Advanced Design Research Associates

Pencil Points – Can I Remodel a Portion of the Third Story Attic in My Single Family Home into a Playroom / Guest Bedroom?

Posted by  //  May 17, 2011  //  Articles

Pencil Points are tips for residential design and planning issues often encountered by homeowners, builders and developers.  This information is provided by Applied Design Research Associates as general interest based on current NYS Building Codes and is not intended as professional guidance for any specific project.  For answers to specific design questions feel free to contact ADRA at (607) 844-4601 or consult the yellow pages under Architects for the name of other registered design professionals in your area.  You can also write or email ADRA with additional questions of interest to be researched and published in subsequent issues of this paper.
ADR Associates- P.O. Box 306, Freeville, NY 13068

Can I remodel a portion of the third story attic in my single family home into a playroom/guest bedroom?

Many enterprising homeowners try to capitalize on underutilized areas in attics to extend personal living space, however, this practice can have dangerous consequences.  Every habitable space including a playroom or bedroom where people can work, play, eat, sleep or carry on some activity for an extended period of time must have adequate structural floor capacity and a minimum of two remote means of escape in the event of an emergency.  Doors, corridors and stairs are primary exit paths from upper levels in a dwelling whereas windows are considered the second, remote means of emergency egress in one and two family dwellings when properly sized and installed.

Habitable rooms shall have a minimum area of 70 SF, a minimum wall dimension of 7’-0” and a finished ceiling height of 7’-0”, except that beams at a minimum of 48” on center can project up to six inches below the finished ceiling surface.  Stairs accessible to the attic space shall have a finished width of 36” or more, including handrails. Emergency egress windows shall have an  operable open area equal to or greater than 5.7 sq feet and minimum opening dimensions of 20”(w) x 24”(h).  The bottom sill of the emergency egress window shall not exceed 44” above finished floor.

When considering altering attic areas to become habitable living space, the floor structure should also be reviewed by a registered design professional to determine the live load carrying capacity and the type and condition of roof framing.  Live Load is the additional weight accumulated by movable furniture and accessories, equipment, storage materials (contents), people, etc that will likely occur on a given floor.  Live Loads, stated in minimum allowable pounds per square foot, for the following residential spaces include Sleeping Areas (30 psf), playrooms and other habitable spaces (40 psf), attics with storage space only (20 psf), decks and stairs (40 psf), and exterior balconies (60 psf). Roof trusses and rafters should never be cut or altered in the field without the review and approval of a registered design professional.

The current Building Code permits homes of standard wood frame construction (type 5a and 5b) to be up to three stories or maximum 40 feet in height above the basement level or above finished grade.  Homes constructed of noncombustible materials such as masonry, stone or metal studs can be four stories high.  Dwellings with code complaint sprinkler systems are permitted to have an additional story.  The homeowner is also advised to review local zoning and municipal housing regulations, as they may be more restrictive with regard to maximum permitted building height in a specific zoning district.

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