How to Install an Attic Ladder or Stairway

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
Kim and Lloyd Mangin of Eugene, Oregon have asked for some help installing an attic stairwell.  I’m going to pay them a housecall. 

[MUSIC]

RON HAZELTON:
A pleasure to meet you.  And who’s this?

LLOYD:
                  This is Marty.

RON HAZELTON:

Hey Marty, good to meet you.  So this is the project right here, huh?

LLOYD:

This is our garage.

KIM:

So as you can see, we desperately need storage space for here.

RON HAZELTON:
Sure do.  The solution to Kim and Lloyd’s storage problem lies just overhead in the attic above the garage.  There’s plenty of room there but they need a convenient way to access it.  A pull-down attic stairway is just the ticket.

This preassembled unit will fit neatly into a hole we’ll cut into the ceiling.  Where we place that hole is important.  The ladder folds down in two sections.  We must position the opening in the ceiling so that the unfolding sections clears walls and other obstacles.  We also want to make sure that the base of the ladder falls in a convenient spot.

LLOYD:

Yeah, I think if we start right about here, that will give us enough room to get to the front of –
RON HAZELTON:
Using masking tape, Kim marks the spot where she wants the bottom stair to land.  We work backward from there.  And calculate where the edge of the opening will be.  Okay Lloyd so you got your eight feet there.

LLOYD:

All right, we’ve got eight feet right here.

RON HAZELTON:
Okay, great.    All right guys.  Now what we want to do is transfer this mark on the floor right up here to the ceiling okay.  And we’ll use a plumb line to do that or a plumb bob.

LLOYD:

Okay that sounds great.  How’s that?

KIM:

That’s a bit..

RON HAZELTON:

Lloyd moves the upper end of the plumb line around until the weight is directly over the tape on the floor.

KIM:

That was perfect, mark it.

LLOYD:

Got it.

RON HAZELTON:

Then he marks that location on the ceiling.  From here we can easily measure and determine where the 4 corners of the opening will be.

LLOYD:

Okay we’re going to measure 54 inches.

KIM:

Okay.

RON HAZELTON:

Before we do any cutting though, we’ve got to take a look at our proposed opening from the attic side to make sure that we won’t encounter any wires, pipes, vents or other obstructions. 

Using an awl, Kim punches small holes through the drywall at each corner and inserts a wooden dowel.  Wood is safer than metal for this, just in case we were to contact electrical wiring.

Lloyd and I head up into the attic through a small access hatch to see how things look from the top side.  Lloyd, here are the four corners of that opening.  1, 2, 3 and 4.  I’m a little concerned about these two over here because they’re so close to this framing.

When you come up here, especially if you’re carrying something you’re going to be stepping off right in between these and I think it’s going to be really cramped.  So what I’d suggest is that we maybe move this a little bit more in this direction which will put it at the bottom of the ladder closer to the door.

You’ll lose a little bit of room there but you’ll pick up more space up here at the top where I think you really would appreciate it.  So how do you feel about that?

 


LLOYD:

That sounds like a good plan.  I think we should do that.

RON HAZELTON:
While we’re up here, let’s clear out some of this insulation okay.

LLOYD:

Okay.

RON HAZELTON:
Clearing the insulation away allows us to make a careful check for other potential obstacles.  Well we do have some wires over here.  But they’re well out of the way.  The good news is everything else here is perfectly clear.

Well time for my favorite part of the job.  Ripping a big hole in you ceiling.

KIM:
Yeah, this will be the best part.

RON HAZELTON:
Nervous?

KIM:

Little bit.

RON HAZELTON:
Oh well, it’s only a ceiling as they say. 
Since the ceiling is made of drywall or wallboard, we’ll cut out the opening using a small wallboard saw made just for this purpose.
RON HAZELTON:
Try to get a rhythm going there.
Right down the line.

KIM:

What do I do when it sticks?

RON HAZELTON:
Well, are you pushing – trying to push on the teeth?  Slice bread.  Slice salami, slice cucumbers. 

KIM:

That I can do.
RON HAZELTON:

That’s good.

KIM:

There it is.

RON HAZELTON:
There it is.

KIM:

Okay.

RON HAZELTON:
Looks like we’ve got a hole.  The ladder we’re installing today like many, is designed to fit between the existing ceiling joists so we won’t have to cut any of those away.

Quick check for square right here.

We attach the header by nailing through the joist and into the end.  Check for square.  Then repeat the process on the other side of the opening.  Now we need to attach two temporary supports or ledgers to the headers that we just put in.

Put this in place with about four screws.  But the clamp will keep it in position when you do that, okay.  Okay now I was pushing with you that time.  This time I’m not going to push at all.  That push up though is really important.  Any time you’re using this tool.

Perfect, that’s perfect.  Push up – okay.  You got it.  All right.  Good job.

KIM:

Thank you.  I need to take off for my other lesson now.

RON HAZELTON:
Your other lesson, what’s that?

KIM:

I’m going sailing today for a racing clinic.

RON HAZELTON:
Oh great.  Okay well Lloyd and I will finish this up.  When you come back, you can start storing, huh?

KIM:

That’s great.  I can’t wait.  Thank you so much.

RON HAZELTON:
The next job is to cut away a brace that runs through the opening.  The headers we put in earlier will take its place.  Now we’re ready to lift the stair unit into position.

Excellent, okay – all the way through.  That’s good.  That’s good.  We’ll set it down.  It’s heavy and a little awkward.

All right now it’s going to come back.  I’m going to drop it right in the hole there – now this is where those temporary ledgers we installed earlier come into play.

Come to push it to me a little bit.

They’ll support the ladder until Lloyd and I have a chance to attach it in place.  Once we have the stairs positioned where we want them, Lloyd inserts wooden shims between the frame and the joist.  And we nail the stair frame into position.

Once everything is secure, we trim off the shims.

That’s it.

Okay Lloyd, it’s looking good.  Let’s see how this – how close this comes to our mark here?  Just about right on the money.

The rails or legs on attic ladders must be trimmed to the correct length.  Lloyd and I measure from the upper section to the floor, transfer the measurements to the lower section and carefully cut the bottom off at an angle.

Look at that, perfect.  It is perfect.  All right, now for the moment of truth.  Okay, as a friend of mine once said and I cut some off and it was still too short.  You like that, huh?  We don’t want to that on this.  Definitely we don’t want to be short.

That looks very good.  You see these are in contact with the floor.  Okay, go ahead, give it a try.
LLOYD:

Okay.

RON HAZELTON:
Let me know if you feel any falling sensations there.

LLOYD:

Feels great.

RON HAZELTON:
Solid.

LLOYD:

It’s very solid.

RON HAZELTON:
Trim molding or casing installed around the edge of the frame gives our installation a finished look.  There you go Lloyd.  First box.

LLOYD:

All right.

RON HAZELTON:
There you go, give my regards to Kim.  Enjoy the new ladder.

LLOYD:

We will Ron, thank you very much.

RON HAZELTON:
You’re very welcome.

Open That Hidden Storage Space above Your Garage Ceiling and Install a Pre-assembled Attic Stairway for Easy Access

Install a disappearing pre-assembled attic staircase to access above-ceiling storage in your garage. It doesn't require magic--just a little DIY know-how! Perform much of the work with hand tools--even cutting the opening in the ceiling. Add supports, drop the stairway into place, secure it and adjust the legs. Presto-chango and you're pretty much finished!

Position the Opening in the Ceiling to Allow Stairway Operation
Step 1

Position the Opening in the Ceiling to Allow Stairway Operation

Determine the optimum ceiling location for the pre-assembled stairway to unfold in a convenient spot while clearing obstacles. Use a tape measure and masking tape to mark results on the garage floor.

Transfer Coordinates for the Location to the Ceiling
Step 2

Transfer Coordinates for the Location to the Ceiling

Use a plumb bob to transfer the coordinates from the garage floor to the ceiling, marking a four-cornered rectangle for the pre-assembled stairway. Insert a wooden dowel at each corner through the attic floor to mark the position above.

Adjust Location to Avoid Electric Cables and Obstacles
Step 3

Adjust Location to Avoid Electric Cables and Obstacles

Clear insulation from the attic side to determine if the opening marked by dowels conflicts with electric cables or other obstacles. Consider pre-assembled stairway convenience for people carrying boxes or other unwieldy items. Relocate the hole if necessary.

Cut the Ceiling Opening with a Wallboard Saw
Step 4

Cut the Ceiling Opening with a Wallboard Saw

Use a hand saw such as a wallboard saw to open the ceiling along the marked cut-lines. For this pre-assembled stairway, the opening should fit exactly between ceiling joists that will support the unit.

Attach a Header at Each End of the Opening
Step 5

Attach a Header at Each End of the Opening

Nail a two-by-four header between the joists at each end of the opening. Nail through the joists into the ends of the headers. Use a carpenter's square to ensure the opening is square and will fit the pre-assembled stairway.

Attach Temporary Ledgers to the Headers Just Installed
Step 6

Attach Temporary Ledgers to the Headers Just Installed

Clamp temporary ledgers into position on the ceiling side of the pre-assembled stairway opening. Attach the ledgers by driving screws through the ledger and ceiling and into the headers installed earlier.

Cut away the Wooden Brace That Spans the Opening
Step 7

Cut away the Wooden Brace That Spans the Opening

Use a Japanese handsaw to cut away the wooden brace that spans the opening for the pre-assembled stairway. The headers installed earlier will provide support in its place. Your project may not require removal of a brace.

Set the Pre-assembled Stairway into Position from the Attic
Step 8

Set the Pre-assembled Stairway into Position from the Attic

Position the pre-assembled stairway in the hole, working from the attic side of the ceiling. The temporary ledgers installed earlier will support the heavy unit while to find the optimum position.

Shim the Pre-assembled Stairway and Secure It with Nails
Step 9

Shim the Pre-assembled Stairway and Secure It with Nails

Insert wooden shims between the pre-assembled stairway frame and the joists to hold it in position. Secure the unit by driving nails through the stairway unit shims into the joists. Trim off the excess shim length.

Trim Pre-assembled Stairway Rails to the Correct Length
Step 10

Trim Pre-assembled Stairway Rails to the Correct Length

Extend all but the last ladder section on the pre-assembled stairway and measure the distance to the garage floor. Trim the last section to length, cutting the rail ends at an angle to rest squarely on the floor. Add molding.