Finishing off an attic is a popular way to squeeze more livable square footage out of an existing home. There are challenges to this type of renovation, however, and a lot of systems within the house should be considered, not the least of which is your roof. Since attics abut your roofing system, it is the most susceptible to poorly designed or constructed finished attics, so always make sure to use an experienced, licensed contractor. While we recommend having a professional do all the associated work for this type of project, here are a few things to consider ahead of time or to make sure your contractor addresses.
The number one most important thing to ensure during a finished attic project is maintaining proper ventilation. When an attic is unfinished, the system has space to breathe, while well-installed insulation and vents keep temperatures optimal to avoid condensation. But when drywall is put up, insulation is moved around and vents are covered, this can affect how the roof reacts to temperature changes. If not done correctly, this can cause condensation to build up between the roof and drywall, causing rot and mold to both surfaces.
If insulation is being reinstalled between the rafters behind the drywall, it’s important that air space is left between the insulation and the roof sheathing. There are special foam baffles that are made specifically for this purpose that should be used. There should also be a plenum (or connected air space) built into the design. You may notice that most finished attic rooms have a flat portion of the ceiling at the top (as opposed to an A-frame ceiling). That area above the flat ceiling is the plenum – it allows air from between rafters to move laterally as necessary in order to reach the roof vents.
If these design details are not incorporated into your project, rot will occur on your roof sheathing, drywall or both. The problem is that once an attic is finished off, it’s very hard to know these issues are happening until it’s too late and rot, mold and mildew have appeared. So be aware and discuss these details with your contractor ahead of time.
For many homes, much of the HVAC system’s ductwork lives in their unfinished attic. Whether mounted to the rafters or lying across the floor of the attic (or both), all of it will need to be repositioned and worked around. This may require some creative designing to allow space for ductwork to go above and behind the drywall with enough space for insulation and air flow. This means you may need to call in an HVAC company in addition to your general contractor.
If your new finished space is going to tap into your central air system, then the ductwork will need to be reconfigured by an HVAC specialist. It would be wise to work in access panels for key parts of the HVAC unit so repairs can be done without having to rip out drywall. If you don’t plan on tapping into the main system, consider something like a mini split AC unit that is efficient, can be used when needed, and can help with maintaining reasonable temperatures in the space to help decrease any chance of condensation.
Although less likely, there is a chance that some key plumbing elements are housed in your attic that will also need to be worked around or reconfigured by a licensed plumber. The most common issue arises with homes that have hot water heaters in the attic. Space will need to be carved out for housing it, typically in a small closet so there is still easy access for repairs and replacement.
If you do decide to finish your attic space, discuss all of these concerns with your contractor, and also keep a close eye on your finished room after it’s complete. Check for mold or mildew on drywall and address it as soon as you see it. Make sure the room stays a reasonable temperature and investigate any damp or dank smells that may occur. If you have any concerns that a finished attic space may have caused damage to your roof, please contact Andrews Roofing immediately and we will send an experienced, licensed and insured professional to your home for an inspection and estimate before the issue gets worse.