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Old 03-20-2017, 09:58 AM   #1
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Making attic more useful.


We want to refurbish our attic. This is not DIY, we'll hire someone to do this. To make it clear from the start, this is NOT a full-blown, fancy-shmancy remodel. No bedroom, no bathroom, no hobby room, no living up there at all. It will continue to be used as a typical attic catch-all. We don't have much up there now, and some of that will be cleared out.

We just want to be able to open it up in order to be able to walk around up there w/o having to do a balancing act between the 2X4 studs of the "floor" (i.e. put in a floor of some sort) and add a bit of lighting. Currently there is nasty, old batting insulation on the floor and one lone light socket near the entrance.

Our question is where is the line drawn between simply making it more useful w/o it being considered "living space" that would require all the expense, legalities, egress, ingress, and hassle of permits and inspectors? It's an old house, built in 1914, 1164 sq ft, pretty much a square house. We already know what it would take to make it a genuine "living area", and it's not worth it, we can't afford it, and it's not what we want anyway.
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Old 03-20-2017, 10:21 AM   #2
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Re: Making attic more useful.


The only person who can answer where the line is between conversion to living space and something else is the building inspector. Individuals on a DIY chat forum certainly have opinions, however the opinion of someone on a chat forum plus $5 buys you a latte at Starbucks.

So your option is to discuss the project with your building inspector, or if you are concerned that they will give you an answer you don't like, I suppose you could go ahead with the project without pulling a permit. I advise against this approach, however there are certainly folks who may have differing opinions on the need for and wisdom of filing for a permit.

As to whether the floor can support walking around, that is a matter of the size and spacing of the joists. I believe you referred to 2x4 studs on the floor, perhaps you meant 2x4 joists? You can look up the carrying capacity of 2x4 joists, the load capacity is based on the span. Typically the lightest load you would design any type of space you planned to walk around on would be 20 pounds per square foot live load, plus 5 pounds per square foot dead load. You can determine if the floor joists could support such a load once you measure the span. If they cannot support such a load (likely the case), any project to make the attic useful as storage or similar space would likely require replacement of the floor joists with larger elements, or perhaps sistering of new joists to the old. If you pull a permit, no doubt your building inspector will explain if there are additional requirements for matters such as egress, ventilation, stairs, windows, insulation etc.
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Old 03-20-2017, 11:52 AM   #3
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Re: Making attic more useful.


Couple of different contractors said the joists would have to be "beefed up", both said they would pair them with new ones. They are 15" apart measuring from the inside. I'm just trying to find out if anybody has ever done this. Everywhere else I look online all talk about the full-meal-deal type of attic remodel, which isn't what we want. We're trying to stay within the bounds of not needing a permit.
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Old 03-20-2017, 02:20 PM   #4
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Re: Making attic more useful.


I agree with Daniel that the final answer has to come from your local code office. But adding storage space without heat and electric would doubtful be considered as living space. One caution is, whatever you build someone else will fill and thus the need for it to meet building code requirements. If your contractors can get the engineering done, (not expensive) and provide a design then you can run that by your local office and you should be all set.

However, one of the strange aspects of building codes is that local officials have the final say.

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Old 03-20-2017, 04:38 PM   #5
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Re: Making attic more useful.


I've done a few. First off, as long as you are going to use it for storage do not sweat the Building Dept. #2, your ceiling joists, if they are 2x4's, will need to be beefed up. There are a few ways to approach that. A structural engineer can make recommendations. In most cases, that involves "sistering" a bigger joist, 2x6 or 2x8. The span will determine what lumber to use. The main problem is working around existing electrical, as it is usually stapled to the existing framing. To be honest, an experienced framing carpenter will have enough sense of what to do. Because the ceiling joists will be going every which way, there may not be a standard approach to beefing up the floor, i.e. more joists on one end, over-framing on another end. I assume you have a "cut" roof, which are rafters approximately 24" apart. If you had trusses you would not have much walking room. With a "cut" roof it is possible to install "kickers" in spots that will support the ceiling floor, and are attached to the rafters and sometimes rest on a bearing wall. Also, adding plywood to the floor, 3/4" T&G, will help stiffen the floor and reduce springiness. There are lots of ways to skin that cat.

Getting long lumber up there can be a problem. Usually we have to take out a window, rent a scissor-lift or scaffold, depending on the size of the house. As long as it is classified as and continues to be "storage" the Building Dept SHOULD have no issues. Making living space is a whole other can of worms.

A good strategy might be to have a framing contractor and an engineer work it out, have him build something the engineer and then the Dept. will sign off on. Building Depts., in my experience, always defer to structural engineers. If the structural engineer makes it seem like rocket science, get another structural engineer. I would start with a framing contractor. Good luck
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