attic storage

Photo by Molly Stevens

Update: Finishing an attic is a great way to add more space to your home without building an expensive addition. Adding an extra level to your home does present unique challenges as the attic is an unfinished space that needs to be made liveable, but the rewards can be great in terms of adding value to your home. As with any remodeling project, it’s a good idea to carry out a cost analysis so that you can benefit from a smart remodel.

Calculating the cost of any remodeling project involves a number of components. Calculating the cost of an attic remodel involves some unique issues. One way to get a quick and reliable estimate on the cost of remodeling an attic is to use the calculator at

Here are the major elements of the remodeling cost. I have grouped these into basic types of costs for your convenience. For more information on attic remodeling check out the Attic Remodeling Workbook

1. Design and Preparation — These costs are incurred in designing the new living space, choosing the decorating style, obtaining construction plans for the contractor, obtaining required permits and inspections, and making decisions about such things as ceiling type, whether or not you will need to add some device for increasing headroom in the finished area. Your plans might need to include a strategy for working around any appliances or other equipment in the attic (such as a furnace), and it might include plans to utilize the “dead space” around the edges of the room (where the ceiling will not be high enough) for storage of one kind or another. Preparation also includes developing plans for temporary access while a stairway is being built, providing adequate light and ventilation, and planning how building materials will be taken into the space. The basics might include:

  • Preparation of a design for the attic — architect or home designer fee.
  • Construction plans — architect or draftsman fees.
  • Decorating advice — decorator fees.
  • Engineering inspection (to determine structural soundness of the existing walls to support the new room and its contents).
  • Modifications to the existing structure (to provide access and emergency egress).
  • Evaluation of the need for additional head room with dormers or a cupola.
  • Permits and Inspections

2. Materials — The second major part of the cost of your project will be the required materials to build the room you have planned. There are many ways to save money on materials. For more information, visit If your design includes a bathroom, you will need to plan for drains, pipes and plumbing fixtures. You will also need to evaluate the adequacy of your current heating and cooling systems to provide comfort with the additional space included. Some source of natural light will also be desirable, whether you accomplish this with windows, dormers with windows or skylights. Because insulation and ventilation are critical in an attic space (because heat rises), you will need to make careful choices about these materials. The major materials costs will be:

  • Lumber for framing and subflooring
  • Drywall or Paneling
  • Drywall, ceiling panels or drop ceiling
  • Wiring
  • Plumbing
  • Floor covering materials
  • Windows
  • Vents
  • Possible extra heating and cooling equipment
  • Insulation
  • Hardware
  • Lighting fixtures

3. Labor — the third major portion of the cost of your attic remodel will be labor. Your local building codes might require that certain work be performed by a licensed or certified professional, such as a plumber or an electrician. If you hire a general contractor, all of these elements of labor cost might be included in a single quote. You will, however, incur costs for sub-contractors, delivery and transport of materials, construction of an access stairway, framing the new room, and possibly modifying or reinforcing your existing walls to bear the additional weight. In general, your labor costs will include:

  • General contractor
  • Sub-contractors
  • Carpentry — framing, sub-floor, construction of dormers or cupola, construction of access stairway
  • Sub-contractors
  • Rough and finish electrical
  • Rough and finish plumbing
  • Installation of insulation and ventilation
  • Construction of walls, ceiling and floor
  • Possible structural reinforcement of exterior walls
  • Possible construction of storage in “dead space”
  • Trim and Finishing
  • Possible skylight installation
  • Painting and finishing

The most significant parts of the cost of an attic remodel will probably be

  • Structural reinforcement (if necessary)
  • Modifications to the existing structure to provide access
  • Framing and carpentry
  • Drywall hanging and finishing
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical work
  • Materials
  • Labor

With good quotes on the price of materials, reliable quotes from contractors and/or sub-contractors, and a commitment to planning in advance and not making changes once any part of the work is in progress, you should be able to develop a reliable cost estimate. Just remember my rule of thumb: add 20% to your best estimate budget, and that will give you a working budget that will most likely be more than the final cost of the project.