Bedroom dilemma: more construction time and brighter room, or quicker/cheaper completion?


Things are plugging along in the third bedroom, the soon-to-be nursery at the Old Rowhouse. But the recent work has left me with a big decision to make, and one that will determine whether or not I finish this bedroom as early as next weekend, or add at least a few weeks (and dollars as well as potential headaches) to the project.

I’ve got two walls totally repaired, skimmed, sanded, primed and ready for paint. The electrician finished up the last outstanding projects that represented the last hurdle before I could wrap everything else up. Last night, I took the rest of the plaster down from the ceiling and exposed the lathe, which will stay in place before the drywall goes up since it’s the only thing holding in the blown-in insulation.

As I took down the plaster from the ceiling and the electrician took down the odd piece of lathe to run the new wires in the attic space, I could start seeing daylight streaming down from the dormer windows in the attic. We have two dormers on the front of the house that look into the small attic space at the front of the house, that are more or less decorative, thanks to the slope of the roof from front to back.

Which got me thinking: why not, while the room is a mess and the ceiling is plaster-free, leaving only thin lathe and old insulation between this too-tiny bedroom and a potential extra window, go ahead and knock out the ceiling up to the window and create a new dormer window for this bedroom? This is a pretty common occurrence in rowhouses around here, especially ones that have been remodeled — we saw it in lots of the remodeled homes we looked back in summer 2010. We’d already talked about doing this in our recently-remodeled bedroom next door one day down the road by either: bumping out the entire third of the ceiling closest to the window up  (like the left picture below from a Petworth house for sale), or taking the entire ceiling out and removing the ceiling joists, like in the second picture (incidentally from a house we looked at on 10th Street NE in Brookland.)

But there’s a third option, that would be far more practical, less expensive and time-consuming for this room than either of those two options: only knock out a hole in the ceiling a little wider than the window and just frame in a channel up to the window like a dormer.

Once you see the ready-made frame that’s part of the roof truss around the window in the second picture below, you can see how simple that task appears to be. (I took the pictures below during our skylight installation.) But I’ve been at this long enough to know that nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is ever as simple as it appears to be.

Attic spaceAttic space zoom

So I need to decide, and I’m looking for help here, as to whether or not I should go ahead and take this on. I feel reasonably confident I could get it done by myself, though I might get someone else to drywall it for me — lots of difficult angles to cover! The biggest obstacle in my mind is time. I was shooting for having this room done by next weekend, and once I get that date in my head and can see the finish line, I tend to be unrealistically committed to it. I’ve even rushed some things in the past or done a task poorly in the past because I wanted something to get done and was close, which is no good.

Here’s the rest of my pros and cons so far.


  • Would make the tiniest room in the house feel bigger. This is also a good reason to knock out the whole ceiling or the front third, but that’s just not going to happen. Not now, anyway. Also not going to happen: enlarging the room by knocking out the wall into the neighbor’s house.
  • Would bring extra light into the smallest bedroom in the house with only one window.
  • This could be the only time for years that I already have everything out of this room, with the ability to make a dusty mess and no kids around.
  • If I punch through the lathe in this one square, take a look around and decide that maybe I can’t do this by myself, I can always put the lathe back up and reinsulate that section when I install new attic access in the coming weeks. (The whole attic will get reinsulated then too.)
  • This would give me a chance to use some of my excellent new tools that have been gathering dust while I spend weeks and months doing menial tasks like scrape wallpaper and demolish plaster.


  • Will probably extend this bedroom project by at least a month when it’s all said and done. It’s only January, but June is rapidly approaching and I’ve got tons of other projects I need to tackle before our precious package of cry, sleep and poop gets here — especially the projects that generate any dust indoors whatsoever.
  • There’s no guarantee I can do this, and I won’t even be able to formulate a proper plan for the framing and structure until I punch through the lathe to the window and take a closer look around. Which means I could end up a) closing it up and calling it a day, or b) having to pay someone else to help.
  • Would cost more money in material. (Mostly just framing, drywall and some insulation.)
  • I might discover in my free DC energy audit coming up that the single pane glass up there lets 100% of the heat out of the house. Also, the entire window may be in bad shape and poorly insulated. All the panes are intact, at least.
  • On second thought, this would create a new window in the baby’s room that faces east into the morning sun with no easy way to cover it. Any way to install blinds with a long cord? Temporary curtain over the window for a year or more? If not, sleeping past 630 may be a pipe dream. It might be a pipe dream anyway, but you get the idea…
  • Not sure how I’d insulate everything, including the window itself but especially the small space between the new framing and the roof. Similar to my sleeping porch problem, (which will be solved with spray foam.)

So that’s about it. I’d include a sketch of what I’m envisioning, but I can’t draw, so that’s a non-starter.  You’ll just have to picture it.  (Dormer channel would be right above this existing window, with the cut in the ceiling the same width as this window frame.


So what do you think? Worth the time, hassle, money and potential headache? I’m definitely leaning one way right now, but I’ll wait to say until later.

Leave a Reply