Tips on expanding your living space into an attic, including advice regarding structure, storage and lighting.
Depending on how your attic is built, you may have the bones available for creating an extra room in this space. While some older homes may have large attics with high-pitched roofs that allow for great ceiling heights, attic conversions are not limited to this type of roomy, old-fashioned construction.
Homes with low-pitched roofs may have attics that can be converted into additional living space, though this type of renovation may require raising the roof or adding dormers, which will obviously add to the cost of the project. Attic renovations commonly involve the creation of a cathedral-style ceiling out of the sloping pitch of the attic roof. The result is a room that has an airy, open feel and with the addition of larger windows or skylights, a once-dark, seldom-used space can become a welcome retreat. From a huge ensuite to the perfect play area or a small and simple workspace, your attic might just be the place to let your creativity — and square footage — expand.
Because of the structural considerations involved with an attic renovation, always check with an architect or structural engineer before starting any work. Be sure that your plans meet provincial building code requirements, have professionals map out locations for new windows or skylights — which will affect ventilation and air flow — and consult with an HVAC (heat, ventilation and air conditioning system) expert.
Accessibility is another important consideration as you’ll want to make sure that you have easy and safe access to your new space from inside your home.
Tip: Inadequate attic insulation leads to heat loss and high energy bills. Have an expert review your home's ventilation and air flow system.
When planning your new attic space, consider adding built-ins for extra storage or seating in the space. Dormered windows can offer built-in window seat space with storage below or an area for a built-in desk, while space in between wall studs can allow for shallow shelving. The sloping pitch of the roof will result in a knee wall – a vertical wall about three feet high – on the sides of the attic. The space behind the knee wall can also be used for storage and ductwork.
Attics can sometimes be dark and uninviting, so be sure to include a lighting plan when designing the space. Illuminate the hallway or doorway to the attic with wall sconces or recessed lights to make the transition from house to attic seamless. Consult with an electrician to find out if you have enough ceiling space for recessed lighting. Mixed with table, floor and task lighting, this will help achieve a warm and welcoming feeling in the space.
If you are planning on building a new bathroom into your attic space, the most efficient way to locate it is to tie into your home’s existing plumbing. Make sure that you have enough headroom to accommodate a shower and try to build in as much storage as possible for towels and accessories.
When tackling an attic renovation, treat the space like the rest of your home by incorporating trim, mouldings or other architectural details, quality furnishings and attractive finishes. This will make your new attic space feel like a simple extension of the rest of the house, rather than a detached “cave”. Whether your attic renovation results in more space for sleeping, working or lounging, you’ll have nowhere to go but up.