So You Want to Convert Your Attic?

When converting an attic, figure out how it will be used. Overall, a full conversion, rather than a DIY job, can be a valuable investment.

When you have a busy life, it’s tough keeping your house tidy and mess-free. If you’ve filled every cupboard and storage unit, perhaps it’s time to look up – to the attic. Sure, this unused space may be musty or damp and full of eight-legged critters, but it can be transformed into an ideal storage unit or even a spare wardrobe – perfect for holding all those things you rarely use. While this can be an easy conversion, it’s also worth considering a more extensive revamp, turning the attic into a guest room, playroom or study – all with plenty of cupboards, shelves and drawers. Here are 10 good tips to get things started.

  1. Check the space 
    Traditional homes – be they Victorian terrace, Federation house, California bungalow or classic Queenslander – usually have a generous roof pitch, making it easy to covert the space into an attic. New homes may be a little tricky as their trussed roofs are structured differently. To find out if your space can be converted, there’s a roof height standard – the minimum head height is 2.4 metres in at least 60 per cent of the floor area. When measuring, you need to allow for some extra clearance as the height still needs to be 2.4 metres after the conversion is complete.

  1. DIY project?
    If you know the attic is a decent size, the first step is deciding how it will be used. Are you looking for just storage or something more substantial? If you’re just knocking up some shelving or cupboards, you may be able to do it yourself. Grab your dust mask, make sure all the measurements are right and start dragging up some nifty flat-pack units. Of course, the tricky bit is adding a pull-down ladder, decent flooring, skylights and some electrical work – a handyman for these jobs may be required to complete the project. Also, don’t just pile up everything from your ancient soccer trophies to textbooks and winter blankets without checking the load-bearing capacity of the floor/ceiling first.


  1. Hire a professional
    If you desire a more substantial upgrade, it’s best to turn to a roof conversion company. They will sort out insulation, ventilation, flooring, electrical and even plumbing if you’re including an ensuite. A ladder or spiral staircase also needs to be integrated with the style of your downstairs interior.

  1. Insulation

If you’re planning to use the attic as a guest room, playroom or office,     it’s essential to add or upgrade your insulation. Good quality roof insulation will help keep the attic cool in summer and warm in winter. Floor insulation will minimise noise coming down from above or up from below. It may push the price up, but the improved work efficiency in your attic office will help pay off those extra debts.

5. Council approval
Get used to the phrase ‘habitable’ when it comes to obtaining council approval. If you’re planning to convert the roof cavity into a useable room, you’ll have to go through the council. There are different regulations in different states, so check your local council online. To simplify things, use a qualified roof conversion company – they’re always up to date in regard to regulatory requirements.

  1. Decision time – ladder or stairs
    While a pull-out ladder is a price-cutter, it’s important to see this attic as a long-term space. At the moment, it may work as a handy storage unit but as your kids grow, you may want to convert it into a playroom, study or a great place for sleepovers. At that point, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for taking the cheap option. Who wants eight-year-olds climbing down a ladder at 3am when they need to go to the toilet?Converting the ladder into a staircase will be much more expensive, but it’s a long-term investment worth considering. You may have the opportunity to work from home in the future so the attic may be used more often than expected. Also, a quality staircase improves your property value – who could resist the designer attic that’s beautifully integrated into the interior?


  1. Skylight
    An abundance of natural light is warm, inviting and creates a feeling of space. Proper ventilation is a necessity, along with some type of shading – blinds, shutters, tinted glass or even whirlybirds – to avoid turning the space into an oven during balmy months.


  1. How long will it take?
    If you’re going for a DIY build that just involves storage, the whole project can be completed in a weekend, plus a week or so getting tradespeople in for flooring and electrical work. However, if you’re looking at a full conversion, it will take around four to eight weeks, once you get the green light for your development application.


  1. Minimal interruption
    The good news is that there’s little interruption during an attic conversion as the builders actually access the attic from the roof. Of course, it’s important to touch base with the tradies or project manager, just in case there are any unexpected issues during the build. There will be more noise and dust in the final stage when the contractors install the staircase or the ladder, but this will probably be a one-day job. Overall, the job will be quick and painless.

  1. Perfect storage systems
    In the early stages, it’s important to figure out what will be sent to the attic – winter clothes being packed away for summer; boxes of memorabilia; textbooks and business files that need to be accessed now and then? Storage options can range from stackable boxes to a built-in library or shelving. Most importantly, make sure that about one-third of the space is unaccounted for – it will be filled before too long.


This story was written by Kerryn Ramsey Houzz Australia Contributor. Freelance lifestyle journalist and serial renovator, reporting for print and digital articles on architecture, design, travel and business.  Further stories and resources are available at



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