Finishing an attic area to provide usable space can be a rewarding experience. Since most of the work is inside, the work will not generally be effected by the weather conditions, football games on TV and so on. In most areas a minimum height requirement for a finished attic requires more than fifty percent of the room to have a ceiling higher than seven foot six inches high. This allows for sloped roofs. Averaging the areas below 7'-6" and the areas that are that high or higher, if 50% or more is 7'-6" or more your good to go.
Depending on the degree of renovation work a building permit may be required. Always check with your local building department first. New electrical work by the National Electric Code (NEC) always needs inspections by an electrical underwriter before any wires are concealed. If your replacing rafters or adding a dormer you can be sure your local building Inspector will want to see the new work first as well.
Adding a dormer or skylight is no easy chore and may be beyond many homeowners skill levels. Removing roof supports, re-framing a new dormers, getting the new roof in place and getting the house enclosed is not for the faint hearted or weekend warrior. Many horror stories are told how a guy and his buddies were going to do it in a weekend and the buddies never showed the second day and sure enough the worst thunderstorm of the season occurred that day.
I have seen homes destroyed from rain water seeping into the areas downstairs ruining ceilings, furniture and so on. Hire someone to do at least that part of the work and keep the inside finishes for yourself. Once the outside is completed there is not so much of a rush or degree of urgency.
If your attic does not have a full 36" wide stairs for access, this must also be taken into consideration before remodeling. You cannot climb a ladder or a pair of narrow steep stairs to gain access. Forget about getting furniture up into the space. Again you may want your contractor to install the new stairs and re-frame for them. If you still do the finishes you will still be thousands of dollars ahead.
Make sure you always keep in mind how you are going to get finish materials to the attic area.
When ordering sheet rock, have them deliver on a boom truck and include the required spackle and tape accessories. Nothing good comes from carrying sixty pound pails of spackle up three flights of stairs. Make sure corners, hallways, stairs and the like are wide enough to allow furniture to be put into place. Nothing like an office without a desk because it did not fit.
Make sure you properly insulate the attic areas. Fiberglass batts or spray foam are commonly used today. Make sure you maintain proper roof ventilation. Sheetrock, acoustical ceiling tiles, carpet, vinyl tile for play areas are all room finishes that a DIY can do.
Installing smoke and CO detectors is an absolute must. Hard wired 120 volt with battery backups units are the best. Some now have emergency lighting also included and that makes exiting a dark space much easier during a power outage. Inter-connected to the rest of the homes system makes a secure area.
Please notice we did not discuss placing a bedroom in an attic. In fact, this is a prohibited use in most jurisdictions in wood framed buildings. There is simply no way for children to safely exit in the middle of the night. The addition of fire sprinklers or outside fire stairs may allow this use but check with the local building inspector first.
Take your time doing the renovation. Burn out is the most common cause of never finishing the work. Plan your days or nights for the work and stick to the schedule. That way you can leave time to watch the Jets win the Super Bowl.