Estimating the Cost of Finishing Your Attic

A large skylight shedding light on a potted plant and a red couch in a finished attic.

When you plan to finish the attic as a playroom, a guest bedroom, or a home office, think through the various costs involved in such a big project to see whether it is worth doing it yourself. There are many components to finishing an attic, and we'll touch on them all in this article to give you the best idea of what to plan for.

Note: Turning your attic into a living space is prohibited by many local building codes. Check with your municipality before beginning any such project.

Design Your Own Attic to Save

The attic is a private room due to its separation from the rest of the house. You can design it to be a quiet retreat for yourself or a playroom for the children. Look through some design magazines or research online to get a good theme going. Be creative. Designing your attic renovation on your own might save you money to invest in other parts of the project.

At this stage, you'll need to pay for an inspection for structural soundness and weigh the costs of potential modifications, such as emergency exit space or additional head room. When designing your space, plan on whether you’d want a separate bathroom or kitchen, as well. Drains and pipes would need to be taken up if so. Once your plans have been finalized, apply for permits and begin.

Getting Your Own Materials

Getting your own materials for the job might save you money versus paying a contractor to get them for you. You’ll need lumber, drywall, wiring, floor covering materials, windows, vents, extra heating and cooling equipment, insulation, hardware, and lighting fixtures. If you choose to have a bathroom in your attic, you'll need plumbing fixtures as well. You can take a trip down to your local hardware store and see how much your materials would cost you for the space that you have.

When to Use a Contractor

Check your local laws and building codes concerning whether certain types of construction work are required to be performed by a licensed professional. Any work finished without a professional will fail the final inspection in such a case.

Finishing the attic will require framing, modifications for structural soundness (if needed), carpentry work for cutting out dormers or cupolas, electrical, plumbing (optional), insulation, ventilation, drywall installation, ceilings and floors, and making closet spaces.

Contractors will quote you one bill but that bill will include sub-contractors, materials, labor, and transportation of materials. A good rule of thumb is to always add 20 percent to the quote given you for changes and adjustments along the way.

When to Do it Yourself

If building codes are silent on certain work, and you’re up for the challenge, doing the rest of the work yourself will save you quite a bit of money. Once the frames, electrical wires, and plumbing lines have been placed, you can choose to insulate, put in drywall, finish the ceiling and floor, or paint the room yourself.

Cutting Down on Luxuries Cuts Down on Expenses

Having a bathroom in an attic is a luxury, and deciding to put one in means dealing with hauling in drain pipes and big fixtures through a small opening. Any modifications to the frames already in place, such as adding closets or creating a different exit, are luxuries that mean extra payments to contractors. Keeping it simple can take a couple of thousand dollars on your final budget.