Creating vital new storage in a small rowhouse

Our basement is so full of stuff right now.

It’s the one part of the house that’s barely changed since we moved in. It was sort of half finished — really just an ad hoc room in part of the basement added on that someone used at some point, and that’s about it.  And we’ve just filled it with our stuff that hasn’t found a home anywhere else in the house. Christmas decorations, summer/winter clothes, books without shelves, and the list goes on. And it’s all just casually strewn about for the most part.

But with the renovation of the basement into an apartment on the horizon, possibly coming up soon in 2012, we need to find another place for all of that stuff. With only two relatively small bedroom closets, the tiny one in the nursery, and a linen closet that’s half taken up with the ductwork for the A/C, the options are limited for storage space.

When we were putting in the skylight last summer, I got my first look into the previously inaccessible attic and discovered that we had a decent amount of space, at least up at the front of the house due to the slope of the roof, to add new storage space if we put in attic access somewhere.

Attic space zoom

So we put in the access while renovating the nursery since I was already taking all the plaster down form the ceiling anyway, which made it much easier. (In the second bedroom ceiling, we just put new drywall on top of the old plaster.) You might remember this post detailing the access project from January.


Once up in the attic, I discovered that our old insulation — quite certainly the original spun rock wool insulation since there’d been no access since the house was built — was in terrible shape and completely full of dust and tons of detritus from the roof replacement above. And maybe mold from the years of roof leaks too, who knows. You can see the effects of one roof leak right there on the crossbeam!


After some deliberation, I found a good insulation company that could vacuum out almost all of the old insulation and blow in new cellulose. I wanted to do it myself, but after doing the math, it was only going to save me a couple hundred bucks and take a couple Saturdays to get it done — and time is in short supply these days. I got a really great deal on the whole package and they knocked it all out in one day.

After that, I was free to move ahead with installing a floor in the front third of the attic so we’d have a nice clean area for storage. Because they put less insulation in the front third to leave room for that floor on top, I bought some 2-inch rigid polyisocyanurate foamboard sheathing to add some R-value and help support the 5/8″ plywood floor. (It’s actually what’s on our roof too, under the membrane and on top of the wood sheathing.)

Because of the size of the attic, I had to cut the 4×8′ sheets of plywood into 2×8′ strips to fit them up the access. On the Saturday before we ended up going to Atlanta, I worked like a dog up there for probably 10 hours to get everything in place. I kept the circular saw up in the attic and did as much cutting as I could up there, but I tended to cut the foamboard in the basement because of the dust it creates. That meant a lot of trips up and down the stairs. (Pictured here with the last remnants to fill in awkward sized gaps.)


Here you can see the basic cross section around the access.

Foamboard sheating with floor cross section

Because of the low ceiling and tight space, much of the day was spent on hands and knees and rolling around on my back under that low beam. My knees were rubbed raw and bruised and I was about as tired as I’ve ever been after a day of work on the house since we started this whole endeavor. (It’s probably why I got sick the next night.) But boy did it feel good to have the floor in place.


The last thing I needed to do was to screw the plywood down so it wouldn’t shift and so you can walk everywhere with confidence that the other end of a plywood sheet wouldn’t fly up as you crash down between the joists. Well, that probably wouldn’t happen, but you get the idea. I had to use 4″ screws to make it all the way down to the joists. Not too many, because each sheet only needs a few screws to hold them in place enough for our purposes — and you never know when they might need to come back up for electrical work underneath.

One issue with blown-in cellulose is that it goes everywhere and is a mess. All of the joists and the walls and the inside of the attic windows were covered in cellulose and dust and dirt that fell down into the attic during the roof replacement . So once I finished the floor, I took the shop vac up and vacuumed the heck out of entire front third of the attic. The difference is huge, and will hopefully result in 99% less dust blowing around or coming down into the nursery when moving things around up there.


In that last picture on the bottom right, you can see all the extra batts around the skylight. We insulated the heck out of that thing, which is something that really needed to be done. When I was up in the skylight painting the channel last summer, you wouldn’t believe how hot it was when up on the ladder in that narrow channel.

Here’s the view down into the nursery and the crib that’s totally filled with great hand-me-downs from family and early gifts for baby girl on the way.


Now that all of the massive dust-inducing work through the access is done, we can get to work on settling in in the nursery. Rachel is making curtains and we’re going to get a dresser this weekend, so we’ll finally be able to unveil the nursery in just a few weeks.

Oh, and lastly, it wouldn’t be a typical old rowhouse project if I didn’t discover some other new project while completing another one. Looks like one of our crossbeam roof supports cracked a long time ago, so I’m going to need to do some work in the next few months to shore it up. Note to self: remember not to walk on the north side of the roof anytime soon. I’ll bet anything that this happened because of a roof leak, judging from the water stains you can see on the beam to the left side of the picture.


One project down, one project added to the list. That’s about typical. So whaddya think? Does it look so nice you want to move into our attic?

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