Making extra space

Photo by Kyle Anderson on Unsplash

It’s often said that families expand to fill the space available to them, and that’s especially true of storage. No matter how many cupboards your home contains, they’ll eventually end up full. At this point, it generally becomes necessary to utilise additional storage, from constructing extra cupboards to making better use of outbuildings and loft spaces.

Despite a brief flirtation with flat roofs in the post-war decades, British housebuilders have traditionally constructed pitched roofs. This optimises rainwater runoff and also provides handy additional storage for occasional-use items. Obvious examples include Christmas decorations, childhood memorabilia, suitcases and seasonal clothes.

Getting under your feet

Despite being accessible through a trapdoor, lofts aren’t normally designed with storage in mind. You’ll therefore need to check carefully if it is appropriate to use for storage or any other use and ensure that you have appropriate ventilation. If opening your hatch reveals a series of parallel ceiling joists and a bare lightbulb, you’ll need to install some flooring. And although this might sound daunting, it’s actually pretty straightforward to accomplish. Installing a ladder is considerably more technical, which is why most people either use a freestanding ladder or employ specialists to fit Ramsay-style drop-down staircases.

You won’t need an extensive toolkit to floor a loft. Apart from a tape measure and a pencil, a saw, workbench and drill are the only other essentials, though a jigsaw and screwdrivers would also be handy. Start the process by measuring the available space twice, remembering the eaves (where the roof meets the joists) won’t be suitable for storing anything. Many people simply floor a central strip either side of the hatch, so decide how far you want to go and measure accordingly.

Modern properties generally contain 270mm of attic insulation, rising above the joists. Don’t remove this or try to squash it down – instead, trim it to the height of the joists and attach any leftovers to the roof trusses to maintain existing levels of insulation. You could use glue for this, though twine and nails are generally preferable. Don’t be tempted to add even more insulation; if warm air can’t escape upwards, it becomes trapped in upper-storey apartments and creates stuffy bedrooms on summer nights.

Board meeting

DIY stores sell dedicated loft boards – sheets of hardboard which will generally (though not always) fit through a loft hatch. These 18mm chipboard panels are sturdy enough to walk on, supporting considerable amounts of weight. Cut them to size outdoors if possible, to avoid inhaling all the dislodged timber particles. Some people choose to work from the hatch outwards, though you could start in one corner.

Once the boards have been cut to shape and lifted into the attic, it’s time to fit them. Each board should be screwed or nailed down in several places along each joist it rests on, ensuring it can’t move. Avoid pinning wires or cables between boards and joists, and countersink screws to prevent exposed edges from snagging on anything. Ensure each board’s parallel edge rests midway along a joist, rather than hanging over the edge – it’s hard to create a stable surface if boards adjoin each other across an air gap. And remember, if in doubt – ask an expert!

Finally, if you’re worried about creepy-crawlies making themselves at home in your belongings, put everything into plastic storage crates with interlocking lids. These have the added benefit of being stackable, as do taped-up corrugated cardboard boxes and wooden tea chests. By contrast, sacks and bags have an annoying propensity to split or slide off one another, and they provide a tempting home for creatures you’d rather not offer shelter to!


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