Attic Bedroom Conversion

Finishing an Attic is a Smart and Cost Effective Solution for Creating an Additional Bedroom

By Mark J. Donovan

Converting an attic into a bedroom is often an ideal solution for providing additional living space for a returning adult child to your home or an elderly parent that you want to care of. Attic bedrooms above garages often make the perfect master suite. Converting an attic into a bedroom is also an excellent and more cost effective alternative than building a bedroom addition onto the side of your home. There are no excavation and foundation costs, nor roofing costs, associated with an attic bedroom conversion. Similarly an attic bedroom conversion is much cheaper than selling your existing home and buying a larger one with an additional bedroom.

If the attic space is large and the roof is not constructed with roof trusses, often only minor framing work is required to create a useable bedroom space. On the contrary, building a bedroom addition onto your existing home requires an extensive amount of planning and design, as you are literally building a small home, if you will, onto the side of your home. Extra care has to be taken into how the bedroom melds into the existing home’s exterior. In addition, there are demolishion costs with building a bedroom addition that also add to the overall cost of the project. So if your home has a large attic and you need an additional bedroom you can’t go wrong by choosing an attic bedroom conversion for gaining the extra bedroom.

An attic bedroom conversion, however, does present its own set of unique challenges. For example, if the roof has a shallow pitch and there is limited ingress and egress into the attic then the attic may not be well suited for creating a bedroom in it. Also, an attic’s floor joists are often not large enough for supporting a finished living space. As a result, larger lumber may need to be sistered to the existing lumber. For example, nailing 2x8s to the existing attic 2×6 floor joists. Most attics don’t have windows in them. attic bedroom conversion with insulated walls and ceiling.

So you may also need to figure out a solution for adding windows in the bedroom attic. Skylights are a fairly inexpensive alternative. Also, you can consider adding a dormer off the roof line where the attic bedroom will be located. The dormer can include windows to help bring in natural light into the room.

If you are seriously thinking about an attic bedroom conversion visit your local building inspector and an architect to see what your viable options are for doing so.

If, for example, the roof is constructed out of roof trusses you may not be allowed to finish the attic. Roof trusses are carefully designed to support the roof and each truss member plays a critical role in the roof trusses’ structural integrity. Thus, cutting roof truss members is typically not allowed. Unless, however, an architect can develop a modified truss design to maintain the structural integrity of the roof.

Access to an Attic Bedroom

Attic bedroom ingress and egress are imperative for functional and safety reasons. An attic ladder is not a viable or legal solution for ingress/egress to an attic bedroom. Consequently your attic bedroom conversion will need access via a standard staircase. Creating the staircase, if it does not already exist, can consume a sizeable amount of the lower level’s living space. In addition, the placement of attic staircase needs to be such that there is full headroom as one enters into the attic via the staircase.

Knee Walls

Most attic bedrooms will need knee walls constructed that tie in the roof line to the attic floor. Typically knee walls are three to four feet high and help to define the attic bedroom space.

Attic Conversion Bid Sheet

Strengthening Attic Floor Joists

Again, most likely the attic floor joists are inadequate for supporting the weight of a finished room. Thus, larger (taller) attic floor joists will need to be sistered, or attached, to the existing ones.

Then subfloor sheathing can be attached to the taller floor joists. If you don’t sister in the larger floor joists, the lower level finished drywall ceiling will most likely experience cracks in it in short order due to the deflection in the attic floor.

Inclusion of Natural Light

Attics are typically void of natural light. Consequently your attic conversion bedroom plans should include the installation of skylights and/or windows to bring in the natural light. Windows also allow for airflow into the attic. Consider adding windows on the gable end of the attic roof area, or include a dog or shed dormer in the attic bedroom area with windows. Dormers also enable additional full height headroom in the attic bedroom.

Heating and Cooling an Attic Bedroom

Attic spaces can be extremely warm during the summer months, and cold during the winter ones. Consequently copious amounts of insulation are imperative when building a bedroom in an attic. In addition, the inclusion of air conditioning and heat into the space are also vital. Tying an attic bedroom into a home’s existing HVAC system is often difficult. As a result, look for HVAC solutions that can be dedicated to heating and cooling the attic bedroom separately. Talk with an HVAC professional to determine what the best solution is for your situation.

Incorporation of Bathroom in Attic

Including a bathroom in an attic has its own set of unique challenges. For example, where to locate the plumbing supply and drain lines. Installing drain lines in an attic can be the most challenging since there is limited height in the attic floor. Drain lines need to be pitched to ensure waste water can drain downwards and into the septic tank system or sewer. Ensuring the proper drain pitch can be tough with limited vertical height in the attic floor.

In addition, routing the plumbing drain lines and supply lines through the attic floor joists can be difficult as it requires cutting the joists. In some cases, an attic bathroom may need to be elevated in the attic to obtain enough space to route the plumbing drain lines.

Then there is also the issue with the additional weight of a full bathtub in an attic. Again, the attic floor joists will need to be sized properly to support the weight of a tub full of water and a person.

Attic Bedroom Safety

Attic bedrooms are high up and may have only one main ingress/egress method, e.g. staircase. Consequently, for safety purposes a window ladder may need to be included in the attic bedroom conversion plans to enable occupants of the bedroom to be able to exit it in the event of a fire.

It is also vital to make sure smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide detectors are included in the attic bedroom. If a bathroom is included, a GFCI breaker will need to be installed in it to prevent life threatening electrical shock.

Final Thoughts

An attic bedroom conversion is an ideal solution for creating an additional bedroom in your home, if the attic conditions are appropriate for it. Make sure to check first with an architect and your local building inspector before starting this type of project to see if your attic is suitable for a bedroom conversion. If it is, come up with a well thought out set of plans and get them approved with the building inspector before starting the construction. Also make sure to pull the required permits. With proper upfront planning and a solid set of attic bedroom conversion blueprints, you should be able to achieve the bedroom space you are looking for at a very reasonable price.

For help on Attic Conversion and Attic Renovation Projects, see’s Attic Conversion Bid Sheet. The Attic Conversion Bid sheet will help to ensure that you hire the right contractor so that your attic conversion project is built correctly, on time and budget.

Related Information

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