Build attic stairs

Nine steps to easy attic access

By Iain Mitchell

Attic

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Attics are famous for two things, in my experience. One is in-home lodging for ghosts, and the other is storage of long-forgotten possessions. As the first one stops mattering once you’re past the age of 10, these folding attic stairs are meant to address the latter attic function.

Of course, the reason things stored in the attic are long-forgotten is simply that it’s such an awkward place to get to. Once you’ve muscled that steamer trunk full of old junk up there, you don’t want to see it again for at least 10 years. And, if it means getting out the stepladder and hoisting yourself up, the wait is bound to be even longer. But what if all you had to do was fold down a set of stairs? Suddenly, you’d be using your attic for storing useful things. (Maybe you’d even get around to building that model train set you’ve been thinking about since you were 10.)

As you’ll see, installing attic stairs is quite easy to do. The stairs themselves are bought preassembled, and are designed to fit into the standard spaces between joists. This particular set is made in Canada by Compact Wood Products Inc. (www.compact-ladders.com).

These stairs will accommodate a ceiling of up to 9′, so make sure yours isn’t any higher. With that out of the way, it’s time to choose a location. What you want is a spot that will give you enough floor space at the bottom for a landing area and enough headroom as you climb up and enter the attic. Make sure there’s no plumbing or electrical wiring snaking its way between the joists where you want to cut. To do this you’ll have to climb up into your attic the old way one last time to have a look.

If your ceiling joists are spaced 24″ on-centre, all you have to do is cut a 50 1/2″ opening between them, then brace it at either end with lumber that’s the same material as the joists. If there’s only a 16″ on-centre space, you’ll still cut a hole that measures 22 1/2″ x 50 1/2″, but you’ll actually be cutting through a joist. In this instance, you’ll need to brace both the ends and one side.

Once the hole is cut, the rest of the installation is a relatively simple matter of installing the ladder frame and hoisting the ladder, which you will bolt to the hatch, into place. These steps are covered in the photos.

Because the ladder is designed to be installed in ceilings up to 9′, any ceiling lower than this will require modification to the bottom course of steps. This procedure, illustrated in Steps 7 and 8, is actually easier than it looks. Happy climbing!


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