How much does it cost to finish an unfinished attic or third floor?

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How much does it cost to finish an unfinished attic or third floor?


We were recently asked this question:  "We love this additional space on the third floor, and think it will make an incredible retreat for the kids.  How much does it generally cost to finish an attic?"

In the Raleigh area, basements are not nearly as common as in other parts of the country.  However, it is more likely that you'll see an unfinished third floor, or some attic space that can be finished. 

It all depends on the size and price point of the home, as well as the style and size of the roofline.

If the builder has included stairs to the third floor or attic, the space can often be finished and add to the available living space of the home.How much does it cost to finish an unfinished attic or third floor?

Some ideas for this space include:

  • Hobby area
  • Game room
  • Kids play area
  • Sports center
  • Guest retreat

So what is the cost to finish an unfinished attic or third floor?

Generally, the minimum cost will be about $50 per square foot.  This will include:

  • Basic lighting
  • Basic electrical outlets
  • HVAC system (which will require an additional heat pump, AC unit, and duct work - the cost for this is usually about $6,000 alone)
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Paint
  • Basic required trimwork
  • Standard level carpet

 Raleigh Custom Home Builder - How Much Does it Cost to Finish an Unfinished 3rd Floor?

Because the heating and air conditioning alone is such a high cost, it can be less cost effective to finish a smaller space, and the total cost per square foot will vary based on the size of the space being finished. 

If you'll need to add a staircase, the price tag can be much higher - depending on what needs to be done to incorporate a staircase from the second floor to the third.  

The expense of the project can also increase if you need to add any kind of windows or skylights. 

Not only will you need to purchase the window, but if the structure is complete, you'll also need to remove siding and roofing, reframe the structure, add the window, and replace the siding and roofing. 

Ask for a detailed quote for finishing. 

Usually this will not include a bathroom - and the cost of adding a bathroom will vary depending on the finishes desired as well as what stage of construction the home is in. 


If requested at planning stage, the plumber, framers, and electricians will be able to complete all work as they are finishing the rest of the home, resulting in some savings.

A third floor can be a great space for a homeowner to finish themselves over time, with some significant labor savings.  Check with your local jurisdiction to see if any permits are required - you'll want to be able to count the area as finished square footage if you should ever want to sell your home.   


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Adam Waldman
Westcott Group Real Estate Company - Hauppauge, NY
Realtor - Long Island

PENNY - Interesting post.  Unfinished bonus rooms are not common around here, but there are some.  We are more of a basement community.  I always wondered why they don't at least set up the home to be finished later on, or even finish them at the time of the build-out.  Wouldn't it end up being cheaper for the buyers in the long run?

May 29, 2008 10:31 PM #1
Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes - New Home Builder, with thousands of floor plans and almost unlimited customization available! - Raleigh, NC
Design/Build Custom Home Builder in North Carolina

Adam - great questions.

Probably the most common reason builders offer unfinished space is to maintain the price point of the home, while still giving the homeowner a lot of flexibility and potentially more living space.   If $299,000 is the maximum a homebuyer can purchase, adding an additional $30,000 to finish the unfinished 600 sq ft may push that home out of their price range.  

Many homebuyers feel comfortable with almost every aspect of finishing space themselves.  If they finish over a long period of time, there are quite a few benefits to the homeowner.  They can pay cash for finishing the space, instead of financing those improvements with the home (and paying double or more over the life of the loan, once years of interest payments are added in).  They can save on almost every aspect of labor by doing most or all of the work themselves. 

The square footage cost quoted above assumes that every step of the process will be taken by a general contractor.  There can be significant savings when the homeowner completes at least some portions of the work themselves. 

So much depends on the builder and standard practices used.  Bring up this conversation as early as possible with your builder - they should be able to work with your budget and your desires to find a happy medium. 

May 30, 2008 12:20 AM #2
Clint Miller
Real Estate Pipeline, Inc. - Missoula, MT

I grew up in a home with an unfinished basement.  When I moved out, my parents finished it, the house is twice as big and pretty awesome.

May 30, 2008 12:27 AM #3
Pat Hommel
Annapolis Plaza CB Residential and Commercial - Annapolis, MD
Annapolis, AA Co., Md. Real Estate Sales

Penny,  This is an excellent post.  Thank you for providing this information, it can help with our listings that have unfinished space.  Great info.

May 30, 2008 04:00 PM #4
Tracy Santrock
Fonville Morisey/Santrock Realty Group, Inc. - Cary, NC
Raleigh - Cary Realtor/Broker In Charge

I currently have a home w/ a ~2000 Sq Ft unfinished basement and a n ~ 1000 sq ft 3rd floor attic unfinished.  OVer 7000 sq ft total.  I've gotten price quotes on all and its quite expensive.  I've noted that most buyers want one or the other finished for resale!

Jun 02, 2008 02:06 PM #5
Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes - New Home Builder, with thousands of floor plans and almost unlimited customization available! - Raleigh, NC
Design/Build Custom Home Builder in North Carolina

Clint - Glad your parents found a good use for all that space.  Did they end up finishing it themselves, or contracting it out? 

Pat - Happy to help.  This can be a pretty common question, and it's nice to have at least a rough idea of what's involved.

Jun 08, 2008 01:22 AM #6
Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes - New Home Builder, with thousands of floor plans and almost unlimited customization available! - Raleigh, NC
Design/Build Custom Home Builder in North Carolina

Tracy - A homeowner who finishes space certainly can benefit at resale time.  As you found, it can be expensive - which is why many homeowners opt to finish this type of space themselves, or work on it over a long period of time. 

Jun 08, 2008 01:24 AM #7

Hello, as a Licensed and Insured General Contractor I would like to just add a couple of comments. Please have your attic area permitted and inspected by your local town. This is extremely important for many reasons.  One of the top  reasons that comes to mind is when you want to resell your house. I have heard this nightmare all too often.  The buyer of your new home, hires a Home Inspector and they sniff out that the 3rd floor wasn't permitted or inspected. 

Oh boy what go back after the fact, pulling a permit, having the town come out and tell you to cut large holes in the sheetrock so they can inspect it properly. Most often, they find something, you have to do behind those walls.  Stressful and painful situation.  I am all for saving money.. But if you don't do it right, have you really saved and added value to the home?

As a homeowner (North Carolina), you can pull permits in your name...and still do the work yourself or GC it yourself. With that said, I highly recommend the HVAC work be done by a Licenced HVAC Contractor. Get 3 bids! Typically, you need a zone control system to handle the 3rd floor attic. So you would have 2 systems, one for the 1st floor, one for the 2nd and 3rd floor, but now you have 3 thermostats... This will help you achieve the desires temperatures on each floor with 2 systems instead of 3.  Of course the new square footage will require the 2nd floor system to be upgraded and sized up.  The 6-7k number is close in most cases. The Zone control system itself cost about 1800.00 It's basically a motorized damper controlled by the thermostats on 2nd and 3rd floor.

Lastly, finished basements typically have a better return on investment than finished 3rd floors.

Mar 25, 2010 08:04 AM #8
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