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Converting an Attic into a Finished Loft

Converting an attic into a finished loft provides additional living space, but this is a home improvement project which should not be entered into without careful thought and advance preparation. Finishing attic space is a major renovation.

Turning an underused attic into a comfortable loft can be a very smart move for any homeowner looking to add space. As your family grows, an attic loft may be your most economical alternative compared to the costs of moving, constructing an addition, or finishing a basement. It also adds value to your home: Remodeling Magazine notes that the return on investment for this project is 65 percent — one of the highest-rated remodeling projects for the Philadelphia area.

But finishing attic space is a major renovation. Particularly in older homes, the attics were never intended as much more than a storage area and therefore require extensive retrofitting before the actual conversion begins. To determine the scope of the work involved, it’s a good idea to have a professional, such as an engineer or architect, assess the attic’s unfinished space before renovating.

Size and Access Point of Your Finished Loft

With sloped ceilings common in attic spaces, you may not get as much space as you anticipate by finishing the room. According to Philadelphia’s Property Maintenance Code, ceilings must generally have a height of at least seven feet, with some minor exceptions. If you need to add insulation and drywall, your walls may be pushed in further than you think. Mark off some areas for closets and storage, and you may end up with less space than you need to make the project worth the money.

Since attic space can potentially span the entire top level of your house, you also need to identify where a feasible access point can be located. Most likely, you will want to walk up through a hallway so you can avoid going through a second-floor bedroom. If a hallway entrance is not doable, you may need to give up shared closet space, such as a linen closet, to build a loft entrance.

Insulation

When considering finishing attic space, you may need to look at your home’s insulation and add more as needed. Because the attic ceiling is the roof of your house, the pros at This Old House recommend applying spray foam insulation, which costs more than fiberglass but is thinner and has a tighter air barrier.

Consider having a professional home energy audit performed to assess the state of the insulation in the attic before you finish the space, or follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit instructions to check your insulation for problems. Don’t forget to check all wall insulation as well as ceilings and flooring, especially if your unfinished space is located over a poorly insulated garage. Flooring may need to be reinforced to carry additional weight. Consider installing carpeting — it will muffle footsteps in the loft and prevent the noise from disturbing the rooms below.

Shuffling around Existing Systems

New-home builders anticipate that attic space may someday be finished, and they often plan accordingly with regard to heating and air conditioning systems, electrical wiring, and plumbing. In older homes, however, finishing an attic usually means you need to bring power, heat, and plumbing to this new living space. Take the time to fully investigate and gain an expert opinion before beginning your work.

Finishing an attic can be an big project which requires professional assistance, so be prepared for a lot of planning and careful work. But once it’s finished, it may prove to be well worth the time and effort.

Image Source: Flickr

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