I have a cape cod style home and the upstairs is attic space with the room's height being in the roof line; so, the ceilings are at an extreme angle with no head room. I would like to make this a master suite; can more living space and height be obtained without raising the roof line? Is this a case for dormers?
Tanya H. ~ Landover Hills, Maryland
Hi Tanya, I really like Cape Cod homes, they always seem to have so much character and a great interior layout.
The slope of the attic head room is due to the roof framing at the front and rear of the home. I assume you are considering turning the entire attic into a master suite, not just the front or rear half. The first thing you should do is get an architect or engineer involved, as they are going to have to take a look at the framing of the roof to determine if you can add dormers. Most Cape Cods will have 2 smaller dormers facing the front of the home, and a larger central dormer in the rear. If you wanted to, you could have one central dormer in the front instead of the 2 smaller dormers.
You add headroom with dormers, but the smaller dormers are usually a little less than 4 feet wide, so you have somewhat of a tunnel effect with small dormers. They do add light though, and if the windows are large enough, they can provide the egress you need for a bedroom. I have seen people place window seats at the smaller dormer windows and it looks very nice.
The larger central dormers that people add to the rear of their attic, or sometimes the front, provide more usable living space to the attic. Again, an architect or engineer would need to take a look at your roof framing to make sure it would work. What basically happens is that about 2/3 of the roof framing in the center part of the home is removed, and the remaining framing on either side of the opening created is beefed up to carry the part of the roof not removed. Then a new roof is constructed in the opening, and this is where you get your additional headroom. The large central dormers can be half the length of your old house, or even longer, so you can add a lot of usable space to your attic. The areas of the roof where dormers were not added, either small or large dormers and on both the front and back of the roof, are not changed. The head room in those area should be as it is now. But where the new dormers are located the roof line is higher on the exterior as well.
I know there are a lot of architects and engineers near Landover Hills, Maryland, as I used to build homes near there. I would probably pick an architect that has some experience with creating a room addition in an old house, and have them give you some ideas.