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So our attic and our stuff in general is not serving us. Yes, we need to get rid of the stuff we don’t need. If we need anything up there then it is not down here because we need it seasonally (think Christmas tree) or occasional (think my mitre saw). Given the nature of what will be up there, our effort is guided by the following principles (by priority):

  • Cheap and Easy (we want absolute minimal time and energy spent on this, roughly three diaper change intervals is all we can spare -- yes, that has a huge standard dev)
  • Speed, Easy access to everything (so we don't have to move more than one box to see what we are looking for)
  • Transparency, we can get to what we need easily (so we will have a map of where things go)
  • Center Isle Clear, no items in the "hallway" (that is our downfall now, items in the central area block us from finding things)
  • Flexibility (when we get in hurry, we have to put things up quickly, so we don't want to over-optimize)
  • Minimalism (Let's not put it up there if we don't have 90% chance of using it in a year, can't buy it, or have a long term vision for it)

So I took some measurements, and played around in Sketchup and found that the key issue was how to make the sides useful and easily accessible. For example, the entire floor width was approximately 29 feet, but only 18 feet had a usable floor, meaning that I was ignoring roughly 40% of the total floor space. This 40% was the most important to use for storage since it is out of the center aisle. If I just incorporate this area, I calculated that I would gain roughly 25 ft^2 of surface area, multipled by the linear feet available which is 80 feet -- meaning we could have 75 cubic yards, exactly half of a semi truck's transportation volume.

Here is what I am thinking now: Side view of new shelving

Front View

Any thoughts greatly appreciated, but I am asking if this makes sense and:

  • Where to get storage containers as cost efficient as possible?
  • Are there any attic ventilation constraints (building science considerations) of putting stuff so close to the sides?
  • Whether it makes sense to use the 10 inches in the joists. I don't think so, because of the height of any box will prevent using that area?
  • Are there any systems that are inexpensive, but will save me lots of time?
  • Would installing lighting in the back greatly increase the ability to see where stuff is, maybe rope lighting or something?
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The attic needs to be able to breath to reduce the heat buildup during the summer and prevent condensation and ice dams in the winter. So don't do anything that would block the air flow from the soffit to ridge vent, and don't place anything in direct contact with the roof. The result is that the rafters shouldn't have any storage items installed between them.

The next concern is floor load. If the attic wasn't originally installed with a floor, it's very possible it's not designed to support the load from a lot of storage. If you ignore this concern, I would make an effort to find any load bearing walls below and build the shelves directly on top of those.

For lighting, my preference is for a single bulb to light the attic space and then use a headlamp to look into the various crevices. But then I'm not up there often enough to make a more permanent solution worthwhile.

One last note, make sure any items you do store up there are capable of enduring the temperature and humidity swings, don't have batteries in them, etc.

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excellent comments. Thanks for your insight. –  bonhoffer Oct 2 '11 at 19:30
I'll also add that the roof isn't designed to support a concentrated load, either. (I've seen some plans that call for hanging shelves from chains ... which might work okay right up 'til you get a heavy snow load). I only use my attic for lightweight things, in part because I have to take it all up a ladder to get it in there. –  Joe Oct 3 '11 at 12:42
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