How to Configure an Attic Bedroom
You could be sleeping on a higher plane—specifically, the space above your ceiling. Refurbishing an attic is one of the most painless ways to add another bedroom to your home; it not only allows you to work around local residential zoning issues but also adds value to your house and provides some motivation to finally clear out the junk you have probably been stashing up there (admit it: it is definitely time to let go of those Atari game consoles).
But, before you dive—or climb—into the task of creating an upper-upstairs bedroom from scratch, there are five questions to answer first:
Have you ever converted an attic into a useable bedroom?
1. Is the attic space large enough?
Once you start examining an attic as a potential living space, the possibilities become quickly apparent—as do the limitations. If you factor in features like knee walls (short walls spanning the roof’s slope to the future floor) and headroom (typically less than 8 feet), the space will be “cozy,” for sure. A bedroom’s largest piece of furniture will most likely be a bed; for an attic space, a 39” wide by 80” long twin XL mattress would be ideal to accommodate a child or adult—two twins could even be pushed together to create a full-sized bed that would otherwise be difficult to heave up into an attic. If you can fit a mattress and some furniture, you have a new attic bedroom.
2. Is it legal and safe?
That is, you have a new attic bedroom if local building codes will allow it. Legalities can be a buzzkill for an ambitious homeowner, but safety should always be a priority above landing a remodel photo spread in Dwell magazine. You can expect that hiring a qualified building inspector will set you back anywhere between $50 to $150, and while codes vary by state and neighborhood, the inspector will typically evaluate three criteria: ceiling (at least 7’6” over 70’ minimum of floor area), attic floor joists (to determine if they’ll support the weight of humans and furniture), and egress (at least two points of entry and exit, such as a doorway and a window).
3. What’s the effect of the access?
That entry/exit point is going to invade your main-floor space, because most building codes require an actual staircase—the typical ladder isn’t going to cut it (though a third access point with a ladder is a good idea). This means some downstairs real estate will need to be sacrificed to create a proper walkup; you may find that closet spaces are typically the least intrusive. A straight staircase is the simplest to construct, as well as the most versatile when it comes to reclaiming storage space from the loss of a closet. Spiral staircases take up less space but are usually more expensive to install. Another option, residential zoning codes permitting: an outside staircase.
4. Can you power, cool, and heat it?
Your attic bedroom is going to be a living space, so it should be livable, which means it’ll need electrical power outlets, as well as heat and air conditioning. If your electrical panel has room for more breakers, it should be relatively east to string wires to your attic (but be sure to consult a licensed electrician on this one). Likewise, an HVAC specialist should be able to determine if your system has enough force to push warm and cool air to the upper reaches of your home; if not, you can look into a window-mounted air conditioner and/or electrical baseboard heaters. More-ambitious attic-converters have even installed an extra upstairs bathroom and skylights.
5. Can you design it to your liking?
After all of the technical issues above are addressed, the biggest challenge remains: making your attic bedroom work. Balancing practicalities and aesthetics is trickier in such odd confines, but many homeowners have taken on the challenge and designed some spectacular attic living spaces. For more inspiration, the “tiny house” movement of the past several years has introduced hundreds of new ideas for small-space utilization and storage, and most are adaptable to attic living. Pull-out beds, vertical shelving, slide-out table surfaces, multi-drawer configurations—study up and take advantage of them.