How to Turn an Attic into a Room for Living

Serving the Washington,
DC Metro Area
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose
insights on residential architec-
ture have been published in
House Beautiful, the New York Times, Southern Living, the Washingtonian, Washington
Post, Colonial Homes and Other periodicals. Ask the Architect appears frequently in the Times Mirror news group, and has been featured in titles published by Media General, Network Communications and others.
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“How can I expand my home’s livable space without building an addition? Can I turn my attic into living space? ”

- A.D., Washington, DC


Increasing your home’s living space without building an addition can often be achieved with space reconfiguration and conversion. You’re absolutely right—yes, attics can be converted to livable areas.

Whether you need more space to accommodate a growing family and don’t want to build an addition or local codes prohibit you from building out, attic renovation can be a great solution. However, there are some things to keep in mind. When it comes to attic conversions, the main elements to consider include:


  • The most efficient way to install a staircase is to place the new staircase over the top of the existing one.
  • If placing the stair over the top of the existing stair does not fit in your home, find a location that minimizes the amount of space it takes from existing rooms. A typical house requires about 10 linear feet of space for a stair.
  • If possible, avoid pie shaped treads (winders) because they may not meet local building codes.


  • Make sure the ceiling meets the legal minimum (to prevent problems with current building codes).
  • If you have a low roof, alterations may be necessary. Trusses can be removed and conventional rafter framing inserted to free up attic space.

Heating & Cooling

  • A livable attic space should have its own heating and cooling system.
  • You’ll need more cooling to keep the space comfortable in the summer, but a more modest approach can be taken with heating. Gas fired forced air, electric heat pumps, and radiator heating systems are all viable options.


  • Recessed lights can be more convenient than pendant lights if your ceilings are lower and you have limited space.
  • Sometimes skylights can be used.
  • Much of this decision can be determined by your personal preferences.


For converting an attic to livable space, you also need insulation, drywall, electrical outlets, and paint. Your design-build company will be able to discuss all this (and more) with you. They’ll also be able to give you additional tips that relate to your specific home style.

Have another question? Want to know more specifics about attic conversions for specific period style homes? Feel free to contact us!

About Bruce

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose insights on residential architecture have been published in House Beautiful, Southern Living, Washingtonian, Colonial Homes, and other periodicals.