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Before You Buy an Attic Ladder

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If you want to start using your attic for storage, you will appreciate having an attic ladder. Installing attic stairs can be done be any moderately experienced do-it-yourselfer. The stairs come as pre-assembled kits, which can be ordered or picked up at building supply stores and home centers.

If you are lucky, installation can be done in as little as two or three hours. If you are less lucky, however, you can easily need most of a weekend to finish the job. Here are some tips on how to determine which category you might fall into and what to look for when you go shopping for an attic ladder.

There are plenty of considerations however that factor into deciding what the best possible ladder is for your home and your specific needs. Aside from level of quality, brand name and price, some of the other factors to consider include the type of space you'll be using the ladder in, whether or not you want a ladder you can fold up and much more. The following tips should help get you off on the right track:

Location, Location, Location

Attic ladder kits are made to fit between existing framing in the ceiling (that is, the floor of the attic). And they typically require that an existing attic access hole be enlarged just a little.

If you are lucky, you will be able to take full advantage of that convenience. Often, however, you won’t be so lucky. In this case, you should plan on cutting and framing a new access opening. Also, make sure the bottom of your ladder will rest in a safe spot with room to maneuver.

Type of Framing

Your attic floor and roof are probably framed with either trusses or 2x lumber. Truss roofs function as an interlocking system, and the components should not be cut, while 2x framing can usually be reorganized easily. If you have trusses and discover that they are in the way of your planned attic ladder location, seek professional advice before proceeding.

Spacing & Orientation

Attic ladder kits can be purchased to fit between 24-inch on-center framing. If the gap between your framing measures 22-1/2 inches, and one of those gaps falls over where you’d like to install the ladder, you’re in luck. If not, additional framing will be required.

It is possible, however, that the joists may be running in the wrong direction for your ladder installation. With 2x framing, this can be overcome by simply cutting the joists and then surrounding the rough opening with doubled-up headers and joists. With trusses, however, you may be out of luck. Check with a professional about your options.

Length & Weight

Attic stairs are sold in different lengths. Be sure to measure the distance from your ceiling to the floor and buy an appropriate size.

Attic ladders also come in different weight capacities. As a general rule, the more weight a ladder can hold, the sturdier it is.

At the very least, buy a ladder that can handle the weight of the heaviest person who will be using it plus the heaviest load they will be hauling up and down. That may mean that a 250-pound capacity is suitable, but I feel more comfortable with a minimum of a 300-pound capacity, even if that means I have to do some additional framing.

Material

You can find attic ladders made of aluminum, steel and wood. I prefer wood or aluminum ladders.

To Fold, or Not To Fold

Werner Ladder and Louisville Ladder are two prominent manufacturers of folding attic ladders. The latter offers wood and aluminum ladders with a 350-pound capacity. Prices for aluminum and wood ladders with 300- to 350-pound capacities range from about $250 to $350.

Bessler Stairway Company makes a sliding wood stairway for attics that has a full-length handrail and a load capacity of 800 pounds. This may be the sturdiest movable ladder you can find. Prices start at a bit over $1,300.

Watch Your Head

You don’t want to be banging your head against the roof framing every time you use the attic stairs. Especially if your hands will be full of items being transported up and down, you will appreciate having as much headroom as possible.

Insulation

Attic access panels and ladders can be significant sources of heated and cooled air loss in a home. You can take a big step in stopping this waste by applying some self-adhesive foam weatherstripping around the frame where the door rests.
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