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.