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Maximize Your Space with an Attic Closet

Your Home's Last Frontier When You've Run Out of Room

Homeowners are remaining in their homes over 50% longer than they did just a decade ago. The average length of ownership has increased from five to ten years and continues to grow (Lerner, 2018)*. That means that people are less likely to just up and move to a bigger place as soon as a new baby is born. With this trend towards staying in place as the family grows, more and more families are looking to maximize the space in their current home.

attic closet conversion

If you are a homeowner that needs more storage space, the first thing to focus on is maximization of the current finished storage areas of the home. This means installing new closet organizer systems in all the closets. Sometimes this will be enough, as a well-designed closet system can nearly double the amount of usable storage over the single closet rod and shelf that comes standard in most homes.

basic closet rod with single shelf before closet organizers installed
Before closet organizer
baby closet with closet organizers to maximize closet storage
After closet organizer

However, a growing family can still run out of space fairly quickly. The next trick is to add wardrobe closets to gain storage in hallways and living areas.

hallway without extra storage
Before wardrobe closet
hallway with extra storage closet
After wardrobe closet

Eventually, the interior of the house may be completely full, and the owners will have to look elsewhere to gain more storage space. An attic can provide that alternate space in many instances. This should be your last course of action — after adding storage to the current living areas — as it represents the more costly building out of unfinished space. Furthermore, not all attics are suitable for use as closets. The low, four-foot-high attics that dominated construction in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s don't make good closets. Older housing and other homes with steeply pitched roofs, including a lot of newer construction, offer more potential as a new attic closet.

unfinished space to be converted into an attic closetpreparing space for attic closet
The first step is to insulate and finish the attic. Electrical wiring is needed for the lighting and outlets. HVAC and ventilation may also be necessary depending on what you plan to store and how you want to use the space.

An unfinished attic often represents the last frontier of unused space in the home. Homes with steep rooflines, as well as newer construction with an unfinished attic "bonus room" over the garage, are prime targets for an attic to closet conversion.

Space for an attic closet requires a minimum ceiling height that will allow the owner to stand up straight in the middle of the room. This type of attic can often be found in older homes such as bungalows or Victorians, and also in many new homes where the builder leaves an unfinished attic "bonus room" over the garage to be finished later on by the homeowner. After all, what is this bonus room really but a fancy name for an attic. Other than the basement, these spaces often represent the only significant space available for additional storage. These unfinished spaces can be deceiving, however. Often, people will look at their empty attic and feel like they have an almost limitless area that can be transformed into organized storage. However, when you start to divide up and finish off the space with walls, the functional areas available for storage tend to shrink a lot.

Attic Closet Conversion Guidelines

Attics are some of the trickiest spaces to work with when installing a new closet. An attic closet will almost always include a sloped ceiling. All four walls will rarely be a standard eight feet high. Sometimes, there are no walls that are eight feet high. The point at which the sloped ceiling meets a wall may be very close to the floor. These very short walls are referred to as "knee walls" and may only be two - three feet in height (about as high as your knee). Standard closet organizer systems are made for boxy spaces with eight-foot-high walls and floors that are at a right angle to the walls. They won't fit this type of space. There are solutions, however, that can maximize storage in these areas. Because every attic is so different, storage solutions must be highly customized. There are, however, some general guidelines that work for all attics.

    General attic closet design guidelines are as follows:

  1. The perfect attic closet design will be driven by what you are going to store and how quickly you need to access it.
  2. Items that require frequent access should be placed closest to the door. This usually means some type of shelving unit near the door.
  3. Place closet rods for medium hang and small clothing on the side of the room with the short wall and sloped ceiling.
  4. When the ceiling meets the walls at or within a few feet of the floor, closet rods should be suspended from the sloped ceiling along a cleat that is secured to the studs. Support the rods every 36 inches with rod holders.
    sloped ceiling closet with rod suspended from ceiling
    Attic closet with rod suspended from the sloped ceiling closet. Low shelving is installed behind the hanging areas to maximize all possible storage space.
  5. In closets where the ceiling slopes very close to the floor or the knee wall is very short, low shelving can often be installed along the walls behind the hanging areas.
  6. If space is tight, use suspended closet components where ever possible along the walls rather than floor based units so that the floor is left open. This allows for the ability to slide large, heavy boxes across the floor and under the shelves towards the back of the closet.
  7. If your attic room is very small, recess some of the storage components into the knee wall to keep as much of the floor space open as possible.
    attic closet recessed into knee wall
    Attic with child's wardrobe closet recessed into the knee wall.
  8. attic closet with knee wall door behind the clothes rod
    Knee wall door hidden but accessible behind attic closet hanging sections.
    Make sure not to block access to the space behind the knee wall. A small door behind a hanging area will allow for routine home maintenance.
  9. Place closet rods for long hang and double hang along the wall with the greatest height with shelving above. Stair-step the height of the closet organizers by increasing or decreasing the amount of shelves. The units should follow the roof line and sloped ceiling.
    attic closet with closet organizers in a stair-step pattern
    Garage attic finished off as a master bedroom closet with closet organizers in a stair-step pattern.

With average homeowner remaining in the same home for a decade or more, there is bound to be an increase in demand for attic remodelling projects, including attic closet conversions. Homeowners embarking on this project should remember to store frequently used items close to the door. Hanging rods suspended from a sloped ceiling should be supported by brackets designed for this use every 36 inches. Never block access to the space behind the knee wall. Use suspended closet components when ever possible in small attics to keep floor space open. Hanging rods should be used on the short wall with the sloped ceiling. Shelving can be stair-stepped to follow the slope of the roofline. Recess components into the knee wall of a small attic to keep floor space open. Low shelving can often be installed along the walls behind the hanging areas. No matter what type or size attic you have, remember that your closet design should first and foremost be driven by what you are going to store and how quickly you need to access it. Keeping these tips in mind will ensure that you get a functional and organized storage space in your attic.

* Lerner, Michele (2018, October 4) 10 years later: How the housing market has changed since the crash. The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com