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What Are the Common Attic Conversion Regulations?

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  • Written By: Elizabeth West
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Turning an attic into livable space depends greatly on existing structure and building codes. While these can vary in different places, most attic conversion regulations require improvements in electrical and structural elements as well as climate control. A good attic conversion can add value to the home and may be an extra selling point when the house is sold.

Most attics are designed as storage, not living space. The floor is often not fastened down, there may be limited access and substandard or no electricity. If the area is intended as a separate dwelling for rental or as extended family quarters, a bathroom addition will probably be necessary. Historic districts might require special permission to alter a building's existing structure in any significant way. The municipality generally has control over outside parking arrangements for a rental unit.

Attic conversion regulations for windows go by existing local codes, which require that a certain percentage is allotted for the space. These regulations address light and air admission and emergency escape. Some attics will require the addition of stairs for access and egress purposes. Most attic conversion regulations must conform to existing building codes for fire resistance in walls and partitions and proximity to an exit for emergency evacuation.

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Climate control in the new space should be considered. Attic conversion regulations may include limitations on how existing heating and air conditioning systems should or can be extended into the remodeled area. A trained heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician can help evaluate whether the system can handle the extra load. It can be upgraded if it needs replacing anyway, or separate baseboard heating and a window unit may be enough.

Building projects require local permits, and attic conversion regulations are no different. To obtain electrical and plumbing permits, homeowners will most likely be expected to provide architectural and structural plans for the proposed project. Accurate measurements of the space should be included in site plans and architectural drawings and should show the location of existing fixtures. Placement of load-bearing walls or their alteration may be restricted, and floor joists will often have to be reinforced or added to accommodate increased activity in the space.

A good building plan that conforms to attic conversion regulations will address such issues as insulation in the roof and walls and headroom. Many attics are not tall enough to accommodate an adult standing at full height. If the roof must be raised over the space, this can push costs far beyond those expected; in this case, homeowners may want to consider an addition rather than a remodel. When the conversion is finished, homeowners can enjoy their new space. A well-planned project that doesn’t go too far over budget will usually recoup its cost when it comes time to sell the home, as buyers may find the extra room and privacy of a good attic conversion an attractive feature when considering their purchase.

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