An attic ladder or a fold-down stairs make it easier, safer and faster for you to climb up and down the attic. It could actually make your storage space more accessible and things stored there won’t easily be forgotten. The installation process could take just a few hours. The ladders and stairs available in the market come as pre-assembled kits, which makes installation a piece of cake, DIY project. The products can be ordered for shipment to your home and also available for pick-up at a local store.
Here are some factors you need to consider before buying the best attic ladder.
Attic ladder kits are designed and made to fit between existing floor framing of the attic. Usually, an existing attic access hole is enlarged just a little. It would be convenient for you if this is your situation. If not, you have to cut and frame a new access hole. Make sure that the location you choose gives the bottom of the ladder enough space to maneuver.
Type of Attic Floor and Roof Framing
It would be wise for you to identify the type of floor and roof framing of your attic. It is usually framed with floor joists and trusses or individual rafters. Know that trusses are structural components, therefore, trusses should not be cut. Standard floor framing can be reorganized easily. If your planned location for the attic ladder has trusses, you have to seek professional advice first.
Spacing and Orientation of Joist & Truss
Standard-sized attic ladder kits are made to fit between floor joists or trusses with a spacing of 24” (24 inches). This indicates an open space of 22 1/2” between each joist pair. If your existing framing spacing is 22 1/2”, you may choose to install the ladder here. But if you want a different location, you would need additional framing.
There is a chance that the joists are placed in the wrong direction for your ladder installation. If you will encounter this problem, just cut the joists and surround the opening with doubled-up headers and joists. However, you can’t apply this solution when it comes to trusses. You will have to seek professional advice.
Basic Space Requirements
You really have to check first the attic access opening. For full-sized attic ladders and stairs, at least 22 1/2 x 54” is needed. For safe mounting and dismounting of the ladder, consider a suitable landing space in the attic. This prevents trouble when transferring storage items. Another important thing to check is the headroom. Make sure that there would be enough space so you won’t bang your head against the roof framing when you climb up the attic. Lastly, be sure to check that there is enough space in the attic and on the floor below the attic opening. This is to ensure that there is enough space when the ladder is fully extended.
There are various designs and models available. If your space is limited, compact ladder models can be your option. These are specially designed for closets and other small spaces. There are also models that only requires an 18 x 24” attic opening. These attic ladder models need less floor space than standard-sized ladders.
Dimensions vary by ladder type and model, so it’s best to look into the requirements stated by the manufacturer.
Length and Weight
You need to measure the distance from the floor to the attic opening. Once you know the length you need, choose the best fit and appropriate size. Weight pertains to the ladder’s load capacity. Generally, the sturdier it is, the more weight it can carry. To determine the load capacity you will look for, identify the weight of the heaviest person who will be using the ladder including the heaviest load that will be hauled. A 250-lb capacity may be suitable but if you are the conservative type, a 300-lb capacity would be comfortable for you.
Attic ladders are not just made of aluminum. There are also attic ladders that are made of steel and wood. However, the top-rated choice is the aluminum, not just because it is lightweight and strong but it’s also rust-resistant.
Aluminum attic ladders are rarely affected by temperature and humidity, so it could last for years. Even though a wood ladder could also last for years, it more prone to moisture and temperature as well as probable natural defects.
Attic ladders and stairs now come in different designs and styles. Each of these offers safety, convenience, and usability. Most end up buying for personal preference. The following are some features you may consider:
- Folding vs. Telescoping Ladder or Stairs. There are ladders that fold out. Some ladders telescope like an extension ladder. There are also those ladders called “concertina” that extend on a scissor-like mechanism.
- Angle of Attic Ladder and Stairs. In most cases, attic ladder and stairs are steeper than regular staircases. Ladders are usually steep like when painting a house, while stairs are less steep. Depending on the space, you may opt for a less or more angled ladder or stairs.
- Handrails. A ladder or stairs can have a handrail. But the question is, would you prefer climbing up and down the ladder with a handrail or just use the ladder rungs? Note that you would be carrying storage items in one hand.
- Rungs vs. Steps. Attic stairs or ladders are not the same with a regular staircase. Every trip up and down the attic seems like climbing a ladder. Think of your convenience and safety.
Significant sources of heated and cooled air loss in a home are attic access panels and stairs or ladders. It is best to consider products with tight-fitting doors and insulation. You can also apply weatherstripping around the door opening to prevent air leakage. Slow down the heat loss by covering the panel door with rigid foam insulation board.