With the current state of the economy, we’re getting many calls about attic and basement renovations. It seems homeowners are more likely to stay put and make the most of the space they currently have.
Interestingly, attics and basements are perhaps the two most common projects that homeowners will tackle on their own — or by hiring a “fly-by-night” contractor. And that can be a big mistake.
If you want an attic or basement project done right — including done to code — you must account for a number of factors. Hiring a general contractor with the relevant experience should always be your first step.
Here’s a look at key considerations for both attic and basement renovations.
Considerations for Both Attics and Basements
You have to build to code, and every community’s codes have their unique nuances. For instance, how much square footage is allowable? The Town of Arlington permits the third level of a home to occupy
no more than 49% of the home’s footprint. However, some spaces (such as closets) don’t count toward the square-footage limit, so you can be creative with this rule.
Egress is an important building code issue — i.e. what is your egress out of the attic or basement (other than the stairway)? According to the Massachusetts State Building Code, any bedroom must have at
least one window that measures 20” x 24” in either direction and is no more than 44” off the floor.
If your attic or basement is not serving as a bedroom, it still must
have eight square feet of window surface for every 100 square feet
of floor space.
Know your headroom codes, too. The State Building Code stipulates that at least half of the floor space have at least 7’ 3” of headroom.
Insulation: Properly insulating your attic or basement is essential
for energy efficiency. Closed-cell spray foam has been growing
in popularity in recent years. This type of insulation can provide
a level of structural integrity to roof rafters and sometimes is the
only way to meet the requirements of the state “stretch energy
One manufacturer we like is Icynene — their product provides a
great seal, lets no air through and is made of reusable materials.
Attic renovations can come in variety of flavors. In the ideal scenario, your attic is ready to go, with features like a nice stairway, one or more windows, ample headroom and an established floor system. In this case, you’ll be able to explore a number of possibilities for the renovation.
On the other extreme are the many homes built since the 1950s
(particularly ranches or Capes) whose attics were not built to
support much weight and lack some or all of the above elements.
If you have an attic like this, you’ll need to temper your
expectations about what is structurally and/or financially possible.
Dormers: If your attic falls somewhere between the above two
extremes, dormers may be necessary to create the space you need
and to meet headroom requirements.
Access: How will you access the attic? If you can already get to
the attic via a stairway, you’re in good shape. If not, you may face
a tough decision, as building a stairway often means sacrificing a
second-floor bedroom in smaller homes.
As you can imagine, ensuring your basement will stay dry is
the No. 1 consideration for these projects. If you have a newer
home, the basement is probably well-sealed and has a sump pump
installed. If your home is older, that might not be the case. Either
way, be sure to address any water issues before proceeding with a
Ventilation: The State Building Code requires “every room
or space intended for human occupancy” to have “natural or
mechanical ventilation.” Bathrooms must be equipped with a
mechanical exhaust fan.
Consult with the Experts
Renovating your attic or basement can create more valuable space
in your home, from an offi ce or extra bedroom to a media room
or exercise room. At Custom, we’ve worked on dozens of these
projects since 1990. If we can be of assistance, please call us today