Before beginning construction on an attic alteration or conversion in your home, there are several steps you will need to take to make sure your conversion will be in compliance with local regulations regarding land use and construction. Your proposed project must meet zoning setback and yard requirements. If your home is a landmark, next to a landmark, or in an historic district, changes to it may require special review. Also in older houses, an attic conversion may require electrical, heating and plumbing systems to be upgraded.

Process Overview

  1. Determine Zoning

    Before planning an attic conversion in your home, you will need to determine if the parcel is zoned for your desired use or if there are any special development considerations for your project.

    Zoning staff will be able to tell you the zoning of the property and if there are any special conditions which may affect your project. If your project requires special handling, our staff will inform you of the requirements and next steps.

    Find out the zoning for your property.

    Who to Contact

    Zoning at Building Permits: (608) 266-4551.

  2. Draw a Plan

    Consider these points when planning your attic conversion and preparing your site plan:

    • Use
    • Placement

    With these requirements in mind, you need to make a drawing (site plan) of your entire property with the location of the house to show to Zoning staff. Follow the example plan provided, and draw a plan to scale. Using a scale of 1″=20′ usually works best. Show the measurements of the lot, house, and any other structures. Also show the distances from the house to the lot lines.

    • City codes allow additions for almost any type of single family use. However, converting the attic of a single family home into a second dwelling unit is permitted only under limited circumstances. Your ability to convert an attic into a bedroom may also be limited in some zoning districts.
    • Converting an attic for use as a home office is allowed. However, home occupations (home-based businesses) are subject to special requirements. Ask Zoning staff about these requirements.
    • Houses must be set back from all lot lines. This setback distance is determined by how your property is zoned. Even though an attic conversion does not change the footprint of your house on the ground, it does add living space to the home. Thus, Zoning staff needs to review the placement of the house on the lot to ensure that it will meet setback and yard requirements. Again, Zoning staff will advise you if a special review and approval is needed.
  3. Review Plans

    Be sure to meet with Zoning staff at least a month or more before you apply for your construction permits. This will help you avoid delays when you want to start construction. Some types of additions need special review by a board or commission. These reviews usually require a fee and can add weeks to the review and approval process. Zoning staff will look at your plan and tell you if a special review is needed.

  4. Submit Building Plans

    Where to Go

    Madison Municipal Building
    215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Suite 017
    Madison, WI 53703

    Hours: Monday – Friday, 7:30 am – 4:30 pm

    Phone: (608) 266-4551

    What to Include

    (Note: All plans are required to be drawn to scale)

    Note: If your project cannot conform to building code, follow the variance procedure. See the Petition for Variance Application for more information. Please contact Building Inspection at (608) 266-4551 with any questions.

    • Site Plan
    • Floor Plans
    • Elevation Views (Exterior Picture Views)
    • Cross Section View
    • Heat Loss Calculator for any new heated spaces
      (Use the ResCheck to calculate your heat loss.)
  5. Pay Fees

    After obtaining Zoning and Building Plan approval, either you or your contractor can apply for the building permit.

    You will need to pay for any plan review costs, building permits or other fees that may apply to your project.

    Where to Go

    Building Inspection Permit Counter by appointment only
    Madison Municipal Building
    215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd Suite 017
    Madison, WI 53703

    Once the plans have been reviewed and approved, the permit can be issued. If the plans are insufficient or do not meet code, new plans need to be submitted correcting the items listed in the withholding letter. Minor projects can be approved at the counter. For more complex projects, the initial plan review will take 10 – 15 business days.

  6. Get Permits

    When your plans are approved and your fees have been paid, Building Inspection will issue the required permits for your project.

  7. Schedule Inspections

    Once the work permitted is completed, but before covering up or building over any permitted work, you will need to call and request an inspection. Inspections are required to ensure that all work was completed correctly. View required inspections.

    Call for an inspection request: (608) 266-4551.

  8. Completion

    After your final inspection, your project will be considered complete.

Related Forms & Handouts