Remodeling an Attic

by Gary Foreman

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Recipe for a Successful Remodeling Project

Do It Yourself?

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I was wondering if you could do an article on converting an attic for the do-it-yourself frugalite? There is just so much space going to waste. I know the electric will have to be hired out, but what can I do to make this a livable space? Nothing too fancy required. By the way, this is an 1880 Victorian house.

The first thing that Tanya will want to do is to contact her local zoning and building inspector. In many cases, they'll have booklets available for the homeowner considering remodeling or an addition. She'll want to find out what permits will be needed. They'll also tell her what type of drawings will be required to get the permits.

Usually the homeowner is allowed to be the "general contractor." That means Tanya will pull the permits and take responsibility for the job. Don't skip the permits. If it's a big enough job to require permits, having a professional inspector check the quality of your work is a good idea. I've already had them request changes that were safety related.

Tanya will benefit from spending time daydreaming about the project. Think about the space and how you might use it. Plan ahead. For instance, it's easier to hide wire for extra phones, computers and stereo equipment before you enclose the walls with drywall.

Tanya will need a budget before she begins the project. That budget will have a major effect on how the project progresses.

She'll start by assembling a list of all the materials that will be used on the DIY portions of the project. A visit to her local home center will price those items.

Next, she'll talk with the contractors to get an estimate of any work that they'll do. Added together she will have a good idea of how realistic her budget is.

She might find that the budget estimate is more than she can afford. That's time to scale down the project. Remember, remodeling is not an all or nothing proposition. She may be able to occupy the room and gradually do improvements over a number of years.

Tanya will need to consider how she'll pay for the remodeling. If she doesn't have the money saved, she'll need to borrow. Often a home equity loan is the best choice. Make sure that there is enough money available to complete the project before beginning.

In Tanya's D-I-Y project, she'll be the general contractor. That means she's responsible for the whole job. Think of the remodeling as a series of smaller tasks. On her attic conversion, Tanya will need to build interior walls; add any required electrical, insulation, plumbing and drywall. Heating and air conditioning may be needed. She'll also deal with finish carpentry, electric and plumbing. And finally, flooring and painting.

The order of inspections will help Tanya determine the sequence of jobs. Don't hesitate to ask the building department for advice. My experience is that they're glad to help you do the job correctly.

It's easy to get overwhelmed if you consider the whole project at once. The smaller individual tasks aren't that difficult. For instance, a major part of Tanya's project will be building walls. With a little study, most do-it-yourselfers can learn to do an acceptable job of framing a stud wall and then hanging drywall. And, once that's completed, they can learn how to finish the joints to prepare the walls for painting.

There are some jobs that Tanya will want to have a professional do. She mentioned electricity. That will require getting the appropriate bids and recommendations.

Some subcontractors, especially smaller ones, will let you help them do the work. You won't save a lot of money by helping. In fact, sometimes you might actually have to pay more! But you will learn something and have your fingerprints on the project.

Don't kid yourself. Most qualified professionals will do a slightly better job than you would. And, they'll do it faster. But, if Tanya is willing to tolerate minor imperfections or take the time to seek perfection, she can do an acceptable job of many parts of the project.

After each step is completed, she'll arrange for any necessary inspections. Then on to the next step. Gradually the new room will begin to take shape. And that's a great feeling!

We hope that Tanya enjoys the doing the work and also that new room when it's completed.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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