The longer you live in your house, the more obvious it may become that you need more living space, perhaps for a guest bedroom when your family expands or as a home office where you can work remotely in a telecommuting society.
Your first thought might be to build an addition, but the sticker shock may cause you to shelve that idea and instead consider an attic conversion.
For some people, basement remodels are ideal, but perhaps you’re already using your basement for another purpose and still need more space—or maybe moisture in your basement makes this option less than ideal. Fortunately, an attic conversion is an idea that may be more economical than a complete home addition.
Should You Convert Your Attic Space?
The benefits of converting an attic into usable space are many, including:
• The space already exists in your home, making this choice both cost- and time-effective.
• You don’t need to pour a foundation, again making it a more viable and economical option.
• Wiring is likely to already be in place and can be modified to suit your needs.
An attic conversion also allows you to use the entire envelope of your home, rather than wasting potential living space.
Before you fully commit to your attic remodel, though, it’s crucial to make sure yours has the potential to become a usable living space. Better Homes & Gardens provides a litmus test that will help you to determine if your attic is viable for expansion.
Tips on Converting an Attic, Plus Associated Costs
One of the first things you might do before converting your attic is to see if your roof is being supported by W-shaped trusses in your attic. If so, it’s likely that building an addition is a better choice.
If your attic contains A-shaped rafters, though, that’s a plus; if there is enough open space beneath the rafters, then you can potentially convert your attic into usable space.
Other considerations that Better Homes & Gardens recommend include:
• Checking your local building codes to make sure your remodel will fit. As just one example, a typical requirement is that the attic space must be at least 7.5 feet high and over 50 percent of the floor area. The thickness of the material will also factor into the final headroom and ceiling height.
• Determining how you’ll get to the space. Will you need to add a staircase or expand the current one? Stairs that go straight up will need more floor space than, say, spiral staircases. Or perhaps your only option is a pull-down access point; this will limit what furniture and materials you can fit into your attic conversion and how utilitarian the new living space might be.
• Whether you’ll need to add windows. If you’re creating an additional bedroom, codes may require an egress window in case of fires. But even if they aren’t required, you might consider adding windows or punching skylights that open to brighten the space with natural light.
• How much flooring needs to be reinforced, along with any electrical or plumbing issues. If you ultimately decide your attic has what is needed for a successful conversion, then it’s time to think both practically and creatively to shape what may well become the most interesting—and potentially challenging—room in your house.
Want to know how much value your attic conversion will bring to the table? Check out SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator.
Getting Started on Your Attic Conversion
Before you begin your attic conversion, double-check with your city to make sure you are crystal clear about building codes: about what you’re able to do and what you need to avoid. The quickest way to add significant costs to your attic remodel is to be forced to change course mid-project because of a code violation.
Once you know your local codes inside and out and can envision your ideal attic remodel, prioritize what’s most important to you. Maybe it’s crucial that the attic is fully plumbed for a bathroom because you want this space to serve as a guest suite. To make that happen, perhaps you’d be willing to give up your specialty flooring idea if your budget doesn’t accommodate both.
Or perhaps you want to transform your attic into a rec room, with plenty of comfortable seating for guests and family alike, and appropriate wiring will likely be near the top of your list. If this is a priority, you may be willing to skip adding a shower and only add a toilet and sink.
Hiring a Contractor for Your Attic Conversion
After you’ve prioritized your attic conversion wishlist, consult with a professional unless you’re already an experienced builder. Ask friends, family members, and building associations for recommendations and referrals, then request quotes from at least three contractors to understand both possibilities and associated costs.
When you contact contractors, ask them for credentials. What licenses do they have? Do they belong to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Association of Home Builders, or other accredited professional organizations? What references can they provide?
The quality of your remodel will depend on choosing the right contractor(s) for your project, so don’t rush through this part of the process. And if something doesn’t feel right with the contractor you’re interviewing, investigate further and/or go with another company.
It’s not necessarily a bad sign if a busy contractor doesn’t get back to you immediately. This may simply indicate that he or she is in high demand. Conversely, it’s not always a good sign that a contractor can start immediately, as the best contractors often book out a couple of months in advance.
Compare bids and, tempting as it may be, don’t automatically choose the lowest one. Sure, saving money is nice, but sometimes that means sacrificing quality. Often, the bid in the middle might be a good choice, although each situation is unique so treat it as such. Make sure the contractor describes what will be provided as well as the estimated time frame.
Estimating Attic Renovation Costs
If you hire individual contractors for each individual aspect of your attic remodel, then it’s easy to see what each portion of the remodel is costing you. However, if you hire a contractor to manage the entire project, then you likely won’t receive the project broken down into great detail.
On average, you can expect to pay between $4,600 to $16,400—or $30 to $60 per square foot—to refinish your attic, depending on the overall square footage and the materials you use, though the most high-end of attic conversions can cost as much as $80,000.
Here are some other estimates you might expect to pay for various components of your attic renovation:
Walls and Ceilings
New walls and ceilings can effectively transform an unfinished attic into a space that’s both comfortable and livable. Although prices vary by where you live, attic walls can cost an average of $1,000 to $2,600 to install, with ceilings costing $900 to $2,400.
Other aspects to consider: Will you paint the walls and ceilings? Add wallpaper? Do you need trim and crown molding? All of these features will be additional costs and can quickly cause your project budget to skyrocket.
Flooring is another important consideration, so first think about what’s located directly below the attic space. Do you need soundproofing? If a bedroom is located below the attic space, you will likely want some sound control.
Insulation provides that to some degree, and carpeting adds even more dampening.
Attic flooring might cost you between $3,000 to $16,000 depending on the current state of the attic and what materials you choose. Replacing floor joists to beef up the strength will cost anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000, while installing subfloor will run between $500 and $800. Installing the flooring itself averages between $1,500 and $4,500 depending on material and square footage.
Windows and Skylights
If there currently are no windows in your attic, you may want to add an egress window, which will run you between $2,500 and $5,100, as a safety precaution. You also might want windows or skylights to brighten the space with natural light. Expect to pay an average of $3,000 to $8,600 to install an attic window and $1,000 to $2,400 to add a skylight.
Heating and Cooling
Your attic conversion might require additional heating and cooling. The price to install an attic fan is around $400 to $900, and a window air conditioner averages $296. A skillful contractor could also potentially tie in your current climate control system.
For heat, baseboard heaters run $762 on average. Electricians charge $50 to $100 per hour in labor, and installing duct plumbing might cost you between $400 and $1900 on average.
If your attic is difficult to access during the renovation period, contractors may tack on a surcharge. To get an idea of how much your attic renovation will cost, use our Home Improvement Cost Calculator.
How to Pay for an Attic Conversion
If you are looking for help with some or even the whole cost of your attic conversion, a home improvement loan is one way to finance virtually any home project. These are essentially personal loans used to pay for renovations, additions, or updates to your home or property.
Once you know how much your renovation will cost, determine how much of the total amount you want to borrow and how much you’ll pay out of pocket.
SoFi offers personal loans for home improvement with a fast approval process, so you can get started sooner than later. Because of SoFi’s low rates and flexible terms, it can be a better choice than paying for your remodel with high-interest credit cards. And because this is an unsecured loan, you aren’t using your home as collateral, like you would with a home equity line of credit.
An attic conversion can be one way to create a unique room through adding more usable space to your home, while also a more economical home renovation project than an addition to your house. There are a lot of technical aspects to consider, and before getting started, it’s best to check with your local codes office so you know any building or permit requirements upfront, then come up with a project wishlist before soliciting bids from at least three contractors. Figuring out how to finance your attic conversion is the last step of the project before getting started.
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