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Attics                                                                               Back to Main FAQs

What is an attic truss?

Attic trusses are engineered and manufactured at a truss plant then delivered to your jobsite.  They are designed to give you a simple but effective way to add living or storage space in an attic that might otherwise end up just being unused and lost space.  These trusses cost a bit more but really do add great value to a project if that space can be accessed reasonably.

How much room does a stairway take up?

Stairs are a necessary evil in any home with multiple levels.  They provide access and can be made in many differing configuration but all designs have to meet minimum design standards in order to work properly and safely.  As a result, this means that there is a certain amount of space that a set of stairs takes up on each level of a home when stairs are included. From a design point of view, figure on a stairwell minimum width (wall to wall) of 40” up to maybe 48” for a wider run.  Landings must be a minimum of about 40” x 40” and typical runs depending of distance between floors will be somewhere around 12’ – 15’.  The goal of course would be to stack stairways between multiple floors to keep this impact on each floor confined to one area in the home.

Are there headroom requirements in order to finish an attic?

Most building codes are fairly specific on what are reasonable and safe ceiling heights in any habitable space.  This has to do with many factors but one interesting facet of this has to do with smoke accumulation in event of a fire.  Taller ceilings will allow for more smoke to occupy the upper area of a room before completely engulfing the space. This of course gives more time to evacuate and area.  Flat ceiling areas generally need to be a minimum of 7’ in height but it gets complicated if a portion of the attic space is present in the form of sloped ceilings.  The code allows for a certain percentage of these sloped areas to be included in the habitable square footage but this formula will determine how much of the attic can actually be finished into usable space. Your design/build pro can assist in laying out the finish options for that valuable space that works for you, is code compliant and safe for you and your family!

How much stuff can I store in my attic?

This is a great question and is important to understand.  Overloading attic floor framing can cause ceiling cracking and worse!  Most older homes (pre-early 60’S) were built using conventional framing, where individual structural members were cut and assembled into attic floors, rafters and other structural items like dormers and collar ties.  The 60’s brought on a revolution in the building industry and framing components started to be manufactured offsite and delivered, ready to install.  As with attics, these components are called trusses and have allowed for less expensive and faster construction of a home.  What you gain in savings and speed, you give up in possible strength and access.  You have seen trusses in attics as they are easy to identify. A very symmetrical “spider web” of light framing everywhere is characteristic of these assemblies.  Another characteristic is that most trusses are designed to simply support the weight of themselves, the roof above and the ceiling below. Few trusses (see FAQ, Ceiling Trusses) are capable of supporting any storage related items in the attic.  Yes, they will hold lightweight storage items perhaps, but how far you can push their design limit is always the question.  It’s best just to assume they aren’t made to hold any additional load.  Now, recall the conventional framing mentioned earlier in this FAQ. These attic spaces may OR may not be designed adequately to support storage items, let alone finishing the attic space into that attic bedroom or home theatre. That’s when you want to call a remodeling pro to get an accurate assessment of what’s safe to assume or what might be required to add to the floor framing to allow for all those National Geographics you’re saving or better yet, to finish off that space for the kids.  The beauty of conventional framing is that you can almost always repurpose that space into a new area without adding to the footprint of the existing home.  Economies of scale and exciting possibilities can frequently be found in that dark attic space!

I want to make an attic bedroom. What are some considerations?

There are several things to consider and discuss with your contractor.  First, a bedroom is considered living area and needs to meet the minimum standards for finished ceiling height.  Ohio’s minimum is 7’ ceiling.  Second, any bedroom must have an egress window that can act as exit in case of a fire.  See your contractor for size requirements.  Your stair access also must meet code requirements unless it is an existing condition.  Finally, consider how you will heat and cool the space.  Will your existing furnace/AC be able to handle the additional square footage?  Will you need a separate unit for that space.  Your remodeling pro will be able to work with his//her heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor to ascertain and advise you on the best plan(s) to properly condition the new finished space.

What is considered proper attic ventilation?

Depends what area of the home we are talking.  Virtually all building assemblies and/or areas benefit from ventilation.  Basement and crawl spaces, walls and attics all need to be taken into consideration.  Today’s building practices really create a pretty tightly constructed environment where little air actually moves freely. That is both a good and a bad thing. Good for comfort and energy efficiency; not good for interior environmental quality and durability of the structure.  Basically, the culprit to the structure is moisture that isn’t allowed to move out of the building or to dissipate. All areas of the home where moisture is generated or trapped is of concern.  Proper crawl space and basement ventilation is crucial in these below grade areas as moisture intrusion or containment without drying can cause deterioration of building materials as well as occupant health problems.  Wall assemblies are especially problematic because of the seasonal temperature differential that can occur between the outside and inside difference in temperature (and sometimes relative humidity).  Water vapor moves from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration in building assemblies. In walls, often times the vapor hits the dew point as it migrates through the wall and there, it condenses (much like what occurs with a cold drink container on a hot day).  The vapor turns into water that can saturate a wall and cause water related damage and eventual decay.  Not a good thing!  In mixed temperature climates, you always want a wall assembly that is designed not to trap moisture but to allow the wall to “dry” from one or both sides.  That way, any moisture that is in the wall is permitted to be evacuated by a properly designed and constructed wall.  The same phenomena and drying requirement is necessary in attics as they too can have moisture trapped if not allowed to dry on one or both sides of the attic insulation and finish(s).  Proper ventilation is the vehicle in which moisture is transported and removed from an area like a crawlspace or an assembly like a wall or attic. It should be noted that there ways to passively or actively ventilate spaces or areas but assemblies are dried by allowing vapor to move through the actual building materials (diffusion) and to be removed into the ambient air environment adjacent to the assembly.

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