This Before You Finish Your Attic