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Finish Your Attic

How to Design and Finish Your Attic

As housing prices continue to rise, many homeowners are looking for ways to expand their living space without breaking the bank. Attics are one of the best candidates for home remodelling projects because, like an unfinished basement, the roof and floor already exist. The decision to finish your attic involves transforming that dusty, unused space between the roof and the ceiling of the floor below into usable living space.

Additionally, finishing the attic can add significant value to your home, making it a smart investment if you’re looking to increase your property’s resale value someday. Other benefits of finishing the attic include improved insulation and energy efficiency, as well as increased natural light and ventilation through the addition of windows or skylights. A key benefit to finishing the attic is that remodelling will not increase property tax, because making more efficient use of your existing space does not affect your tax assessment.

The design process for most projects will involve factoring in beefier floor joists, framing in new walls ceiling and perhaps a stairway, adding insulation, wiring for electrical, ductwork, drywall, and maybe some plumbing if a bathroom is being added. Whether you’re looking to create a home office, a spare bedroom, or a cozy reading nook, read on for tips on how to make the most of your attic renovation.

Loft or attic; what’s the difference?

Attic and loft are words that refer to very similar spaces just below the roofs in homes or commercial buildings. Attics are usually closed spaces, while lofts are open.

Loft apartments traditionally were living spaces built from former industrial buildings; very popular with artists and hipsters. They are typically open-concept spaces with high ceilings, large windows, brickwork, and will have concrete ceilings if they’re not on the top floor. In the UK, a loft is often converted into a functional living space above the residence, and that’s where the confusion arises; in North America, we generally refer to these spaces as attics.

Finished attics will typically be complete with windows or skylights, may have more than one livable room, and offer staircase access. They could also be roughly finished to provide organized storage and a place for the HVAC hardware and ducting. Well-designed finished attics help control the home’s temperatures, using their large mass to slowly move air. They’re insulated and can recirculate hot air that has risen back into the main floor.

Finish your attic with these popular attic upgrades

Home office

Lockdowns made it necessary for many companies to quickly transition to a remote workforce. But as the restrictions were lifted, many firms decided to let go of the high overhead corporate offices, and those temporary remote positions have become permanent work-from-home opportunities. An attic can make a great workspace, away from the distractions of the rest of the house. Add some built-in shelves and a desk, and you have a functional home office. If you have the space, a small boardroom table makes it easier to host live Zoom meetings with both local and long-distance remote workers.

Spare bedroom

Need an extra bedroom for guests, teenage kids, college students home for weekends and holidays, or in-laws? An attic can be transformed into a cozy additional room, complete with a comfortable bed, ensuite and plenty of storage space.

Playroom

Give your kids a space to play and let their imaginations run wild. An attic playroom can be decorated with bright colours, soft flooring, a TV, and plenty of toys and games. Best of all, it’s an area you won’t have to scramble to clean up if guests or clients come over.

Home gym/workout area

Transform your attic into a workout space with gym flooring, mirrors, and fitness equipment. Add a TV and sound system to make your workouts more enjoyable.

Entertainment room

An attic can make the perfect entertainment room, perfect for movie nights or game nights with friends and family. Add a big-screen TV, refrigerator, comfy seating, and a popcorn machine for the full home theatre experience.

Library

If you’re a book lover, an attic can be transformed into your personal library. Add built-in bookshelves, a comfortable reading chair, and a cozy rug to create a warm and inviting space.

Artist’s studio

If you’re an artist, an attic can make a wonderful studio space. Add plenty of natural light, storage for art supplies, and a comfortable work table to create a space that inspires your creativity.

Man cave or den

Are you in need of a space to call your own? Transform your attic into a man cave, complete with a bar, humidor, pool table, poker table, big screen TV and plenty of seating for your friends.

Planning your attic project

Planning an attic home renovation project can be an exciting but daunting task. The key to a successful renovation is careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some tips for planning your attic renovation project:

Evaluate the space: Before you start planning your renovation, take a close look at your attic space. Consider the size and layout of the area, as well as any challenges such as low ceilings, sloping walls, or limited access points. Make a list of any features you want to incorporate into your design, such as a stairway, bathroom, windows or skylights.

Determine your budget: Consider how much you are willing to spend on your renovation project. Factor in the design-build contractor, the cost of materials and any additional expenses such as permits or inspections. Be sure to pad in another 10% for unexpected expenses that may arise during the project.

Plan your design: Once you have evaluated your space and determined your budget, it’s time to sketch out your rough layout. Consider your needs and the purpose of the space.

If you’re adding a bathroom, consider placing it above a bathroom in the floor below, to minimize plumbing challenges. Adding skylights not only increases natural light but can provide a few much-needed centimetres of headroom.

Begin researching design ideas and shelter magazine pages, Houzz web pages and Pinterest photos to help you visualize your space. Having a basic knowledge of the renovation process will help you communicate your ideas with your designer.

Hire a professional: A designer-builder will help you determine whether you will be able to build the space you’re hoping for in your attic, provide you with an estimate, then plan and execute your renovation. A pro can help you navigate any challenges in creating the space and ensure that your renovation meets all local building codes and regulations.

Choose your finishes: Once the planning and permitting stages are complete, it’s time to finalize your finishes. This includes flooring, paint or wallpaper, lighting, and furniture. Choose finishes that reflect your unique style and the purpose of the space.

Return on investment

According to the 2022 Remodeling Impact Report, published by the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group, a full attic conversion to a living area provides a cost recovery of 75%, while delivering a ‘Joy Score’ of 10 out of 10. Of the homeowners that responded to the report, the vast majority said they were very happy with their attic to remodel, and rated it a 10.

Due to the extensive nature of a full attic conversion, with bedroom(s) or office, stairway and possibly a bathroom, the NARI remodeller’s cost estimate was about $100,000, with Realtors® estimating a cost recovery of $75,000. Only 2% of the Realtors® recommended an attic conversion before selling, suggesting families plan to live in the home for at least 5 years and consider the upgrade as a way of increasing their usable space, functionality and the enjoyment of their home.

Hiring your design-build team

A design-build contractor is a construction professional who is responsible for both the design and construction of a project. Unlike the traditional approach of hiring an architect and a contractor separately, a design-build contractor handles both aspects of the project. This integrated approach allows for a more streamlined and efficient construction process, as the design and construction teams work closely together to ensure that the project meets your goals and objectives.

To hire a good designer-builder, there are several key factors to consider. First, look for a contractor who has experience in your specific type of project. For example, since you’re planning an attic remodel in your home, look for a contractor who has a track record of success in remodels.

Secondly, review the contractor’s portfolio to see examples of their previous work and ensure that their design aesthetic aligns with your vision for the project. Additionally, read reviews and testimonials from past clients to gauge the contractor’s level of professionalism, communication skills, and ability to stay on schedule and budget.

The takeaway

If you’re tired of climbing into your unfinished attic and feeling creeped out by the spiders and shadows, with places you need to remember not to step, it may be time to finally finish it and put the space to good use. By following these tips, you can plan a successful attic home renovation project that meets your needs and budget while adding value to your home.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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