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Top Tips for Converting your Attic into a Living Space

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

There are so many different home improvement projects to enjoy throughout your time as a homeowner. Perhaps one of the most fulfilling of them is the attic renovation. Converting your attic into a living space is one project that allows you to witness the power of a little TLC. It’s also a great way to increase your home’s square footage and overall value. And, today we’re going to talk about it.

We’re sharing everything you need to know about converting these unique spaces into living areas, starting with the very basics. Then, we’ll be discussing the top things you should know before getting started on your attic conversion.

Can You Convert any Attic into a Living Space?

For the most part, any attic can be converted into a bedroom, living space, loft, office, bathroom, or any other kind of space. The area must, however, meet the same building codes as the rest of your home. The best place to start when considering an attic conversion is by measuring the space. The required dimensions are different for each state.

For South Carolina attic conversion, a habitable room must meet the following size requirements:

  • Minimum of 70 SF of floor space

  • A minimum horizontal dimension of 7 feet

  • A ceiling height of at least 7 feet

If the attic ceiling isn’t tall enough to pass South Carolina code, it might be possible to raise your roofline with a dormer. This modification typically involves changing your home’s structure though, so a professional would be required in this situation.

The Top Tips for Converting an Attic into a Room

If you’ve determined that your attic size meets your state’s building code requirements (or have decided to move forward with a dormer), there is still a lot of preparation that must be done for your attic conversion. This is because finishing a room requires lots of different little decisions to ensure it’s worth your money.

Here are the top tips to help you get started.

  1. Familiarize Yourself with Local Building Codes

The size of your attic room isn’t the only requirement for meeting your state, or county, building codes. In South Carolina, Greenville architects are also required to consider the attic floors, stairs, access, and so much more. All the rules are put into place to keep everyone in the home safe, of course, but they can be difficult to keep up with.

Some building codes to start researching at the beginning of your attic conversion project are:

  • Egress Requirements

An egress window is a specially-designed window that allows inhabitants to escape quickly in an emergency. In South Carolina, attic bedrooms must contain at least one operable egress window. Meeting the dimension standards for this window could require a dormer.

  • Joist codes

In order to provide a liveable space, attics must be structurally sound and able to withstand the weight of furniture and people walking around. Joists supporting attic flooring must be up to code.

  • Stairs

Access to a living space in the attic cannot only be provided via a ladder. There must also be a set of code-compliant stairs leading up to the space. Greenville architects know that code-compliant stairs must reach at least 10” tread depth and measure a maximum of 7 ¾” between each step.

Finding all the codes and memorizing the measurements can be overwhelming. Many people choose to hire an architect for this exact reason. Architects can help ensure that your attic space meets all the local codes, creating a safe and inspection-ready area.

  1. Think about Temperature Control

Most people know that heating and cooling an attic can be a challenge. This doesn’t change when you convert it into a bedroom or living space. That’s why it’s important to consider your heating and cooling options before tackling your renovation project. Many people maximize temperature control in their attic living space by installing a ventilation system or utilizing electric heating/cooling systems. You can also reduce heat exchange by choosing your insulation correctly.

In all states, insulation must meet certain thermal requirements in order to minimize the transfer of heat. This number looks different for every state, depending on its climate. In South Carolina, the average minimum requirement for an attic insulation’s thermal resistance is R-30. Any number lower than this, and the insulation would have to work too hard to do its job effectively.

A great insulation option for attic spaces is closed-cell spray foam insulation.

  • This type of insulation is rated R-7 per inch, so it’s incredibly effective at preventing heat transfer when you have limited space to work with in an existing roof. Closed-cell foam is made of plastic and creates an air seal wherever it’s applied.

  • Spray foam insulation is impermeable to water, helping to protect your attic space.

Map Out Your Plumbing

Installing a bathroom into your attic living space might seem like a daunting project, but it’s essential to the home’s resale value and functionality. Including a bathroom in the attic living space is almost a non-negotiable. But it can be a costly endeavor. Taking advantage of existing plumbing structures in your home can help save money.

Simple tools, like stud finders and thermal detectors, can be helpful for navigating your home’s plumbing system and identifying all the different pipes in your walls. You might also have to tap into your main soil stack with the bathroom’s waste pipe. This can become quite tricky. Consider reaching out to a professional plumber when renovating your attic bathroom to ensure that everything is installed correctly. When planning your attic space, it would be most helpful to situate your attic bathroom above an existing bathroom or kitchen to minimize the space between the plumbing lines.

  1. Don’t Forget the Lighting

When it comes to creating a warm, welcoming space, nothing is more important than lighting. This is also something that should be considered when beginning the attic conversion. Windows and skylights are both wonderful options for natural lighting in an attic space that can change the entire dynamic.

There are a few factors to consider before jumping right into covering your attic space in windows and skylights:

  • Temperature control: Windows allow light and air to pass through. Including them in a small living space could make temperature maintenance an issue.

  • Your roof: Not every roof can support a skylight. Truss-framed roofs, for instance, aren’t designed to be cut after manufacture.

  • Location: East- and west-facing windows will have long hours of direct sunlight and darkness. North-facing windows tend to be the most ideal.

Windows aren’t the only way to bring light into a converted attic space. This is also where interior design can shine. Simple, but unique hanging lights can be helpful for highlighting the unusual shape of attic spaces.

Converting Your Attic into a Living Space is a Project to Plan

An attic conversion is not some project you just throw together randomly on a whim. This is something that should be intricately planned and considered. According to experts, this is the one renovation that will add the most value to your home, increasing prices by 20-25%.

But this is not a slap-together DIY that can be accomplished in a day or two. Home advisors suggest that you expect to spend about $40,000 on this conversion to achieve the most ideal outcome. Unless you have training in architecture and design, this really isn’t something you should tackle yourself.

Should You Hire a Professional for an Attic Conversion?

An architect or interior designer is going to be your best friend when converting your attic into a living space. This is because they have an intricate understanding of a home’s structure, the building codes in your area, and how to best maximize a small space. They can also help you provide creative solutions to problems that you may have never even considered.

An experienced professional in attic conversion is going to be your best bet to ensuring you create a space that is safe, appealing, and everything that you’ve dreamed of. Atmo Architecture knows exactly what it takes. We’ve been serving Upstate South Carolina on home renovation projects for more than 5 years, and would love to help you with your attic conversion. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you stay in compliance while also renovating on the fringe of your imagination.

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