A definitive guide to an attic remodel

A definitive guide to an attic remodel



Have you grown out of your home? Do you need more living space? Perhaps you need an extra bedroom for guests, a home office space free of distractions, or even an entertainment space. You don’t have to move or build an addition to get more space in your home. The space you need might be right above your head.

When considering a home renovation, one space often overlooked is the attic. Often used for storage space, an attic could become livable space if finished. Depending on the space, an attic could become a number of useful rooms, such as a new master suite, a children’s playroom or a home office. 

An attic conversion might sound intimidating, but this remodel is a great combination of home improvement DIY and professional work. From finding local building codes to installing new floors, here is a definitive guide to an attic remodel. See if this is a project you might consider tackling.


Check local building codes before you begin an attic remodel

Before converting an attic, whether you plan a DIY project or to hire a contractor, check your local building codes. Measurements, restrictions and requirements can vary from city to city. It’s likely you will only need a permit when installing ventilation and wiring or making structural changes.

A general “rule of seven” usually applies when it comes to building codes.

  • At least 50% of the finished attic ceilings must be at least 7 feet high, allowing for adeqwwwe headroom for the average person.
  • The area must be at least 7 feet wide, allowing for ample floor space.
  • The area must have at least 70 square feet of usable space.

A converted attic must also have an emergency exit, such as an egress window, and be accessible by a full-size staircase.

Have a professional contractor assess your attic space to ensure it meets the proper qualifications. You may need to make some modifications if the space does not meet the requirements. For example, adding dormers can increase ceiling height or moving the entry point can increase the square footage. Skylights can also increase ceiling height and add beautiful natural light to the space.

A professional can also help ensure the structure of your home allows for a finished attic space. They can check the home’s foundation and framing to make sure it can handle the extra weight. What’s more, they can help reinforce attic joists, create an emergency exit, and plan out space for a full-size staircase.


Heating and ventilation in your attic

Before beginning an attic remodel, consider your heating, cooling and ventilation needs. Attics can get extremely hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. What’s more, without proper insulation, you can easily lose heat through the roof. 

Here is a list to check regarding heat and ventilation before you start your project.

  • First, get any permits you may need. A contractor will file any permits and ensure all work is up to code.
  • Check that your current HVAC system can handle heating and cooling an additional room. If it cannot, consider upgrading the unit or installing an alternative, such as a mini-split system or baseboard heating. 
  • Add ductwork to the space if it is not already present.
  • Ask a contractor about using rafter vents. This will allow airflow behind the insulation, which will keep your roof cool while the attic space is warm, preventing heat loss.

You want to make sure that your new attic room is comfortable year-round. This is especially true if you plan to build an attic bedroom because temperatures can fluctwwwe from day to night. A well-heated, ventilated and insulated attic can maintain a steady temperature of at least 68 degrees.


Wiring electricity to your attic

When remodeling your attic, hire a licensed electrician to wire the space. Hiring a professional ensures the electrical is up to code and will help avoid electrical fires. If you plan to wire the space yourself, a good rule of thumb is to maintain 12 feet between every outlet. Also, every wall should have at least one outlet. 

Before installing any insulation or drywall, make sure all electrical wiring is complete. However, you may want to consider your lighting needs during this step. Consider the types of lights you’d like to add and if it would be easier to install them before the drywall.


Installing flooring in your attic

Once the ventilation and electrical is complete, it’s time to begin installing the floors. If your attic joists are visible, you will need to add a subfloor. Before installing the subfloor, however, consider your insulation and noise needs. If you have the budget and ability, you can add insulation under the subfloor. This will reduce noise and regulate temperatures. You can also choose a thicker subfloor for noise reduction.

Installing a subfloor is an easy DIY project for a handy homeowner.

  • Snap a chalk line that marks the middle of the joists lengthwise across the area.
  • Lay a subfloor panel along the longest wall, leaving a ¼ inch between the edge and the wall.
  • Drill 2.5-inch screws into the joists every 6 inches.
  • Install the next subfloor panel along the wall, leaving a ¼-inch gap between the subfloor panels. 
  • Repeat across the space, making sure to avoid lining up panel seams.
  • Finally, caulk all seams and screw heads.

Toward the end of the attic remodel, be mindful of your flooring choice. Installing carpet will help reduce noise, while wood flooring might allow sound to travel.


Insulating and installing walls in your attic

Installing insulation and drywall in your finished attic space is a great project for homeowners. However, there are some types of attic insulation that may require professional installation. For example, to avoid losing heat through the roof, you might consider spray-foam insulation.

Batt insulation is vapor-resistant, flame-retardant and the perfect DIY insulation. Here is how to install it in an attic space.

  • Insert the batt insulation into the space between joists with the vapor barrier facing the room.
  • Avoid compressing the insulation during installation.
  • Staple the insulation to the joists.
  • To install behind electrical and ductwork, peel the insulation apart to create two layers.
  • Continue installation around the space and follow any manufacturer instructions.

After installing the insulation, it’s time to hang drywall.

  • Hang drywall horizontally from the exposed studs.
  • Secure with drywall screws.
  • Cover seams and screws with drywall mud.
  • Prime and paint the drywall.

You can choose to drywall the ceiling or install a drop ceiling depending on your design or height requirements. If you are drywalling the ceiling, make sure to paint it before painting the walls.



How much does an attic remodel cost?

The average cost of finishing an attic space will depend on the type of material used, the size of the space, features installed, and whether you’ll be hiring professional contractors. Building permits can also add to the cost of the remodel. 

According to HomeAdvisor, an attic remodel typically costs between $12,000 to $70,000, averaging around $40,000. Permit costs can add an additional $150 to $500. Here are the average expenses of converting an attic into a new living space. 

  • Drywalling: $1,000 - $2,600
  • Insulation: $1,750 - $2,100
  • Subflooring: $500 - $800
  • Floor joists: $1,000 - $10,000
  • Electricity:$1,000 - $3,400


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See how you can make the most of your home with this guide to an attic remodel.

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