Attic and loft conversions design and planning

If you need more living space in your home, you might consider turning your face upward, not necessarily for divine guidance, but toward developing that space in your attic. Depending on how that space is used, designing an attic conversion has its own set of challenges to prepare for. Here are some considerations to take into account as you plan.

Open Structure Ceiling

Creating an open structure ceiling is, essentially, removing the flat ceiling and exposing the roof structure above it. This is sometimes done to make a living space feel more open and airy. Besides the challenge of making hidden structural members attractive, you need to take into account any structural support the ceiling joists lent to the overall strength of the roof and wall design. Simply removing the ceiling and ceiling joists can cause the roof to collapse or for walls to cave in. Make sure that you make plans for proper support of your home’s structural members if you decide to go this route. Additionally, you’ll need to consider the insulation value that your attic provided and make adjustments for that loss.

Creating a room

Creating a room in your attic space can serve as a great addition to your home that doesn’t require adding on more space to the outside of your home. The best part about this idea is that you don’t have to add a foundation and a roof. There are several questions to keep in mind as you plan:

  • Can you maintain headspace throughout the room’s living space?
  • Can you create windows for proper egress from a bedroom according to the Life Safety Code and local building code?
  • Will the existing structure support the weight of furnishings and use?

Keep in mind, as you plan, that ceilings usually weren’t meant to be floors, so they may not support the extra weight without being beefed up and that rooms that are used as bedrooms have certain code requirements that other rooms don’t have.

Creating a loft

Similar to the open ceiling concept that we discussed before, creating a loft requires opening up a portion of your attic space to serve as living space in another room below or adding a structure to an open structure ceiling. Some of the concerns from both of the above will apply to this renovation. You will need to provide headspace and structural support for the floor of your loft. An additional concern with adding this structure is providing access to your new loft via a ladder or stairway.

Dormer windows

Some homes already make use of a portion of attic space for creating bedrooms. In such homes, the required windows for bedrooms are typically installed in the gable ends of the home’s structure. Creating windows and additional room space in an attic type bedroom will require installing dormer windows. In essence, you create a new wall and roof structure that extends out through the attic space in order to align with the wall below the room. The floor of a dormer window will become living space, so you will need to be certain that it will support the additional weight, just as we discussed above.

Stairways

If you create living space in your attic, you’ll have to create a means to access that living space with some sort of stairway. Stairways can become the trickiest part of creating new living space in an attic. A stairway tends to take up a great deal of space in the room below as well as the room above. Another tricky part about stairways is that they require vertical head space as much as they take up square footage from your floor plan. A common solution to both of these space issues is the use of a circular staircase. Again, be certain that you provide the structural support for this weighty member above, below and from side to side.

Insulation

We mentioned before that attics tend to provide a space for insulating your home. When you take away that insulating space and making it into living space, you increase the amount of energy that you will need to heat and cool your home. Be conscious of the fact that you are eliminating that layer of insulation and plan to make up for it in another way.

Conclusion

There are a number of tricky structural and code concerns that come into play when you incorporate attic space into living space as an open structure ceiling, a room, loft or dormer window. To make sure that you provide what is necessary to meet code requirements and structural demands, consult with a professional. You can make use of that already built space, but if you don’t do it properly, it do a great deal more harm than good.

Basement design and planning

Do you need a basement in your home, or would you like to renovate or repair your current basement? In some areas, they serve as storm shelters and are essential elements for safety and security. Basements also provide an escape from outside noise and tend to stay a constant temperature and require less heating or cooling. Basements introduce a whole different set of challenges than above ground structures and those challenges need to be considered when designing your basement.

Waterproofing

Because basements are structures that are beneath the surface, moisture from runoff, condensation or seepage through the soil becomes an issue in basements. These moisture issues need to be dealt with when designing your basement. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Make sure that there is a good slope away from the foundation wall of your home so that runoff gets away from the wall. 2” fall for every foot of run is necessary.
  • Make sure that downspouts empty well away from the foundation wall. 3 to 5 feet is recommended.
  • Don’t put flower beds right up against it and then introduce water right next to the foundation wall. Leave a minimum of 12” space between plants and the foundation wall.
  • Line your foundation wall with impervious material and maintain it regularly to make sure no cracks or areas of seepage develop. 12” of concrete or other impervious material is recommended.
  • Make certain that there are no cracks or defects in the foundation wall and keep an eye out for them. A tiny crack will grow much faster than you think.
  • Make sure that you have adequate water sealing on the walls of your home. New structures should have it on the outside as well as the inside.

Making certain that these steps are followed to waterproof your basement will rid you of a lot of headaches later on.

Dealing with mold and mildew

Keep in mind that where there is moisture, there is the potential for health issues due to mold and mildew. Even when you have properly waterproofed your basement, there is a tendency for basements to retain moisture from internal sources. Some of the main issues to guard against for internal moisture are:

  • Unvented driers.
  • Showers and other indoor plumbing fixtures.
  • Cooking
  • Humidifiers
  • Condensation from warmer, outside air.

Make sure that your fixtures and appliances are well vented and that your plumbing fixtures are well drained. Basements tend to be more humid than other parts of the house, so don’t add to that humidity by using a humidifier. Do not cool your basement using outside air.

Plumbing Challenges

Plumbing in basements create a whole new set of challenges, including the ones that we’ve already discussed. The major issue involved is the fact that water doesn’t run uphill. You have to get sewage from showers, toilets, sinks, washers and other fixtures up to the proper level so that it can drain into the sewer system outside your home. To do this, you’ll need to pump it up to the required level. Planning for and having a sump pump will be a necessary part of your home design. Additionally, plumbing from the rooms above will have to be dealt with in a space between the floor above and the ceiling of your basement. Understanding the challenges with plumbing shouldn’t cause you to avoid putting in a basement, but these challenges need to be addressed during home design so that surprises don’t pop up later.

Load Designs

When you place a whole under an area that is meant to be supported by earth, you have to plan how the structure above is going to be supported in that empty space. In many cases, there will be columns and beams that are necessary to support the floor and wall structure of the floors above. Make certain that you take these structural members into consideration when you are creating the floor plan design of your basement. In some cases, you might even make good use of those structures within your design to provide a special feature in your basement.

Professional Help

All of the issues raised above can also come with a set of local code requirements to complicate things further. It is best to seek professional help when designing a basement, in order to avoid and deal with the special set of challenges that arise out of including a basement in your building design.

Conclusion

Basements can serve a special purpose and be a functional living space that enhances the value of your home. Though there are waterproofing, mold and mildew, plumbing and structural problems, seeking help to make certain that those issues are dealt with during the design phase will help you to avoid surprise problems later on.