Rosie on the House: Maximize crawl space, shallow attic for storage

Get the clutter out of corners and store items in the crawl space or attic. Use plastic bins rather than cardboard boxes to keep items from getting damaged.

Most homes in Arizona do not have a basement or full attic. Many ranch-style homes have very shallow attics which are generally accessed from the ceiling in the garage or carport and the master bedroom.

What is the difference between a crawl space and shallow attic?

A crawl space is the space between the ground and the first floor of the home, which in Northern Arizona is very common. We don’t see them often on the desert floor. The space above a ceiling is a shallow attic that you may be able to crawl through.

Shallow attics can be ideal for moving the stuff you only use seasonally out of the closets and garage. Before storing items in the attic spaces, the first and most important thing you need to do is make sure the space is ready to receive and store them safely.

Rosie on the House: Maximize crawl space, shallow attic for storage

It may be a challenge to find storage space in this shallow attic.

Roof Leaks:

Roof leaks need to be addressed regardless of your plans for the storage. A small leak can lead to serious structural damage, including mold, and ruin your items.

Pests:

A sealed crawl space is better than a vented crawl space in controlling moisture and deterring pests. However, these were not common until 15 years ago and are rare. Using a caulking gun, seal cracks in the walls, doors and windows (particularly at the corners), where pipes, wires and phone lines enter your home, vents for exhaust fans, and areas around electrical outlets.

Ventilation:

Ventilation is critical to the health of your home. If the space is ventilated, make sure your storage plans won't affect the existing ventilation system.

Don't block any vents with storage boxes.

Can the Attic Space Withstand Weight?

Before setting foot or knee in the crawl space, you must determine if it has its own floor. Many Arizona attics do not. It might look like there is a floor, but unless it’s made from wood floorboards and supported by floor joists, it is really just the top of the ceiling of the rooms below which is made from drywall or plaster. It is not strong enough to hold your weight — or any storage items. If you try to stand on it, you could fall right through. So can your boxes.

If there is not a floor, you can gingerly walk on the edges of the wood ceiling rafters (the ones that support the ceiling of the rooms underneath your feet). For better and safer access, lay a couple of pieces of sturdy plywood down to use as a plank to get you from one truss to the next. Be careful, as cracks and damage in the boards or framing supports may cause them to buckle under your weight and send you into the room below.

Generally, if the joists are only 2x4s, you can only store very lightweight items such as empty boxes and suitcases. If they are 2x6, you can store relatively light stuff. Joists that are 2x8 or larger can likely support more weight. But in all cases, the strength of the floor is based not only on the size but also the span of the joists, i.e., the distance between the supports below. These include the exterior walls below the floor as well as some of the interior walls that run perpendicular to the joists, called load-bearing walls. Discuss the suitability of your attic space framing with a professional contractor if you are unsure.

If you determine that the floor structure can't hold what you'd like to store, you can add more or larger joists and cover them with plywood or an OSB subfloor to create a continuous floor surface. Again, consult a licensed contractor before taking on this project.

IMPORTANT — Don’t store anything directly on the drywall ceiling and don’t move insulation out of the way to make extra room.

Getting It Organized

Consider the items you don’t use often or just get into seasonally, like holiday decorations, sports equipment, rarely used electrical appliances, clothing, or craft supplies. Those are the ideal items to place in crawl space or attic storage.

Don't store temperature-sensitive items, such as candles, in the crawl space or shallow attic, unless you want a melted mess.

Maximize the space by installing shelves across the perimeter. This will give you extra organized space and protect your items from moisture damage.

Pack clothes in thick, well-secured plastic bins to prevent pests and moisture from destroying them.

Label each bin to easily identify what they contain.

Never store anything in cardboard boxes. They will deteriorate, rodents love them, and your items will be ruined.

Stacked boxes make it more difficult to check for pests or hidden damage to your structure or wiring. Take the time to create an inventory map. Schedule regular checks of furnishings, boxes, and infrastructure to prevent mold, mildew, and pests that can be hazardous to the items stored and to your health.

Instead of holding a flashlight in between your teeth while looking around, add a lighting source. Because you don’t need a lot of lighting in the crawl space or shallow attic, place stick-on battery operated lights in hard to reach areas or that are difficult to wire. If you want to add low voltage lighting, call a ROC licensed and insured electrical contractor.

Left Behind

If you recently moved into your home, you may find the previous residents forgot to clean out the crawl space or shallow attic and left items behind. Call their realtor to make arrangements to pick up the items. Conversely, if you are moving, don’t forget to clean out the crawl space or shallow attic.

Regardless of the size of your home, having an area to store seasonally or rarely used items is helpful and reduces clutter.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix; KGVY 1080AM 100.7FM; 10 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson.