Any work involving your roof may bring to light all sorts of defects and weaknesses, so be prepared to spend more money than you think. Depending on the authorities in the part of the country where you live, you may have to build a permanent staircase to your attic if it is going to be ‘habitable’ – that is, a living room or bedroom.
If it is just for storage, you may get away with a ladder. But in either case there must be headroom of at least 2m (6feet 6.5inches) as you go into the attic space. In a ‘habitable’ attic the ceiling height must be at least 2.25m (7feet 6 inches) over half of the unobstructed floor area, but you can reduce the total floor area with built-in cupboards.
Adding a window in the roof area
A dormer window is another very acceptable way of gaining a larger area, plus sufficient light. Although roof lights are the easiest windows to install, they may not be allowed by the by-laws governing ventilation, and they can make a low attic extremely hot. A dormer will open up new vistas and, if inverted, can give space for a tiny roof garden or balcony. When choosing your windows, remember that maintenance may be difficult – if so, pick something with a tough and long lasting finish.
Adding a gallery to the top floor of a house
If your attic is too small to use as an extra floor, you could still utilise the space by adding a gallery by opening it up to the floor below (this will not have so many legal restrictions). Then part of your top floor will have an impressive, high ceiling, with some sort of staircase to an informal, unusual, cosy balcony. Youngsters in particular like this idea, although the elderly may find it rather too open and more like an adventure playground.
A need for insulation
Of course, either in a full conversion or a balcony, weatherproofing and insulation are imperative; (see Insulation for more details) you stand to lose a high percentage of your heating if it is neglected. You can weatherproof the underside of your roof by spraying on a sealer to stop leaks. It will last 25 years. Boarding nailed onto the joists over a layer of glass fibre will give added insulation and will look very pleasant. Make sure your attic floor joists are strong enough to take continued walking. Plywood or block board will be cheaper than floorboards.
Carpeting will give added insulation and soundproofing. One good way of using the lowest corners of your sloping ceiling is to build beds under them.