When was the last time you were in your attic? Were you taking down holiday decorations? Perhaps it was the only good space to store an old item you’re still sentimental about. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of uses for an attic—it is a great source of often untapped decorative potential. If you’ve been trying to figure out how to get more space out of your home, consider finishing your attic. It will increase your house’s value, and using room you already have will keep you from having to cut into your outdoor space for a home addition. With a little creativity, you can probably get more usable space than you would expect from an awkwardly shaped attic, and it can be used for just about anything.

Building Codes and Safety Regulations

Although it is the least fun part of the attic renovation process, the first step is to figure out whether your attic can be safely and legally remodeled. Building codes change all the time and vary by location, but there are some general guidelines that we will explore below.

At least seventy square feet of your attic must be more than five feet high. This area is referred to as your usable space, and at least half of it must have seven or more feet of headroom. Once your attic is finished, windows must take up at least eight percent of the area of your usuable space. No less than four percent of the total area should be openable, not including the primary exit. For example, if you have one hundred square feet of usable space, you will need a minimum of eight square feet of windows, and at least four square feet of those windows must open. These window guidelines exist to ensure there is more than one way to escape or rescue someone from the attic in case there is an emergency.

Stairs should be at least three feet wide, and each step must be no less than nine and a half inches deep and no more than seven and three quarters of an inch tall. Stairways are required to have eighty or more inches of headroom. Spiral staircases are usually acceptable, as long as they meet these requirements. Just make sure you’ll be able to get furniture up the stairs safely.

Other things to consider are your attic floor and your home’s heating and cooling system. The floor should be able to support at least thirty pounds per square foot; this is known as its load capacity. Your heating system must be capable of keeping the attic at a steady 68 degrees when the outdoor temperature is at its lowest for your area. Because hot air rises, a dedicated attic heating system is typically not necessary, but keeping the space comfortable in the warmer months can be a challenge.

Attic Ideas

Now that you’re aware of the safety regulations, it’s time to decide what you want to do with your new attic space. Do you dream of an extra bedroom, a bathroom, a master suite, an office, a playroom, a library, a yoga studio, or—if your attic is big enough—more than one of the above?

The unique layout of your attic will inspire creative design options; take advantage of every sharp angle and tight space, as they are part of an attic room’s coziness and charm. Have built-in shelving, cabinets, or bookcases installed in particularly awkward spaces during renovation, or find furniture that is low enough to fit under the eaves. If you have a small dormer, consider adding a cushioned window bench to create a snug little reading nook.

Take advantage of natural light by installing windows and skylights (as an added bonus, you can watch the stars at night). Opt for paint in varying shades of white or other bright colors to make the space seem larger. The focal point of attic spaces tends to be the ceiling, so add visual interest by covering it with wood or decorative paneling. Recessed lighting is also a popular choice.

The possibilities for your attic are endless, so if your family could use the extra space, spend some time figuring out exactly what you would like to do with it. Then, discuss your options with a professional, and you’ll soon be enjoying your newfound space.

Click Here to View Your Local Best Pick® Basement Remodeling Contractors

Sources: Apartment Therapy; Better Homes and Gardens; The Family Handyman; International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings; This Old House.

For more information on our sources, please contact us directly.