All the work done to convert the attic into living space must comply with the requirements of the Zoning and Building Codes, and before work can begin plans must be drawn up and submitted to your local Building Department for approval. They will be able to advise you on any aspects of the work about which you are unsure, and will probably want to make several checks on the work as it progresses.
The Codes vary so greatly across the country that what may need approval on in one area does not need approval in another. If you feel unsure, check with your local Building Department or consult with a local professional Architect or Engineer before starting.
There are two routes you can take to getting professional help: you can either employ an architect to design the conversion and then get him to supervise the builder who does the work, or approach a specialist re-modeler, who will both design the conversion and carry out the work. In the first instance you will get something that suits your needs exactly, whereas in the latter you may get a variation on one of several standards. plans. However, there may be quite a difference in price, so do get quotes from different companies for comparison.
In many cases the architect or contractor will handle the Building Code side of the job for you, perhaps relieving you of a considerable headache. Both will also be able to tell you if the structure of the roof makes a conversion possible at all. Sometimes it is possible to remove major supporting members which are in the way and support the load they carried by making one of the internal partitions load-bearing or by inserting strong wooden beams in the framework of the walls or floor.
In other areas, essential supporting framing may be left in place and the internal partitions built off them — in some instances the resulting shapes being adapted for bookshelves or storage space, for example. you need more rooms and there is simply no other way you can get more room from the existing layout, the answer may be to build on an extra room or rooms at the side or rear of the house.
As with an attic conversion you will need a building permit for an extension, but it is as well to check with the local Building Department. In some areas the Building Code requires that any addition is built in the same style and in matching materials as the main part of the house. In this situation, even if the extension is within the permitted size and does not project above the roof line or beyond the front of the building, you would still need a building permit.
Regardless of the Zoning situation, all the work must comply with the Building Code, so early contact with your local Building Inspector is essential. He will want to see plans of the extension, being particularly interested in the foundations and will advise you on the requirements for your specific situation. He will also want to inspect the work as it progresses.
With a purpose built extension you should employ an architect to design it and take care of the Building Code matters. He will also supervise the building work. This should be done by a competent builder, but you may be able to reduce the cost if he will agree to you doing the less critical parts of the job.
A standard contract should be taken out with the builder that defines his responsibilities, specifies costs, starting and completion dates and gives details of how payment will be made.
Prefabricated extensions are often designed for assembly by the purchaser, although the manufacturer can send his own erection team to do it for you; he may even insist on this if the extension is above a certain size.
Obviously, any extension will be costly and you should give considerable thought as to how you will pay for it. In some cases you may qualify for a guaranteed loan through the federal government. You may be able to extend your mortgage, or get a loan from a bank or finance company. It is worth shopping around to get the best terms.
In addition to the Building Code your house may be part of a residential community or association which also places restrictions or limitations on the type of alterations that may be made to the property. Generally this extends only to the type and style of fences or a ban on blacktop drive ways, but in some areas — a neighborhood of Victorian gingerbread houses for example — it may restrict the architectural style of any new work.
Further restrictions to the type of alteration you may make to your home may be made by the mortgage holder or by the house insurer. Always check with your insurance agent to make sure that your home owner’s policy is not invalidated by the construction work. Some insurers will insist that at least part of the work — usually the electrics or plumbing and heating — is carried out by professionals.
Houses built before the Building Code took effect are not required to comply to the Code unless they are altered.