The Attic Project

Our attic is BIG, roughly 1600 square feet, and rises 1.5 stories above the rest of the house. When we moved in 9 years ago, it was filled with all sorts of stuff. Built-in cabinets and shelving, semi-framed walls, and lots and lots of flies. The space had served as a workshop and storage area for the former owner whose fondness for collecting left it filled to the brim. Wood was everywhere; stacked in piles, propped against surfaces, arranged on the floor. Honestly it was hard to see the forest for all the trees. Here’s what it looked like in 2009.

Initially we used the attic just as the previous owner had; to store stuff. We’d weeded through our belongings before we’d moved, but some mementos are like dandelions. They’ve got long roots. Things didn’t improve when we started construction in the house below because all of that debris had to be stowed somewhere; namely, the attic and basement. Only once those projects (the dining room, kitchen, and office) ended could our full attention turn upstairs.

My husband began by dismantling all of those built-in shelves, cabinets and walls. But the deconstruction just left more and more wood in its wake. Exposing things long-covered also netted more than we’d bargained for in the shape of skeletons, nests, and desiccated doo doo. Not just rodent poop but what appeared to be HUMAN. We sorted the attic contents as much as possible, giving useful items away via Craigslist, and purging the rest. We rented two jumbo construction dumpsters, and spent an unforgettable week getting rid of it all.

 

Now that the attic was semi-navigable, we began to take up the floors. The previous owner had insulated but the R value was more Rodent than anything. So we cocooned the feces-peppered insulation in black plastic and piled it high. But before it could be offloaded in our next dumpster-fest, we had to re-insulate. We live in MAINE, after all! In order to do this, the entire contents of the attic (crap bags and all) had to be shifted from one side of the house to the other. We took up all of the plywood, sealed the cracks, and started spraying it in.

The entire process was so exhausting and godawful, we needed a break. So once we’d insulated the first half of the attic, we lay the plywood back down, and hibernated. Secretly, I was hoping we might win the lottery so we could pay a team of professionals to come and finish all the work for us. But no such luck. The second half of the insulating process was every bit as filthy as the first. Even after the dust had settled, I felt dirty for weeks.

Next up: another dumpster. Once the garbage was gone, we taped the cracks in the plywood and got ready for the next phase. Flooring. The pine shiplap was air-lifted three stories into the attic via a reverse ladder slide, then stacked. In order to minimize dust from the insulation, we rolled rosin paper over the plywood. Then starting on one side, we began to lay the floor. A handy jig made from scrap helped guide nailing. We cut and lay the pine across the attic piecing it together like a giant puzzle. The eaves were challenging, not to mention the record heat, but after many days it was done. And our attic finally had a FLOOR! We solved our storage dilemma by installing curtains to shield the eaves, instead of walls. The fabric panels provide easy access to the space behind and add a cool aesthetic. Plus, they’re removable! But before we could pop the champagne, the last bits of scrap, crap, and trash had to be tossed out the windows into the yard. We burned everything we couldn’t give away.

The final step? Sealing. Brothers Hardwood Floors has refinished our entire house and now our attic, too. But my husband and I couldn’t sit idly by. Because we’d bought a wood stove. FOR THE ATTIC. And not only did we have to get it up there, we also had to reset the hearth. Then we repainted and reglazed the windows, built new casings, and framed the chimneys. We still need to install the wood stove. But I think we can do it.

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