How to install an attic ladder
Attic ladders provides easy and safe access to the space in the attic. Here is how to install an attic ladder.
To maximize the use of attic spaces for storage or to provide better access to mechanicals for routine maintenance, an attic ladder is a smart choice. And while installing one is a task most homeowners would like to avoid, for contractors, they are a simple – and profitable – installation.
Folding attic ladders come in two basic variations: wood and aluminum. Wood is an economical choice and wood attic ladders are typically rated at around 350 pounds. Aluminum is lighter and more durable, and some models are rated at more than 375 pounds.
Both types are typically sized for standard openings at 22½ to 25 inches by 54 inches or to wide openings at 25 to 30 inches by 54 inches.
For taller ceilings, 12-foot ladders typically require an opening of about 25 by 66 inches. There are also some compact aluminum versions available for openings as small as 18 by 24 inches.
To install an attic ladder typically requires two people and sawing, squaring and aligning skills similar to installing a window or door frame. Contractors who have never installed an attic ladder will find the process fairly simple for both wood and aluminum versions.
While different types of attic ladders and different manufacturers vary in installation methods, the basic process is the same. Always read your product manufacturer’s installation instructions before beginning.
Before you install an attic ladder
The first step is to get into the attic and confirm the best location of the ladder opening. Make sure there are no wiring or mechanical obstructions that can’t be moved and that there is ample space for users to move around on all sides of the planned opening.
Inspect the direction and spacing of the floor joists. Most ladders are designed to be installed between 2×10 floor joists spaced 24 inches on center. Wider openings or narrower joist spacing will require cutting at least one joist and framing a header to each adjacent joist.
The location – typically in a hallway – should have adequate swing space so that the ladder will not damage or become blocked by door jambs or trim, shelves, radiators, etc.
Measure the ceiling width and floor-to-ceiling height to specify the right type of ladder.
Frame the opening
Drive nails through the ceiling from above to mark each corner of the rough opening. Snap chalk lines from nail to nail and cut the drywall along those lines.
If necessary cut one joist in two places 1½ inches back from either end of the rough opening, so the header material will be flush with the opening once installed. If the joist spacing does not require a joist be cut, then simply install two 2×10 header boards at either end of the rough opening.
Attach some scrap boards across the opening near the short ends to support the ladder during assembly. Screw the boards into the joists from below so you or a helper doesn’t have to support the ladder’s weight.
Installing the attic ladder
In the folded position, slide the ladder up into the opening onto the support boards. Make sure the unit is square, level and centered in the opening. Use shims between the ladder and joist, much like you would to square a door frame. Once the unit is in its final position, attach it to the joists with 16-penny nails or lag bolts through the ladder hinges following the manufacturer’s directions.
Open the ladder to be sure it opens completely and the feet rest squarely and solidly on the floor. Most aluminum ladders come with adjustable feet that can be moved to assure solid floor contact. Wooden ladders require you to fold the bottom section back, measure the distance between the bottom of the second section and the floor, and then cut the bottom section to that length. You may have to re-install a bottom rung if you have to cut any significant length from the bottom section.
Install trim around the opening, install a pull cord, touch up any damaged spots with Spackle and/or paint and the attic ladder installation is complete.
–By Rob Fanjoy