how to extreme

Remodel Your Attic Space

Construction How-To, Remodeling May 7, 2008 Sonia

Remodel an attic into a Living Room

By Mark Clement





Winter is a good time for attic work. I should know, I started this attic pro­ject in the summer, and it was well over a hundred degrees for much of the project as the sun bore down mercilessly.

In winter, however, days are short and if you remodel in odd hours like many are prone to do (I’m guilty as charged), then you will find an attic conversion ideal for those darker days where you want to get something done. And converting a husk of a space into something you can really use is a good expenditure of time, if you ask me.

This particular project (the high temperatures notwithstanding) was fun and rewarding. I got to detail a signature space and build a room designed to be a multi-functioning one-of-a-kind. We meshed living/working space with storage and even some leisure on this job—there was a lot going on. So while your attic conversion may not follow this exact path, you may have elements of it—everything from design details and insulation to framing, trim and windows.

In this renovation, I built knee walls, installed skylights, replaced windows, added doors, sanded floors, did site-specific trim and used every tool in my shop to

get it done. Here’s my version of conversion.



The space is 28-by-32 feet, with a hip roof (about an 8-pitch) with a 6-foot-wide doghouse dormer on the front and an existing flight of stairs. The floor is top-nailed 1-by-12-ish Douglas Fir skip-sheathing. The rafters were rough-sawn full 2-by-8 fir boards that had developed a rustic brown patina in the hundred years since the framers cut them with hand saws and hand-nailed them in place.

Installing the rigid foam insulation was more carpentry than insulation. In order to get a fairly snug fit we cut compound angels and had to dry-fit the pieces several times before they were right.

On the surface, the design for this attic space was typical: We were to insulate, add a perimeter knee wall, install drywall, new electrical and trim out.

That was the surface.

The design details called for much more finicky carpentry to make this not only a signature space, but one that worked both for living and for storage. And once I got into it, I realized just how quickly adding detail to a project like this—in a space like this—is much harder than a basic build-out. The good news is the payoff: It looks terrific.

The detail that delivers the attic’s hallmark is that the bottom 2 inches of the rafters are exposed, making it appear almost Tudor-ish. Next, the knee wall is board-and-bead pine panels with nine custom barn gate doors to allow awesome access to stored items. The dormer took a new casement window and custom trim.

If you’ve been remodeling for more than five minutes, you’re probably already envisioning the mounting number of little pieces and perhaps the amount of coffee required to get me through the headaches and hard work this job brought.


Framing Layout and Insulation

There are two kinds of insulation on this project—batts and rigid foam. The batts went in the eaves behind the kneewall and above the collar ties in the rafters. In order to know how much to install, I first had to determine the finished ceiling height and locate the kneewalls, requiring that I pull measurements and snap lines before installing the first phase of insulation. Note: Use red or some other bright, indelible chalk on this one to keep the lines from being smudged or wiped out so they’re easy to find.

The exposed rafter design required two insulation types- rigid foam between the rafters and batts everywhere else. The roof system was vented before installing insulation, which we then laminated with drywall.

While doing this I was able to raise the ceiling a few inches by removing the old collar ties and gluing/nailing 3/4-in. plywood gussets to the rafters. I also added new joists to carry the drywall that we’d eventually hang.

Framing was a challenge here because accuracy was vital all the way through, from laying out the plates to getting jack studs dead on. I used an impact driver to screw instead of nail sometimes, and a 10” chop saw really earned its weight and made cutting easier.