My Green Home
Gets A Folding Attic Ladder



Once upon a time, there was a two-storey house... which is now a one-storey house with an attic and a folding attic ladder.

The initial transformation was documented in our stair remodeling page, where we showed how we eliminated the stairs to the second floor and went as far as moving the basement stairs.

There is a lot of demand for information about stair projects, and I have dealt with those extensively, as you will see.


This page is about the installation of attic stairs in the form of a folding attic ladder to provide easy and safe access to the attic space.

This type of attic ladder is also known as

  • pull down attic ladder 
  • telescoping attic ladder
  • retractable attic ladder
  • loft ladder
  • folding stairs

And they come in wood or aluminum.

I chose a wood attic ladder because I don't intend on using it very often (I have a saying, "If it's in storage, I don't need it!). And I don't care if my loft ladder doesn't outlive me!

Still, a plain attic hatch was not a satisfactory alternative for me.

Then there's the little matter of cost: my ladder cost less than $150. An aluminum ladder would have cost at least double that.

ATTIC LADDER INSTALLATION, STEP-BY-STEP

The last stage in the aforementioned transformation was the creation of a framed opening in the ground floor ceiling.

This was sized according to the ladder's specification sheet, which was very clear.

(Tip: If installation instructions are not easy to understand, don't hesitate to call the article or material manufacturer's tech support -- you'll be amazed how friendly and helpful they can be.)


Because insulation and drywall work had to be done beforehand, it was several months before we could proceed with the ladder's installation.

NOTE: It's important to move the folding ladder to the upper floor before proceeding with the following steps.

First, we screwed a pair of wood strips to either side of the opening, overlapping the edges slightly.


These had to be firmly secured, as they were meant to hold the entire weight of the attic stairs assembly before and during the fastening of the ladder to the frame.


After measuring and re-measuring, it was determined that the shims supplied with the ladder (at left in the photo, left) would not be anywhere near sufficient, so additional ones were cut from a piece of salvaged plywood.

The shims were combined to make up the excess space, and nailed in place, on the perimeter of the opening (attic side).


Finally, the ladder assembly was carefully dropped in place and allowed to rest on the supports while the measurements were checked again.

Tom also carefully checked which end went where: we wanted the ladder to deploy towards the front end of the house.


After a few adjustments in the thickness of the shims, the whole thing was declared to be a satisfactory fit and the ladder was lowered, and screwed in place on all four sides.

Then the supports were removed, and the ladder was tested.

It took a while to figure out that the springs had to be loaded before the ladder would co-operate when required to withdraw. This required quite a bit of strength!


This is what the ladder looks like when first pulled down, its three sections folded neatly one on top of the other.

To unfold completely, you just grab the bottom rung and step back.


My attic stairs, fully deployed.

It looked just like the picture!

The ladder was a bit too long, and was trimmed at the bottom once the flooring was finished.

When deciding which way to deploy it, it's important to take everything into account. For instance, I wanted it to face into the light coming from the sunroom, and away from where I wanted to place certain pieces of furniture.


This is what the ladder looks like from below when it's fully retracted.

The ladder's built-in trap door is Masonite.



Installation took about three hours.

FOLDING ATTIC LADDER FINISHING

Once the ceiling had been finished, we were able to proceed with the finishing so that the attic ladder would blend in as much as possible.

Besides, those gaps had to be sealed in some way, and not only for aesthetic purposes: it was an important first step in the prevention of the exchange of air from the main floor and the attic.

The first step, then, was to frame the opening with clean pine.

The next step would be to seal and insulate the whole ladder installation so that it would not become the heat robber that gives attic hatches a bad reputation. That part is fully documented here.

In late fall, I seal off the attic for the winter season by screwing a plywood cover to the frame.

I then paint the screws white, but of course you can use white screws.

The ladder then becomes practically invisible.

In the spring, I remove the screws and the cover and store them up in the attic. Then I can use the attic for storage, but I also like to be able to have access to it during part of the year, to keep an eye on what's going on up there. So far, so good.

LADDER ORIGIN AND QUALITY

I was amazed at the quality, the finishing, and the light weight of the wood - the whole assembly weighs less than 60 lbs (approximately 25 kilos).

The wood intrigued me: the pattern of the veining was unknown to me, so I phoned the manufacturer.

It turns out that they use B.C. fir, brought in from British Columbia (and sometimes from Oregon – depending on the strength of the Canadian dollar, I presume).

Another reason that the wood looks so good is that by law it must be entirely free of knots, which makes perfect sense from a safety point of view.

The label indicates clearly that this folding attic ladder is classified by the Canadian Standards Association as Grade III – domestic, household quality – and has a maximum load capacity of 200 lbs (90 kilos). (Don't forget to include the weight of what you're carrying!)

I'm pleased that something made in Canada – in Village Huron, near Quebec City, to be precise – is so reasonably priced.

It gives one hope that manufacturing is still alive and well, and competitive, in Canada.

In fact, I found other Canadian attic ladder manufacturers on the Web.

Other countries manufacture those, of course -- the important thing is to Buy Local whenever one can!

DOLLAR-BY-DOLLAR

Cost of ladder: $150
Installation: 3 hours @ $35/hour: $105
Material for frame and cover: $15

TOTAL COST: $270 (Canadian)

Expect to spend around $150 to $200 for a wooden ladder, depending on the size and grade. As mentioned earlier, mine has a maximum weight capacity of only 200 lbs, which may not be enough for your needs.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, installing a folding attic ladder isn't rocket science. But it does require two strong people and a fair amount of time, especially if you have to deal with the opening first. This opening was planned when we removed the stairs and moved the basement stairs to a new location, at the very beginning of this project.

Make sure the ladder assembly is upstairs and unpacked before you start. Get out the instructions and study them!

If your ladder is going to get a lot of use, I would recommend getting one with a higher rating if it's wood. Better yet, get an aluminum one.

The rating determines the maximum load capacity, so pay attention to that. To calculate the load, you have to add up the person's weight PLUS the weight of whatever they're carrying.

So, you see, for most people, a 200-lb (90-kilo) ladder would not be adequate. It's pure luck that I'm not too heavy as I didn't see that label till the ladder was installed!

Folding attic ladders come in different lengths, so be sure, also, to order the right length by measuring the distance between the floor and the ceiling.

Home Depot carries an extensive selection of these, both in store and on their website.

LADDER SAFETY

Folding attic stairs are more like a ladder than a staircase, and the same safety precautions apply!

  • Use the built-in handrail going up AND going down (this means keeping the handrail side hand free at all times)
  • Go down backwards, like any other ladder
  • Wear real shoes, not floppy slippers
  • Respect the maximum weight printed on the label

I speak from experience! I fell forward and could have hurt myself very badly if I hadn't landed on a stack of empty cardboard boxes. As it was, I got away with only a sprained ankle.

GREEN NOTES

Until it's tight-fitting and well insulated, your loft ladder could be wasting a lot of energy by providing a direct route for the heated air to escape, so that's something to watch out for.

To see how I tackled that problem, check out my attic door insulation page.



Related Pages



ATTIC DOOR INSULATION
To keep our precious heat in, we constructed this foam box over the attic hatch.



MOVING THE STAIRS?
Yes, moving a staircase is easy! Watch our step-by-step account.




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GO TO ATTIC DOOR INSULATION

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COMMENTS

...I clicked to your site and found a great wealth of information. I'm about the least tool oriented person there is around, but I'm passionate about many of the topics you write about. And I find the writing to be very well done and informative even for a non-handy person like me. Welldone.

Dean
Prague, Czech Republic

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I would just like to thank you for maintaining this resource. It's essential that information about environmental issues are easily and broadly accessible.

Steve
United States

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Thank you so much forsharing your exquisitely well-told stories! I have spent the last 2 hours reading the whole saga, and I appreciate all of the detail that went into your decision making. I hope you are enjoying your green home with cozy surroundings and energy efficiency.

Candice
Unites States

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Rajiv
United States

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United States

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Canada

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Canada

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Spain

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United States


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United States

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Minnesota

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                  Australia

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Canada

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Canada

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BACKGROUND

A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.

It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.

Don't believe me? See these "Before" pictures.

My intention was to turn it into as "green" as home as I could, within my physical, financial, and geographical limits – and to share this adventure with you, step-by-step and dollar-by-dollar.

I'm not quite finished, but I do have a few "After" pictures to show.

If you want to follow me on this exciting adventure, you can subscribe to this site by RSS feed -- see the box below the navigation bar on the left.