Building a loft in a room with high ceilings — SFGate

Building a loft in a room with high ceilings - SFGate

Building a loft in a room with high ceilings

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Q:We live in a split-level town home that has high ceilings on the first level. I think they are 15 to 16 feet. We have a bedroom on this level that is used as an office and that we convert to a guest room by unfolding a futon when needed. I have been thinking about adding a loft to the room to have a sleeping area on top and still maintain the office downstairs.

I am very early in the exploratory stage and have many basic questions. Would I need to hire an architect? Do I need city permits to build something like that? We are in a homeowners association community — must the association board approve anything? Are there guidelines to consider when adding a loft to an existing structure? What should be my first step?

A: You are asking all the right questions, so you have already anticipated the answers. Yes, it would be wise to check with your homeowners association’s regulations and design guidelines, if any, to make sure your planned loft is allowed. If the rules forbid such an addition of floor area, better to know before you spend money on the design.

And yes, you will need a city-issued building permit, so consulting an architect will be most helpful in bringing your ideas to paper and then to building-permit reality.

I say this not because I am an architect but because the proposed loft will require working drawings (plans), and it offers some potentially challenging design issues.

Any addition of second-story living space requires a staircase/access, and an experienced architect will have solved this kind of tricky design issue many times. Also, he or she will know the building code requirements that govern the safety issues for lofts, such as the maximum height of stair risers and the minimum height of railings.

There are also codes addressing required headroom clearance (minimum ceiling height), which often affect the design and placement of a loft. There may not be sufficient height in the space to allow for habitable living area; if so, you might be able to legally build a storage loft.

While it seems as if the loft should be a fairly straightforward project, it will require other design work as well: structural engineering to ensure the new floor will be strong enough for the «live load» of human habitation/use, and an electrical plan that specifies the required number of electrical outlets per wall, a new light and light switch and how the new wiring will be tied into the existing electrical panel box.

Building a loft in a room with high ceilings - SFGate

An architect obtains all this specialized design work for you and makes sure you will have all the plans and documents you’ll need to obtain a building permit from the city. If any questions arise, he or she will provide whatever additional technical drawings or details may be required.

Adding a loft sounds like an excellent way to create more square footage, but like all building projects, it involves a lot of attention to design details like stairways and to the technical requirements of adding new living space to a dwelling: railings, ceiling heights, whether the new floor joists can span the distance without a post beneath, if the walls beneath the loft can support the weight, etc.

The rigorous planning and approval process is set up to ensure that all safety issues are properly addressed in the plans and construction, regardless of the size or cost of the renovation. Having a professional to guide you through the process is a huge plus unless you’ve been through it a few times already. If everything is well planned and adequately described by plans and specifications, then the actual building of the loft can proceed relatively quickly.

So your first step is, as you foresaw, to contact your homeowners board to confirm that the association’s regulations allow such an addition. Your second step should be to contact an architect and/or a licensed, experienced residential contractor to measure the space to confirm that the ceiling is high enough to allow a habitable loft space to be added.

Once you have those two key data points in hand, you’ll know if you can move ahead or if you’ll have to table the idea as worthy but not practical.

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