If you’re looking for a new home with future possibilities for renovation, you’ll want to consider the benefits (and limitations) associated with an attic vs. a basement. So, what are the primary differences between the two, how does each affect the resale value, and how much will you incur in renovation costs?
It’s cheaper to convert an attic than a basement. You can expect to pay $16,000 on average to renovate it, while a basement renovation costs ~$21,000 on average. Moreover, a finished attic adds more resale value to your home and is worth more per square foot than a similarly finished basement.
Dozens of home renovation projects fail to pay for themselves at resale, but savvy homeowners know that proper attic and basement upgrades can add value. Let’s take a look at the details so that you can decide how best to proceed.
Finished Attics vs. Finished Basements: Which Is Better?
A finished attic can be more appealing to some because it often has greater potential for access to beautiful sunlight.
Depending on where you live, it could offer stunning views of the natural beauty and manmade marvels of your area. However, an attic can only bear limited loads safely without compromising the structural integrity of your home. Examples of limitations include:
- Ridge height (which determines head height)
- Roof type
- Roof structure
- House structure
- Planning permit limitations
On the other hand, a finished basement is much cooler in the summer heat and more economical to heat during the cold months. Its position below the ground helps it keep a constant temperature.
A basement also typically has better headroom. And, unlike an attic, basement renovations have fewer structural limitations; for example, it’s possible to lower basement flooring to create more headspace.
The table below shows the key differences between basements and attics.
|Cost to convert
|$16,000 on average
|$21,000 on average
|Added resale value
|$22,000 – $40,000
|$30,000 – $50,000
|Can be lowered and few structural limitations
|Weight limitations to maintain structural integrity
|Constant cool temperature especially in Summer months
|More expensive insulation & heating costs
|Could lack natural light & be noisy from footsteps above
|Lots of natural light, nice views and a quiet space
Converting a Basement
The cost of converting a basement into a livable space can range from $3,000 to $70,000 or more. While the average cost is usually around $21,000, the overall cost depends on the intended use of the basement and whether you’re hiring a professional or going the DIY way.
A basement bedroom may cost as much as $10,000, while a basement bar can cost $8,000. But if you’re interested in making it a home office, expect to pay anything from $500 to $3,000 depending on the lighting, flooring, framing, and doors.
Other factors influencing the cost of finishing a basement include your geographical location and expenses like permits, waterproofing, drywall, and insulation costs.
The Pros & Cons of Converting a Basement
While converting a basement can leave a sizable dent in your wallet, it’s also a worthy project. These are some of the benefits of converting a basement:
- It’s a great way to create a new and exciting space to meet your family’s needs.
- A finished basement increases the aesthetic value of your property and raises your home’s resale value.
- A basement conversion will help you optimize your home’s energy efficiency.
- It gives you the flexibility to create a new bedroom space to accommodate a growing family.
- You won’t need to extend your property because the space is already there.
Converting your basement has its advantages, but you’ll also have to deal with a few issues. These are some cons of converting your basement:
- If your basement is lower than the sewer pipe exiting the house, it will pose a great obstacle. You’ll be forced to implement a lift station for drainage, which is an added cost (If you were planning on adding a toilet in the basement).
- You can run into problems with the existing piping, electrical installations, and ductwork.
- If you purchased an older home with small basement windows, you’d have to install egress windows for more light and safety. This is another added expense.
- If not properly maintained and aerated, can lead to pest infestations such as ants or worms, or even crumbling walls.
Converting an Attic
Converting your attic will cost between $4,600 to $16,000 on average, which translates to about $30-$60 per square foot. But if you’re looking for a high-end attic conversion, expect to pay as much as $200 per square foot.
The amount you pay depends on the size of the attic, your choice of materials, any extra features, and whether you choose to do the work yourself or hire a contractor.
Installing new attic drywall can cost you an average of $1,000 to $2,500, with ceilings going from $250. If you choose to paint the ceiling and drywall or add wallpaper, you’ll incur extra costs.
The Pros & Cons of Converting an Attic
These are some of the benefits of converting your attic:
- It adds more functional space to your home.
- It provides a quiet place to relax or work from home.
- The extra square footage of usable space increases the value of your home.
- Converting the attic doesn’t affect the overall footprint of your house, so you won’t lose your yard space.
- It’s significantly cheaper than other home renovation projects like finishing your basement.
These are some of the cons of an attic conversion:
- Converting your attic into a bedroom or home office will likely lead to a loss of storage space.
- Attic insulation and heating expenses are typically higher since the space loses heat faster.
- Converting your attic if your ceiling is low may not be the best idea. It will be hard to walk through the space.
- If the stairway on the main floor isn’t properly located, you could lose useful space on the main level, which undermines what you gain with the attic conversion.
Real Estate Benefits
A finished attic generally adds more resale value to your home and is worth more per square foot than a similarly finished basement.
For example, an attic bedroom can make your home’s value jump by as much as $30,000 to $50,000. On the other hand, finishing the basement may raise your home value only by $22,000 to $40,000.
Understandably, the FNMA (Federal National Mortgage Association) requires appraisers to separate basement spaces from above-grade square footage and value them differently.
This is because basements generally sell for less per square foot than above-grade areas like attics.
Moreover, many people appreciate and actively look for attic finishings and renovations due to their aesthetic appeal. As such, they’re willing to pay more. Attics are also more in line with the space needs of younger generations.
Since appraisers aren’t allowed to count the square footage of rooms below ground, finishing your attic may be the better choice. Basement footage is worth less, and it makes little difference whether it’s finished or unfinished.
Which Costs More to Buy?
A home with a finished basement will typically cost more than one with a finished attic. Moreover, a home with both a basement and an attic costs more to buy than that with just one of these spaces.
Attic conversions are arguably one of the most cost-effective methods of home renovation. And compared to digging out and building a basement, an attic is cheaper by a mile — it’s space that’s already there!
Moreover, planning an attic is more straightforward and requires less construction over a short period, making it a cheaper project than doing a basement.
But as far as these costs go, buying a home whose basement is finished similarly to the main level and has adequate access from the interior of the home will be more expensive than one that’s unfinished or partially finished.
Similarly, a house with a finished attic will sell for a higher price than a comparable home with an unfinished or partially finished attic. If most properties for sale in your area have finished attics, the seller of the home with an unfinished attic may even be willing to accept less than the asking price.
Entry and Exit Requirements
When renovating or finishing your basement and attic spaces, it’s important to keep in mind the minimum entry/exit requirements. Generally, an attic access opening should be at least 22 inches by 30 inches, with a 30-inch head clearance.
Moreover, any attic opening should be built in an easily accessible part of the house, preferably in the hallway. If the entry point to the attic space is built in a wall, it must be at least 22 inches wide and 30 inches high.
The minimum requirement for a basement exit space, meanwhile, is 20 inches wide by 24 inches high. The lowest point of the exit way must also be within 44 inches of the floor for quick access in case of emergency.
While the net clear opening for a basement exit point should be around 5.7 square feet, you can reduce it to just 5 square feet if its lowest point is closer to the ground. And in the event you have a porch or deck above the exit way, be sure to keep 36 inches of headroom clearance.
Any basement renovation or finishing must be thoroughly inspected to ensure it doesn’t compromise the structural integrity of your home. It must also be free of radon to ensure it’s safe for habitation.