By Rochel Maday | Published Sep 23, 2022 3:03 PM
Finishing an attic means transforming unused space beneath the roof of a home into usable living space. The design process usually involves adding robust and supportive flooring, electrical wiring, duct work, new wall framing, drywall, and possibly even plumbing if bathroom space is being added. While the job scope of an attic transformation can be quite extensive for blank canvases, homeowners whose attics have an easily adaptable layout may be able to get by with a smaller budget. For homeowners considering an attic refinish, knowing the different variables and how they affect the final cost is important.
According to Angi and HomeAdvisor, the national average cost to finish attic space is $25,250 but has a typical range of $4,600 to $70,000. Factors such as attic size, attic style, intended purpose for the space, and local labor costs all play a role in the final price tag. Most attic remodels are an expensive investment, but the good news is that they provide homeowners with multiple benefits, such as customized additional living space for growing families and increased home values.
This guide will help homeowners understand how to estimate the cost to finish an attic, how to save money during an attic remodel, and what benefits a finished attic brings to a home.
How much does it cost to finish an attic? There are several factors to consider when calculating the cost to transform an attic from simple storage to luxury living. The following are some of the most influential components to consider.
The size of an attic is likely the largest price influencer. It goes without saying that a small finished attic is likely to cost much less than a large finished attic.
A larger attic space is more likely to house more rooms. Attics are typically open, so adding additional wall framing and doors for zoned-off living space, sleeping areas, and bathrooms can increase an attic remodel budget very quickly. In comparison, a smaller attic space may only house a single room, like a bedroom or office. Without the need for additional walls or doors, the cost to transform a small attic into usable space tends to be much less.
The cost to finish an attic per square foot ranges from $30 to $60, which includes both labor and materials. The average attic measures between 1,600 and 1,800 square feet. Homeowners can determine the square footage of their attic space to calculate an estimated price based on size, but they’ll want to bear in mind that there are other factors that determine attic finishing cost as well.
What type of attic is being finished? This is an important question to answer, since not all attics are the same. Different attic types are suited for different purposes, influencing the final remodel cost.
For example, finishing a walk-up attic costs between $8,100 and $26,000. Walk-up attics have different remodeling approaches than ones with a hatch. Finishing a walk-up attic usually involves finishing the staircase and adding durable flooring. These two projects cost between $1,000 and $2,900 for the staircase and $2,500 to $6,800 for the flooring. In some cases, this may be enough to create a usable space for the homeowner to enjoy, but many homeowners want additional finishes that can push the total price closer to the high end of the average range.
Finishing an attic to be used as a storage space can apply to a few different attic styles. But for small, basic setups, either with or without stairs leading to the space, a storage remodel can cost as little as $4,600. A more elaborate storage space can cost up to $18,900.
Finishing an attic with a dormer (a window that projects vertically beyond the plane of a pitched roof) costs between $4,600 and $16,400. This includes the price of new roofing and flashing along with the cost of materials for the rest of the attic space.
Finally, finishing an attic above the garage can cost anywhere from $4,600 to $24,000, depending on whether heating, ventilation, and insulation need to be installed.
The reason for remodeling an attic also affects how much the project will cost. For example, transforming a small attic space into an office for remote or at-home work costs between $10,000 and $40,000, including materials and labor.
Turning an attic into a storage space may seem redundant, since many homeowners already use this space as an area for holiday decorations and family heirlooms. But remodeling an attic into a proper storage space means adding supportive flooring for safety and insulation to protect stored items. It can also involve built-ins and a design that maximizes attic storage potential. This type of remodel costs between $4,600 and $18,900 for materials and labor.
The cost to finish an attic bedroom runs between $8,000 and $30,000, while a bathroom costs between $9,600 and $52,000. For homeowners considering adding both a bedroom and a bathroom and turning unused attic space into a dream primary suite, the average price range is $27,000 to $80,000.
Labor typically accounts for 40 percent of an attic finishing project. Common attic finishing projects include insulation, demolition, electrical work, painting, designing, and more. All project types have their own unique labor costs.
Insulation has the most affordable labor average cost at $300. Demolition is just a bit more at $450. Electrical work costs about $500 in labor, while painting comes in at around $550. Labor costs for design come out to an average of $600; plumbing costs about $750 in labor. Flooring costs just over $1,000 in labor, while doors and windows cost about $1,050 in labor each. The labor costs associated with installing a closet are $1,100, while HVAC labor costs can reach as high as $2,575.
When estimating material costs for an attic remodel, homeowners may want to know that materials tend to account for 60 percent of a project price. This usually adds up to about $60 to $180 per square foot for materials.
When it comes to finishing an attic, the word “materials” covers a wide range of components. Materials could include drywall, insultation, carpeting, windows, lighting fixtures, or bathroom fixtures. There are also the materials hidden beneath the flooring, like subflooring, and materials in the walls, like plumbing and electrical work.
Contractors don’t always break down quotes by labor and materials. Homeowners may want to ask for an itemized list of what materials are being purchased for their project so they have a better idea of where their budget is being spent. This can also help homeowners know where they need to try to save on materials and where they can splurge.
Besides square footage and labor, there are a few other important costs and considerations homeowners should keep in mind when calculating the cost of attic renovation. Not all attic finishing projects will require the following, but keeping all potential costs in mind helps keep a project from going over budget.
A structural engineer helps with an attic remodel by making sure the space is able to stand up to stresses and pressures. In other words, they make sure an attic is a safe space for human use (because no one wants to feel the floor cave in) and can withstand the basics Mother Nature throws its way, like wind and torrential rain.
Not all attic remodels require the skills of a structural engineer, but it’s easy to see how their services could be beneficial. If finishing an attic is going beyond the basics, hiring a structural engineer is a good idea. A professional can make sure all the added weight in materials going into an attic remodel won’t put unbearable stress on a home’s structure. The cost to hire a structural engineer is between $400 and $800, which is actually a small price to pay to guarantee all the other work going into an attic remodel won’t come crashing down in the end. As a bonus, they can also offer finished attic ideas that complement the existing structural layout.
In most cases, major demolition isn’t necessary in an attic finishing project. This is because the space is usually a blank canvas, where all the work is about building from scratch rather than rebuilding due to poor function or unattractive aesthetics.
But there could be scenarios where a demo would be part of the attic finishing process. For example, maybe a previous homeowner gave a DIY finish a try and their work needs to be removed. Or maybe the layout and structure of an existing attic need to be extensively modified to accommodate the new layout.
When it comes to demolition labor fees, homeowners can expect to pay between $200 and $700. In most cases, demolition is a small percentage of the overall attic finishing cost and shouldn’t concern a homeowner much, especially if their attic is more bare bones in nature.
Basic attic finishing projects may not require a permit. But finishing an attic without a permit when part of the job scope involves electrical work, ventilation, or plumbing can be a decision that could result in serious fines. Most states require permits for these types of work, all which are common in above-based attic remodels.
A permit is also likely to be required if the design involves changing the structure of the existing attic, such as adding walls or dormers. The good news is that most contractors handle permit requirements, removing one task from a homeowner’s plate. These costs are typically built into the overall project cost, but curious homeowners can check with their local permitting office to see what individual costs may be; the typical range is $150 to $500.
There are many layers to an attic finishing project, all with their own unique price range. The following components give homeowners an idea of what to expect when it comes to pricing throughout the various phases of an attic remodel.
The manner in which an attic is accessed plays a role in how finishing the space will cost. For example, building a solid and safe staircase that meets local coding requirements costs between $500 and $3,000. For those looking for a more upscale look, a spiral staircase is always an option. They’re a bit pricier, though, with a typical range of $2,000 to $6,000.
It’s important that homeowners not make the mistake of assuming what’s already present will work. Attics with hatches or drop-down ladders are acceptable when a space is unfinished, but once the finishing process begins, permanent accessibility needs to be part of the design. Unsteady, movable ladders and drop-down staircases typically won’t meet building codes.
Windows are a necessity for any finished attic space. Not only do they add lighting for visual and aesthetic reasons, they’re also legally required for safety. In fact, for an attic bedroom to be legal, an egress window measuring at least 5.7 square feet must be part of the design process. This comes at a cost between $2,500 and $5,100 for materials and labor.
Skylights are another window option for attic spaces. They add natural light and solar heating while making the space feel brighter and bigger. This type of window costs between $1,000 and $2,400 for materials and installation.
Most older attics are likely under-insulated. Even a slightly finished attic would likely benefit from new insulation. Insulating an attic helps prevent air from escaping a home while also stopping outside air from coming in. It’s common for a home to lose heating and cooling through the attic, raising energy costs as a result. This is why adding one of the best attic insulation options is such an important part of the attic finishing process.
There are many different types of finished attic insulation, and the cost to install insulation depends heavily on type. For example, installing blown-in insulation has an average national cost of $1,555, while installing batt, rolled, or reflective insulation has an average national cost of $1,760. Spray foam insulation is the most expensive, though it’s up to 50 percent more efficient than some other types. Homeowners can expect to pay $2,625 for spray foam insulation in an attic space.
Homeowners are often surprised to find out that professional appraisers count square footage of a finished attic only where the ceiling is 7 feet or higher. Spaces with lower clearance can be finished, but they don’t count as additional living space for appraisal purposes. In most unfinished attics, the only ceiling design element is the inside of the roof, so having an aesthetic and functional ceiling installed is usually on the to-do list of an attic finishing project.
Finishing an attic ceiling can cost as little as $120 for a solid ceiling just in need of some paint. Adding crown molding is typically an additional $200 to $240, while a ceiling fan installation costs between $350 and $640. Ceiling prices can quickly climb, especially when homeowners want to maximize the square footage of their remodel for appraisal purposes. A slanted ceiling costs between $8,000 and $12,000, while a vaulted ceiling costs between $18,000 and $25,000.
Most attics don’t have a regular floor like the rest of a home, as it’s not a necessary expense to absorb during initial construction. When homeowners are converting an attic into usable space, however, subflooring is a necessary expense.
A subfloor is the foundation beneath an attic’s finished floor. It provides a flat and sound surface over the floor joists so that applied flooring is secure and level. Subflooring is installed after the attic ventilation and electrical systems are in place. Insulation can also be placed beneath the subfloor for energy efficiency and sound dampening. On average, laying a subfloor in an attic costs between $500 and $800.
Not all attic finishing projects need joist work, but for those that do require joist replacement or repair, the average cost is between $1,000 and $10,000.
Before starting an attic remodel, the existing floor joists need to be inspected. They may need remedial work, or, in order to properly support a subfloor on which to lay attic flooring, additional joists may need to be installed. Joists must be strong enough to bear the weight of people, furniture, and other materials in a finished and operational room. This equates to a floor being able to support a load of 30 pounds per square foot.
Sometimes drywall is all it takes to transform an attic space. The cost to drywall an attic space runs between $1,000 and $2,600. Drywall is another attic project that needs to be well coordinated between contractors. Once an attic’s floor joists have been structurally approved, wiring, insulation, and ventilation systems can be placed. Only then can drywall go up. Otherwise, pieces may need to be removed to allow contractors access to crucial systems.
Painting is considered a finishing touch in the remodeling world. It’s no different for attic finishing. Putting paint on the walls is one of the last steps in the process and tends to bring the entire project together.
Professional painting costs between $500 and $2,100, and while this cost isn’t exorbitant, painting is one of the safer projects for DIY enthusiasts to try. If an attic finishing project is going over budget, a homeowner can cut costs by taking over the painting portion, as long as they have enough experience to use paint and supplies efficiently.
Unfinished attics aren’t prepared to handle the electrical needs of a living space, which is why electrical costs are almost always part of an attic finishing project budget.
There are a variety of electrical projects that come into play when homeowners are refinishing an attic. For example, installing electrical wiring costs between $600 and $2,200. Installing electrical outlets costs between $150 and $300 per outlet, with lighting features running $200 to $850 each. Overall, new attic electrical costs between $1,000 and $3,400 on average.
Adding plumbing to an attic isn’t always necessary. For example, a storage attic isn’t likely to need running water. But when it comes to adding a primary suite with its own bathroom, the cost of hiring a plumber will need to be added to the overall project cost.
Plumbing costs between $1,000 and $10,000 for an attic finishing project. Where a project falls within that range depends on whether new plumbing needs to be added or whether the existing plumbing is close enough to tap into.
Adding heating and AC to an attic can be expensive, but it’s rarely an expense that homeowners regret. Attics are often transformed into bedrooms or offices—both spaces that need to be comfortable to be enjoyed. The good news is that connecting an attic to a home’s existing HVAC system is possible and has a cost range of $600 to $20,000.
Electric wall heaters can be a more affordable option, costing between $600 and $1,000. Underfloor heating is also a possibility, costing between $1,000 and $3,600. Alternatively, a fireplace can be added as a heat source, costing up to $20,000.
When it comes to AC, connecting to a home’s existing central air system costs $500 to $900. Installing a ductless or mini-split system avoids ductwork, but the costs run higher—between $2,000 and $4,000.
There are many valid reasons for finishing an attic, with some being more obvious than others. The following are some of the top advantages for homeowners considering an attic remodel.
As families and hobbies grow, additional living space can become a necessity. Additions can be pricey and are often out of a homeowner’s budget. Converting space that’s already present, like an attic, into usable living space makes a lot of financial sense.
Finishing an attic gives a homeowner complete control on how the space is being used. Whether they want to create the primary suite of their dreams, add an office for a tranquil working space, or create a bonus space that can age with their kids’ needs, all are possible when remodeling an attic.
An attic is also a great option for multigenerational families. Just like a basement apartment, an attic can be converted to house living space, including bedrooms, bathrooms, and small kitchens with the right permits and structure changes.
There’s really no limit to how attics can be used to add more living space to a home. Homeowners can explore pictures of finished attics for inspiration to maximize their attic’s potential.
When it comes to a finished attic, before and after values can be quite different. Data shows that converting an attic to an additional living space within a home has a 56 percent ROI (return on investment). This means it’s an upgrade potential home buyers respond to positively. If a homeowner knows they’ll be selling soon, one way to get top dollar for their home is to finish their attic.
But even if a homeowner plans on staying in their home for years to come, finishing an attic now can make it easier to increase their perception of their home’s value. After all, value isn’t just about what someone is willing to pay for a home. It’s also about the relationship between a homeowner and their house. A house that gives more than it takes will be worth more to a homeowner.
Improved energy efficiency is an often-overlooked benefit of finishing an attic. Nearly every attic is insulated during a remodel; it doesn’t matter the type of insulation used, because an insulated attic promotes better air circulation. This helps a home feel more comfortable while also reducing the cost of energy bills.
Just how much energy savings can a homeowner see? It depends on the heat source, size of the attic, and the homeowner’s preferred thermostat settings. Regardless of the size, however, insulating an attic can help reduce heating costs by as much as $417 a year for gas heating and $1,152 a year for oil. In fact, nearly 40 percent of a home’s heat is lost through the attic if left uninsulated.
Is it possible to DIY an attic upgrade? It might be, depending on the extent of the work required and the homeowner’s comfort level when it comes to larger home projects. Going from exposed rafters to usable (and legal) living space isn’t an easy undertaking. Finishing an attic typically requires cleaning and prepping, wiring for electricity, installing a subfloor, insulating the attic, adding drywall and ceiling materials, painting, and installing flooring. All of these are specialties in their own right, and expecting a novice to tackle them all professionally is unrealistic.
It’s almost always recommended that homeowners work with a professional (or even several) when taking on an attic finishing project. There are a few reasons why. The first is access to tools. A great number of tools are needed to complete an attic remodel that go beyond the basic toolbox. Large machinery may even be needed to load materials into the space. Finding the budget, time, and networking opportunities to buy, borrow, or lease all the necessary tools could be a full-time job in itself.
There’s also the issue of safety. A homeowner needs not only to complete each task without risking injury to themselves or others but also to make sure complicated jobs like electrical and plumbing are done correctly without putting their family’s safety and their home at risk.
Experience and speed are also an issue. Tackling an attic remodel on their own can be a slow process for an inexperienced homeowner. Research can be time-consuming, and mistakes can bring progress to a standstill. The experience a contractor brings to an attic remodel will ensure the project stays on track.
While there are certainly parts of an attic finishing project that can be tackled by a homeowner, like demolition, prepping, painting, and cleanup, or maybe even laying flooring or bathroom tiles for an experienced homeowner, most of the jobs that are involved should be left to a professional. While a DIY approach can be less expensive, the additional costs that come along with inexperience can quickly absorb any potential savings.
Savvy homeowners know that investing in an attic remodel is one way to substantially increase the value of their home. But is it possible to have a cheap attic remodel? The following are some tips to save money on attic conversion costs.
There are several ways to find a contractor for an attic remodel. And at the end of the day, multiple types of contractors will most likely be needed, so knowing the right questions to ask in order to narrow down the list of contending contractors is important. What follows are some of the most important questions a homeowner might ask when considering a professional for their attic finishing project.
Finishing an attic is a great way to gain more living space without the hassle of moving. The average cost to finish attic space for family use is a large investment, at $26,900. But the additional benefits, such as added square footage, improved layout of a home, and higher home value, can make it a smart choice for many homeowners. A curious homeowner can consider these additional questions and answers about finishing an attic to determine whether it’s the right choice for them.
A permit will most likely be required for an attic remodel. This is because most attics do not have electrical wiring. When homeowners are finishing the space for family use, adding electricity is a necessity. Adding electrical wiring always requires a permit, as does adding ventilation or changing the structure of a home (e.g., knocking down a wall or adding a dormer).
There are many variables that affect an attic refinish timeline. A simple conversion involving some drywall, simple flooring, and basic furniture placement can be tackled in as little as 4 weeks, but more complex finishes, like adding a living space, bedroom, and full bathroom, can take close to 8 weeks.
The average cost to finish a basement is $30 to $75 per square foot. In comparison, the average cost to finish an attic is between $30 and $60 per square foot. However, a major attic conversion can cost up to $80,000, while a basic basement upgrade can cost as little as $18,500. When deciding between the two options in their home, a homeowner will want to seek out multiple bids to determine which best fits their budget.
Building out is significantly less expensive than building up. The average cost to add onto a home outward is between $140 and $180 per square foot. In comparison, the average cost to build upward is between $180 to $250 per square foot. This means that in most scenarios that add on the same square footage to a home, the most expensive build-out option is equivalent to the least expensive build-up option.
Yes, finishing an attic is a great way to increase a home’s resale value. Based on 2019 data, converting an attic to additional living space had a 56 percent ROI. This number can be even higher if additional bedrooms or bathrooms are added, including converting an attic to a master suite.
Homes that rely on rafters for roof support have an attic space. This space offers functional support for the roof, making sure it’s sloped enough for natural water drainage. Adding supportive flooring, insulation, and windows to an attic only adds to the cost of a home. If a homeowner is happy just using the attic space for storage (and roof support), the additional finishing costs outweigh the benefits.
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