Portland Attic Remodeling Ideas: All Budgets

portland real estate attic remodel

As available housing inventory in the Portland real estate market continues to remain low, and the forecast for the real estate market in 2024 doesn’t predict any increase in inventory, homeowners are looking for more creative ways to use space and maybe even generate a little extra rental income. Got an attic? You may be wondering what you can do with it. Many of our real estate clients have successfully capitalized on attic space, turning them into beautiful retreats from the rest of the house.

Though attics have a lot of potential, knowing the rules before you get started can save you a lot of hassle. Before you get lost in beautiful photos of attics gone live-able, check out our guide to making the most of your upstairs real estate.

Small or Unfinished Attic? Here are your basics.

Not all attics are destined for a spread in Architectural Digest. According to Portland city code, your attic may be a good candidate for a conversion to living space if it is at least 70 square feet, with a ceiling height of at least 6’ 8” for at least half of the square footage. Close, but not quite there? Consider adding a dormer to make your attic fit the required specifications.

In many Portland homes, attics tend to be smaller or shorter than that. Or, maybe you just don’t have the budget for a complete conversion, but are interested in making a few simple improvements.

As a real estate agent, I encourage you to take the following buyer-approved steps to improve your attic.

  1. Place some sheets of plywood or wide planks across the floor joists so that you can walk around your attic safely. It doesn’t have to be brand new; check Portland craigslist for material left over from other peoples’ home improvement projects. Use screws to attach the wood to the floor joists.
  2. Insulate and seal heating ducts if your HVAC unit is in the attic. This will help prevent heat loss from your ducts, saving you in energy costs.
  3. Add wall and ceiling insulation. A minimum of R-19, but the higher the R-value, the more energy efficiency improvement you’ll see. Just be sure to use proper barriers around can lights, ducts, chimneys and other heat sources, and check the requirements to ensure you keep adequate ventilation.
  4. Insulate the attic hatch. Seal it up tightly to prevent loss of heated and cooled air from the home into the attic.
  5. Install basic shelving and avoid storing heavy objects on attic joists unless they have been reinforced.

All of these improvements can be done of the course of a couple of weekends, and you’ll soon feel the difference in your home’s energy efficiency. Now that the Portland home energy score requirement is in effect, these improvements will help your home score better, too. You can find more information about do-it-yourself attic insulation on the Order Home Energy Score website.

Got a bigger attic and some bucks to spend? The City of Portland has put together a handy guide on converting garages, basements and attics to living spaces. (Read our Portland real estate guide to turning your basement into a living space here; many of these tips also apply to garages.) Because every house is different, there are no blanket rules for knowing whether your project will be allowed under city code, but here are some general points to consider.

  • You’ll need a permit. Calculate how much it might cost using the Portland Development Services’ Fee Estimator. Non-permitted attic conversions will be a headache down the road when you want to sell your home. Those headaches could include paying penalties, having your home insurance revoked, or even having to rip out all of the beautiful remodel.
  • Existing stairways to the attic must meet width and clearance minimums; new stairways must be built to an even more generous code.
  • If your attic does not have a window large enough to use as an escape in an emergency (also known as an egress window), you’ll have to put one in.
  • In addition to the attic space and ceiling height requirements mentioned in the introduction, there are additional requirements for bathrooms in attics.
  • If your attic upgrades include a bathroom, your life will be much easier if you can site it over an existing bathroom or kitchen (water/sewer lines).
  • If your attic doesn’t have them now, you’ll be required to add wall and ceiling insulation as part of the upgrade. From an energy efficiency point of view, you’ll be saving money in the long run, and you’ll score better in the home energy assessment that’s required when you list your home for sale on the Portland market (City of Portland homeowners only). Check out this helpful article to learn more about the energy score process and requirements.
  • Attic joists may not be adequate to support a floor and a “live load” (as opposed to a few sheets of plywood and some storage boxes). Consult with a contractor to see if you need to reinforce floor joists before converting your attic.
  • If you have in mind to raise the roof of your home to increase your attic space, you’ll need to check the zoning requirements for maximum building height in your area.

Four Must-Do Attic Design Tips

As with any home remodel, it’s vitally important to keep resale value in mind (if you ask a Portland real estate agent, anyway), and attics are no exception. Here are four attic ideas that all buyers will love:

  1. Make it soundproof. If your attic does not yet have flooring, this is a great opportunity to think about acoustics before you start adding hardwood. Think about it: Sound made up here will reverberate though your home. Carpet is the best option, along with good floor insulation and a soundproof underlayment.
  2. Use dormers for storage. Short walls under a slanted roof do not offer much usable floor space, but they’re great for built-in shelves and drawers. If there’s a dormer window, a built-in window seat is a nice touch, with storage underneath.
  3. Use skylights for added light and more headspace. Not only do they bring in needed daylight, skylights can also add precious feet to your headspace in key areas, such as over sinks, toilets and entryways. Don’t skimp on added features like shades and a remote to open and close the skylight.
  4. Don’t forget about closets. Even if you’re not shooting for fourth-bedroom status, a closet is handy to have for supplies you don’t want to haul upstairs every time, like an extra vacuum cleaner.

Converting Your Attic into an ADU

For those that want to convert their attics into an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), be aware that there are a number of items to consider further. In addition to the above basics, legalities, and tips there are also specific hoops you may need to jump through to monetize your attic as a separate ADU. We outline all of the updated information you need to know about ADUs in our new article. Portland’s Permit Page also provides a good jumping off point for an ADU build or remodel.

The first decision to make when considering an attic remodel is whether you will be using the ADU to generate income or simply provide housing for a family member. You will need to meet all permitting requirements regardless, but depending on your immediate or long-term plans, before beginning the renovation you will have to decide whether you are adding an official ADU or an additional room in your house. One of the biggest considerations is the entrance/exit for the remodeled attic. If you do not plan to provide a private way in and out of the attic, it may not be able to generate as much income as a rental. Renters generally like to be able to use their own separate entrance. In addition to a private entrance, you will need to ensure there is sufficient electricity and plumbing to provide at least a kitchenette and bathroom. There are fewer factors to consider if you are creating an additional bedroom, office or multipurpose room. For more insight, read our brand new Portland ADU guide here.

Work with a Local Expert

Additional questions about current codes or the resale value of your attic remodel? Reach out to our top ranked Portland real estate agents today. Our buyer’s and seller’s agents are experts on the Portland housing market and helping homeowners to maximize their home’s resale potential. Chat with the bot on this site or give us a call at 503-714-1111 today!

October 6, 2023

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

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