DIY Disaster Doctor: This Ladder Needs More Leeway!

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Rick A. Harrington, Patch Independent Home Inspections, LLC, Pickerington, Ohio (via The Money Pit). Used with permission of the ASHI Reporter

This fold-down attic ladder is going nowhere except into a pretty important support column. If this column is damaged, the house' could start start folding down!

Diagnosis
You know the old adage, "Measure twice, cut once"? Well, let's add "Think first" to that saying! Obviously, if you're going to install a ladder leading to the attic, you need to allow enough room for it to unfold properly. That basic care wasn't taken here.

Rx
If you're planning attic access, consider the stairway options that best suit the upstairs and downstairs space you have. In the scenario here, a telescoping attic ladder (pictured below left) -- as well as relocation of the access opening -- would've been much better and much safer for both the homeowner and the structural integrity of the house. Other options: a one-piece, slide-down staircase in which the whole ladder disappears into the attic when the hatch is closed, or a fold-down model.

Consider the location of your attic stairway as well. For instance, if you're accessing your attic from the garage, the stairway you install must meet strict fireproofing requirements. The garage is separated from the rest of your home by fire-resistant walls and ceilings, right down to the drywall used. As a result, the bottom of the attic staircase also has to be fire resistant, usually accomplished with sheet metal coverage on the bottom.

telescoping ladderWerner Telescoping Access Ladder. Photo: The Home Depot

The other critical element to attic stair installation? Reframing. Installation of an attic hatch requires that you cut away ceiling joists, and you must compensate for any joist removal by doubling up the framing on either side of the new opening. Otherwise, you'll create a big structural problem rather than a safe attic access solution.

Finally, install an attic floor to make sure you're on solid footing once you arrive in the attic. Traditional plywood sheeting and high-tech tile options like Attic Dek work really well, and allow for critical insulation and strategic placement. Just keep structure in mind when you make this attic improvement, because attics are actually meant to help hold your home together rather than act as additional storage space.

In fact, some attics are just not meant to be used for storage, including those framed with pre-fabricated trusses. If you try to cut those to make room for a stair or flooring, you might end up taking a quick trip downstairs. A really quick trip -- right through the ceiling! The rest of your house could potentially come tumbling down as well.

Skill Level

DIY Ph.D. You should have experience with reframing.

Tom Kraeutler delivers home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast or free home improvement newsletter.

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