By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
People tend to look at the space in a home in terms of quantity — either there is too much space or, more likely, too little.
Architects, on the other hand, see space as a way of creating an experience in a structure, a commodity that should be shaped to fit the needs of the people who occupy it.
If your attic isn’t large enough to use as livable space, then it can be vaulted to expand other rooms below.
One way to make the most of a home’s space is through effective use of the attic. By remodeling your attic, that dusty, old, wasted space can be transformed into a lovely vaulted ceiling over a cozy loft, additional bedrooms, or even an extra bathroom.
When one of our clients came to us with a need for more space for their large family, we were able to turn the previously unused attic space into two children’s bedrooms, and a loft that overlooks the living room on one side and the family room on the other. The new vaulted ceiling (where the old attic was) also allowed for added height in the living room, accommodating a new 6-by-9-foot arched window, which lets wonderful light into the area.
What could be done with the attic space of your home?
When it comes to attic remodeling, there are several factors to consider. In newer homes built since the 1960s, the roofs were generally built using prefabricated wood trusses that crisscross throughout the attic space. Trusses cannot be easily altered, so this type of home does not lend itself to an attic remodel.
If your home has a “stick-built” roof (individual pieces of wood such as a ridge beam and rafters), you have the possibility of converting your attic into living space. The center of the space at the peak of the roof must be a minimum of 7 feet high. Keep in mind also that the usable space of an attic begins where the height of each side wall reaches about 5 feet. The lower space in the area near the outer edge of the roof (known as the “kneewall” space) is good for storage but not for furniture or for people walking around.
So, even though you have a stick-built roof with adequate height at the center, you may not have enough usable space in your attic without changing some of the roof line. Added space can be captured on the ends of the space if you have a hipped (sloping) roof which can be changed into a (vertical) gable end. New space can also be captured on the sides of your attic by adding dormers. These triangular additions to your roof line allow you to transform kneewall space into usable floor area by providing enough height so you can walk into this area.
Another consideration is that the joists that hold up your existing flat ceiling are generally not strong enough to act as the floor of your new attic space. Be prepared to beef up this structure and add a new subfloor to the attic to carry the additional load of people and furniture.
Finally, remember that you’ll need a staircase to access living areas in your remodeled attic. For a straight run of stairs you will need an area of at least 3-feet by 16-feet on your main floor. A spiral staircase requires a minimum 5-foot-diameter space and is not a practical solution if your attic is to become a working part of your home.
Similarily, by code, ladders are acceptable for accessing only a loft, not attic bedrooms.
An architect can examine these factors for you and help you determine if it is possible to turn your wasted attic space into usable space that enhances the beauty and functionality of your home. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.