The attic has become synonymous with storage, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your attic turn into a dusty, cobwebbed lair of forgotten, disorganized clutter. Gone are the days when families stayed in one house for generations, leaving unknown heirlooms and secret treasures for discovery. Attics also tend to be smaller in modern homes, leaving storage space at a premium. These days better organizing and attention to the actual condition of the attic can go a long way toward making optimal use of this prime storage space.
First, look at the overall condition the attic space is in. This will depend largely on if it is an unfinished or finished attic. Unfinished attics can have issues with condensation, insulation and ventilation, making a big impact on how and what items can be stored in it. Attics which are finished have a floor plus some type of rafter covering.
Insulation is good for energy efficiency, of course, but some types can be bad for your health. Loose insulating materials, such as vermiculite between floor joists, should not be left exposed if the attic will be being accessed often. Insulation on walls rafters should be also be covered, as some types are harmful.
The other problem with insulated attics is that they will usually be more tightly sealed with caulking and vapour barriers, leading to inadequate ventilation and resultant condensation. Well insulated attics should be inspected for proper ventilation prior to using them for a storage area.
Another problem in an unfinished attic is the lack of flooring. If you put your weight on anything other than the ceiling joists of the room below, you risk putting your foot through the ceiling, not to mention injuring yourself in the process.
You can create a makeshift catwalk for attic storage space by placing some boards or sheets of plywood across the joists, but that still won’t leave you much room for putting stored items. It is recommended to close off the whole surface with a full floor. You don’t have to install anything fancy, like hardwood or carpeting; thick plywood sheets work good and will support enough weight to walk on and store things on.
Uninsulated attics can also be a problem, depending on the extremes of temperatures in your area. An attic that is uninsulated can get very hot in summer, especially ones with asphalt roofing over them. Make sure any items stored in an uninsulated attic can withstand high temperatures.
Another improvement that can be made, if required, is to add attic stairs. Some attics have a small trapdoor for inspection purposes as the only access, which you need a ladder to get to. In such cases, a good solution is to enlarge the opening and install folding attic stairs. Enlarging the opening will also allow you to move larger items in and out of the attic for storage.
Along with this, adding lighting can be done at the same time, so you don’t have to carry a flashlight up there every time you need to go in. It is simple for an electrician to install a single fixture and circuit, which can be turned on and off by a switch close to the entrance. Larger attics may need more than one fixture to light the entire space well, but either way, this can be a major improvement.
Attic Storage Shelving
Shelves are a staple of storage, allowing you to place more items vertically in an organized manner. But most attics don’t have much vertical wall space to build shelves on. The solution is to close off unusable spaces with partition walls. Partition walls can even be built around usable spaces in larger attics. Frame your partition walls with 2 x 4 studs and caps and finish them with either plywood or drywall. Now you can install shelving brackets and shelves.
After adding a partition wall, you may be tempted to turn the attic into more than a room; your own private hideaway, an extra bedroom, or office space maybe. Be forewarned, though, that local building codes may prohibit this. Minimum available headspace, window to floor space ratio, electrical requirements, and more can be regulated, and you may find when trying to sell your home it is not up to code.
Attic Storage Tips
- Anything stored in an attic is probably going to be there for an extended period of time. So consider how delicate the item is, and take steps to preserve it before storage. Whether it needs mothproofing, protection against moisture, rustproofing, or sealing in an airtight container, take the time to properly wrap and pack it away first.
- Off-season clothing is a good item for attic storage, especially in a finished attic. Clothes should be hung in mothproof garment bags. A closet rod can be easily suspended between rafters using brackets. Avoid drilling large holes to put the rod in, though, as you may compromise your roof’s structural integrity.
- When storing carpeting, never fold it, but store it rolled up around a core such as a wooden dowel. Wrap against moths, dust and moisture.
- Extra wooden chairs can be stored hung on pegs fixed to rafters.
- Storage of paperwork documents can be tricky. Paper is vulnerable to deterioration from exposure to light, heat, moisture and insects. Paper that is not acid-free will not last more than about 50 years, but it’s life can be prolonged by taking certain precautions during storage. Temperature should be kept between between 60 and 75 degrees F, and humidity between 50- 60%. Keeping papers in boxes protects them from sunlight, but sealing boxes promotes mold growth. Tuck a packet of silica gel in containers if moisture is a concern.
- Small animals such as rodents, bats, squirrels and raccoons like to make their homes in attic sometimes. You can protect your stored items from being chewed by placing mesh screens across potential entrance holes around ventilation, etc.
- To protect metal items against rust corrosion, rustproofing paper is available for wrapping them. You can also apply a light coating of rust inhibitor to appropriate items.
Photo by flickr user Salvius23