An old home I am interested in buying has 10' ceilings on the main level and an attic with 7' clearance. enter image description here

I would like to replace the ceiling joists (or attic floor joists) in order to lower the main level ceiling to 8' and increase head clearance in the attic in order to make it a master suite. The main level square footage is just under 900 sq ft.

The home was built in 1922 and has had zero renovations since then, all original inside (horrible kitchen). So I do not think pre-fab trusses were used. It has a full basement. Due to age and condition I know I am going into this as a full renovation project, but for $60K it seems worth it, particularly since neighboring homes go for 3x that. I paid for a full inspection and the home is solid, just seriously dated. I really need to use the attic space though. I will try to find those episodes of This Old House that @FreeMan mentioned.

  • No idea of cost without more details. But it might be cheaper to raise the roof. That's a more standard approach IMO.
    – SteveSh
    Jun 27, 2020 at 13:06
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    What is the type of roof? Those joists may be part of the roof construction.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 27, 2020 at 13:31
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    If it is a balloon structure it may be possible but if the first story was built then the 2nd added probably not feasible. Is there a basement?
    – Ed Beal
    Jun 27, 2020 at 15:03
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    Watch the first couple of episodes of a recent season of This Old House (they're available online for free). That is, essentially, what you're getting yourself into. I'm not trying to discourage you from doing this, I just want you to understand that this is not a small endeavor to be undertaken lightly - you're looking at a major renovation. In this case, you're really buying the dirt, location, views, etc., and not the house itself.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 27, 2020 at 15:49
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    Now can you add pics of the attic?
    – Lee Sam
    Jun 29, 2020 at 1:27

1 Answer 1


I doubt if you’ll be able to add an upstairs room without a special variance from your Building Department.

There are several issues: 1) Its a structural change so you’ll need a Building Permit, 2) the Code requires a minimum ceiling height, 3) minimum floor area required for habitable rooms, 4) window required in habitable rooms and if it’s a sleeping room, an egress window is required.

  1. Not only is a Building Permit required, but if the value of the structure increases 25% or more, then the entire structure will need to be brought up to code. (Each State has a different threshold for this requirement, so check with your local Building Department.)
  1. The minimum ceiling height for habitable rooms is 7’, but 50% of the floor area can have a sloping ceiling, but none can be lower than 5’. (See ICC R305)

  2. The minimum habitable room size is 70 square feet and the minimum dimension in any direction cannot be less than 7’. (See ICC R304) Remember, those dimensions must meet the room height dimensions noted above.

  3. You’ll need to add a window (or skylight if not a sleeping room.

Btw, a habitable room is defined as a room used for living, sleeping eating or cooking. Bathrooms, closets, halls, storage, or utility spaces are not considered habitable spaces.

Also, your new stairway must meet the current code too, including maximum riser height, minimum tread depth, etc.

Summary: Regardless of the structural adequacy of your floor and foundation system, there are many requirements that will be difficult meet. I’d recommend meeting with your local Building Officials to insure you are eligible.

  • All excellent points! Hiring a local architect to do the design work will likely bring in all the required local knowledge, including contacts with structural engineers to ensure any modifications (as opposed to replacements) of structural elements will be sufficient.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 29, 2020 at 12:56

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