It is no secret making the best and highest use of our homes is important to us all. In general, we don’t like to have wasted spaces, and this time of year most certainly don’t want to be heating those spaces for no good reason. For the most part, I have had my home office in spare bedrooms. Once, I actually had a whole half of our basement. That was fun, but kind of wasteful and silly. I used the space heater for nearly the entire winter.

One option for optimizing space in your home is the attic. Today I’d like to share a few insights for making great use of that space.

Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a newer home, many homes around New England are getting a little long in the tooth. If the attic was never used (or intended to be used) for a living area, it is going to be important to check that it is up to code.

Whether it be exposed wires, not tall enough (normally 7 feet is the minimum), no safe egress, or any other violations, it is important to check those items first. You don’t want to be excitedly shopping for a new desk and furniture when the reality of claiming that space becomes cost-prohibitive just to get it up to code.

While having our roof repaired a couple years ago, one of the contractors literally stepped through the roof and into the master bedroom. Granted, he stepped (backwards) into the vent hole for the master bath. Who walks backwards on a roof? If you are considering an attic space, have someone (smarter than that guy) check the top floor ceiling for structural integrity. Not all ceilings are made to be walked on or lived on, so that will be an important piece of this puzzle.

Since you are considering adding a fairly significant living space to your existing home, you should give some thought to the existing HVAC, plumbing and other pertinent systems in your home.

Obviously, the most important factor will be the stereo system! Beyond that, make sure your furnace can handle the extra space and if you are adding a bathroom up there (wow!) see if the water and sewer systems are up to snuff. Many times, the addition of a space heater and/or air conditioner will suffice.

Speaking of heat, insulation is going to be a big part of this project both top and bottom. In many attics the insulation is concentrated on the floor and not in the roof. This way, the roof itself stays cooler and the heat remains below the floor in the living areas. If you are changing this up, you will move the insulation to the roof since you want some heat in your fancy, new office. “I recommend leaving the existing insulation in the floor of the attic as well as adding some additional noise barrier such as carpet,” notes Badger Realty agent, Norman Head.

“Just like good fences make good neighbors, good insulation makes for a happier home,” he continued.

Access to this space is a very important consideration. If it is simply going to be used as a part-time office space, maybe a full stairway is not vital. But if you are planning to work up there on a daily basis or it will be used regularly, a standard staircase is going to be necessary. An apartment I once lived in down in Portsmouth had a spiral staircase to the second floor. It was certainly not the most convenient way to get up there, but it did save a ton of space and got the job done. Consider some creative options for your stairs and it may make the whole project more feasible.

Since most attics don’t have sky lights and, for the most part, are limited to windows on the gable ends, lighting is going to be a serious consideration for you. Replacing the windows (and even opting for larger ones) is a great option to optimize the available light and fresh air. And since you are likely starting with a bare ceiling (no insulation or sheetrock) you can get more creative with recessed lighting options. Regardless of what you think you may need, my recommendation is to opt for a little bit more. Add a few more lights (especially in the ceiling) than you originally think will be needed. The winter is long (and kinda dark) so having that space feel bright and airy is going to make it much more welcoming.

Lastly the paint you choose is going to be pretty important as well. Just like the lighting we noted above, keeping things light and airy in the paint color department is going to be key. If you are itching to get creative and add a splash of color, do so on those gable ends where the windows are. They will be more forgiving with the darker colors and take up less space overall. Chances are your ceiling is going to make up a significant part of your “walls,” so choose the colors wisely.

Claiming that attic space is a huge win for most homeowners and the work-from-home crowd simply loves the extra space and privacy. A teenager would die for that space as their own bedroom oasis and mom and dad might even like to make that the master bedroom. The artist in the family would appreciate the studio space it provides and the reader might just like the quiet solitude. Take a peek up into your attic and see if you can envision the space as more livable and more than just a spot to store the Christmas tree. Happy remodeling!

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