Maximizing storage space in a crawl house or shallow attic

(Rosie in the house photo)

Most homes in Arizona do not have a basement or attic. Many ranch-style homes have very shallow lofts, usually accessible from the ceiling in the garage or carport and the master bedroom.

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

A crawl space is the space between the floor and the first floor of the house, which is very common in northern Arizona. We don’t see them often on the desert floor.

The space above the ceiling is a shallow attic that you can potentially crawl through.

Shallow attics can be great for removing the things you only use seasonally from the closets and garage.

Before storing any items in the attic, the first thing to do is to make sure that the room is ready for reception and safe storage.

Roof leaks

Roof leaks need to be fixed regardless of your storage plans. A small leak can cause serious structural damage, including mold, and ruin your belongings.


A sealed crawl space is better than a ventilated crawl space for controlling moisture and keeping pests out. However, these were only common 15 years ago and are rare.

Use a cartridge gun to seal cracks in walls, doors, and windows (especially the corners) where pipes, wires, and telephone lines enter your home, vents for exhaust fans, and areas around electrical outlets.


Ventilation is critical to the health of your home. If the room is ventilated, make sure your storage plans don’t interfere with the existing ventilation system. Do not block any ventilation slots with storage boxes.

Can the attic withstand weight?

Before you put your foot or knee in the crawl space, you need to determine whether it has its own floor. Many attics in Arizona don’t.

It may look like there is a floor, but unless it’s made of wood planks and supported by floor joists, it’s really just the top of the ceiling of the rooms below, which is drywall or plaster of paris.

It’s not strong enough to hold your weight or any storage items. If you try to stand on it, you could fail right away. So can your boxes.

If there is no floor, you can carefully walk along the edges of the wooden ceiling rafters (the ones that support the ceiling of the rooms under your feet). For better, safer access, put down some sturdy pieces of plywood that you can use as a plank to get from one truss to the next.

Be careful, as cracks and damage in the boards or frame supports can cause them to buckle under your weight and send you into the space below.

In general, if the bars are only 2×4, you can only store very light items like empty boxes and suitcases. When they are 2 × 6, you can store relatively light material.

Beams that are 2 × 8 or larger can likely support more weight. In all cases, the strength of the floor depends not only on the size, but also on the span of the beams, that is, the distance between the supports below.

This includes the outside walls under the floor as well as some of the inside walls perpendicular to the beams, called load-bearing walls.

Discuss the suitability of your loft design with a professional contractor if you are not sure.

If you find that the floor structure cannot hold what you want to store, you can add more or larger beams and cover them with plywood or an OSB sub-floor to create a continuous floor space. Please contact a licensed contractor again before taking on this project.

IMPORTANT – Do not store anything directly on the drywall ceiling or slide the insulation out of the way to create additional space.

To organize

Consider the items that you don’t use often or that you only use seasonally, such as Christmas decorations, exercise equipment, infrequently used electrical appliances, clothing, or craft supplies. These are ideal items to place in the crawl space or in the attic.

Don’t store temperature sensitive items like candles in the crawl space or in the shallow attic unless you want a melted mess.

Maximize space by installing full perimeter shelving. This gives you extra organized space and protects your items from moisture damage.

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

Label each container to easily identify what it contains.

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

Stacked boxes make it 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 furniture, boxes, and infrastructure to prevent mold, mildew, and pests that can be dangerous to the items being stored and your health.

Instead of holding a flashlight between your teeth while you look around, add a light source. Place battery-operated stick-on lights in hard-to-reach or hard-to-wire places as they don’t need a lot of light in the crawl space or in the flat attic.

To add low voltage lighting, contact an Arizona licensed and insured electrician.

Left behind

If you recently moved into your home, previous residents may have forgotten to clean the crawl space or flat attic and left items behind.

Call the agent to make arrangements to collect the items. Conversely, when you move, don’t forget to clean the crawl space or flat attic.

Regardless of the size of your home, having an area to store seasonal or infrequently used items is helpful and helps reduce clutter.

For more do-it-yourself tips, visit Rosie Romero has been an Arizona home builder and remodeler for 35 years. She is the presenter of the radio show Rosie on the house radio program from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KAFF-AM (930) in Flagstaff and 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson.

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