The homeowner’s goal was to create an apartment for their grown children when visiting and a future house sitter in their retirement years.
This project involved the demolition of a 30-year old, owner finished, attic built out as an apartment/living area. The attic is large with a thirteen foot crown beam. Although the roof slopes steeply to the soffits, the attic has a sense of great volume. Knee walls created a great deal of storage area. The homeowner’s goal was to create an apartment for their grown children when visiting and a future house sitter in their retirement years.
While utility was the driving force, the homeowners were receptive to our ideas about designing in high energy efficiency and using a number of sustainable and/or healthy construction materials.
No parts of the first and second floor living areas of the home were included in the scope of work beyond the occasional need to access or replace plumbing and electrical components tied into the attic.
Access to Space
Because the homeowners would be living in the rest of the house below the attic during construction we figured out how to rent and install a 3 story stair scaffold for our workers, tools and materials to come in and out through a side window. While this went a long way to isolating the mess and disturbance of the demolition and remodeling work, it created incredible obstacles when it came to stocking sheet materials and larger items. Some of the appliances of the desired size would only fit through the window at the top of the scaffolding due to the narrow doorway leading to the attic. So a rope and pulley system was heavily utilized throughout the project to hoist anything that couldn’t be carried up.
Another tricky access issue arose in relation to the previously-existing loft over the bedroom in the attic. It was previously only accessible if a large step ladder was brought up from the garage. So the space went mostly unutilized. We designed and custom built a maple ladder that is stored on a bracket next to the loft.
The eighty-five plus year old house was quite under-built in a variety of ways. Rafters spanning 21 feet at their longest runs were only 2″x 6″s. The center part of the house had also settled a good deal over the years predominantly as a result of improperly supported shed dormers on both sides of the home. Rafter sistering, floor leveling and proper load redistribution required a good deal of analysis and excellent carpentry.
The existing book shelves were also under-built, resulting in a good deal of sagging due to the weight of the books. An attractive set of shelves was designed and built into the space with an edge detail that integrated base and crown molding with that used throughout the space.
Insulation and Ventilation
The existing insulation in the attic fell quite short of a desirable level of protection due to a number of factors: the 2″x 6″ rafters, the lack of ventilation at the ridge, the compression of the R-11 fiberglass batts due to irregular rafter bays, no vapor barrier in a number of areas, old single pane skylights and drafty windows. These all contributed to why the space was hard to heat or cool. It also had an old whole-house exhaust fan that was very drafty.
– Spray Foam polyurethane foam insulation to eliminate the need to create ventilation, achieve full air sealing of the perimeter of the space and maximize the R-value per inch
– Sistering the rafters with 2″x 8″s to gain extra space for insulation which would also address the structural shortcomings of the rafters
– Installing new, double-paned, Energy Star, argon gas-filled, low-e, windows and tinted glass skylights
– Installing the highest efficiency, variable-speed heat pump available with insulated ductwork, a programmable thermostat and high-efficiency filtration.
– Replacing the burned-out whole-house exhaust fan with a new, efficient one built into an insulated, weather-stripped box that could be closed off during winter. The insulated door was designed with a shut-off switch so the fan can only run when the door is open.
The homeowner agreed to all of the recommendations outlined above. Our hope is that the measures taken to insulate and separately condition the attic will allow the heating and cooling equipment serving the first and second floors to perform better. To date, sufficiently cooling the main part of the house required adding a number of window units while sufficient heating was only achievable with the addition of space heaters.
The existing bathroom was only accessible through the bedroom and contained old and inefficient fixtures. The bathroom was also crammed against the steeply-sloping ceiling. We relocated the bedroom closet to create extra depth necessary to widen the bathroom.
The old and energy inefficient kitchenette was replaced by a small, well laid out and more conventional kitchen with a water efficient faucet and an Energy Star refrigerator. An Energy Star fan hangs over the kitchen and main living area and CFL under-cabinet lighting illuminates the working surfaces above the Forbo Marmoleum Click 1’x 3′ tile flooring. The loft, all closets and storage areas behind the knee walls are lighted with bulkhead lights using CFL bulbs. The only non-CFL lighting fixtures in the entire space are the two track lights, but that is controlled by a dimmer switch.A number of safety issues were successfully dealt with in the course of the project. An integrated set of hard-wired smoke detectors were added to every bedroom and the hallway on the second floor as well as inside and outside of the bedroom in the attic. An egress window was achieved where it didn’t exist before by switching out a double-hung with a casement window. A sub-panel was added to the attic space with plenty of circuits to replace the overdrawn circuits that served the space previously. We also upgraded the home’s electrical service.A low railing at eight inches high was set back from the edge of the loft over the bedroom to act as a barrier to help prevent a child from rolling off. The ladder was designed with custom brackets that hook firmly around the wooden railing. This set up will prevent the ladder from sliding out or being kicked out at the base if kids should be ruff-housing in the area. The ladder was also finished with low-odor Safecoat polyurethane. Relocating the kitchen area made it possible to add a second door into the bathroom from the main living area. Water-efficient fixtures were installed and an Energy Star exhaust fan complemented the sconce and recessed lighting options chosen for their CFL-friendliness. The last remaining vestiges of galvanized piping between the first and third floors were also replaced once they were discovered.
The entire project was achieved within a three month window which greatly surprised and delighted the clients. We installed a variety of Green Finishes and energy efficient systems, even though the homeowners hadn’t considered this a priority when we entered into the design phase. The more expensive Green features were gladly-accepted by the homeowners once they understood the longer term cost savings and/or increase in comfort that would result from them. Some were cost neutral.We learned that it is essential to budget more time during the design phase to specify and “sell” green finishes and best practices. These decisions can’t be made during construction cost effectively. Understanding and managing the lead-times and other logistical implications of many green materials is also imperative to facilitate an efficient construction schedule.Over the course of this job we learned several crucial lessons about “Green” construction. Customers can be receptive to Green features even they don’t raise them as a priority at the outset. This family is actually grateful for remodeling suggestions which improved the health, efficiency and environmental friendliness of their home.
January 16, 2016
Attics & Basements