All You Need to Know About Attic Ladders

All You Need to Know About Attic Ladders

Attic
By Mateos Glen Hayes February 28, 2022

You don’t always see them in newer houses, but attic ladders are still quite a smart and practical feature to have in any home. They provide an easy way to get up and into your attic without installing a permanent ladder or a bulky staircase. Attic stairs are easy to use and can be folded away when they are not needed to save space and reduce clutter.

While they may seem kinda complex, attic ladders are actually fairly easy to DIY as long as you have enough experience and know what you’re doing. Most drop-down stairs are pre-assembled so all you have to worry about is placement and matching up measurements.

Those in the market for an attic ladder will have to consider some key details before committing to a purchase and installation. Not all attic ladders are made equal, and some will come with the better build quality and more useful features than others.  

Things to Keep in Mind

There Are Some Key Factors to Keep in Mind

There Are Some Key Factors to Keep in Mind

Make every trip up and down from the attic an easier one by skillfully installing attic stairs

Measurements

The most important rule with this and other projects is to measure everything twice. Once you’ve found the perfect location for your loft stairs, you’ll need to make sure that your ladder has enough room to fit and can extend fully without knocking into everything.

Multiple measurements get tedious quickly, but it's a much better alternative to realizing that you’ve gotten something wrong and then having to destructively undo it. Mistakes in a DIY project can be pretty stressful, but thankfully you can avoid major issues pretty easily just by being diligent and planning ahead.

In general, your typical attic ladder needs a 22-½” x 54” opening to fit, although you can also find smaller ones if you need a more compact attic ladder for your home. Be sure to make enough room as well so that you can safely mount and dismount the ladder while carrying something. You definitely don’t want to bump into the ceiling while carrying something heavy, so this is a detail that shouldn’t be ignored.

The good news is that you do have some room for error. If the stringers (ladder rails) end up being a bit too long, they can always be trimmed down to fit your dimensions. Finally, it is a good idea to check that your attic has enough room for the attic stairs to comfortably fold up and store into it when not in use. 

Materials

Attic ladders come in a variety of materials, and the one you opt for will depend on what quality you value the most. An aluminum attic ladder will likely be the most durable as well as the lightest option you can find. Aluminum is lighter than other materials available and is also rust-resistant, which is especially good if you live in an area with a lot of humidity.

Wood is your other material of choice, and these can also last quite a long time given proper installation, assembly, and maintenance. Wood is also a fairly lightweight material, and thus is perfect for an attic door. However, wood is far more susceptible to the elements and so may not be the best if your home has a lot of moisture. Bear in mind that moisture causes wood to expand and contract with time, eventually causing cracks and rotting.

Aluminum Attic Ladders Are Light and Durable

Aluminum Attic Ladders Are Light and Durable

Frame Types 

This refers to the framing of your roof and attic floor. These structural parts of your home are likely made up of rafters and floor joists, in effect making up a bunch of interlocking members joined by gussets and metal connectors. Because the frame of your roof is integral to your house’s structural integrity, cutting these rafters and joists is not a good idea.

Because of this, the usual way fold-down stairs are installed is by sticking them in the gap between rafters. The rule of thumb for this is that you need at least 24” of space between two trusses in order to fit a standard-sized attic ladder. Otherwise, you’ll need to modify the frame of your roof to make room for the drop-down stairs, and this can drive up cost and complication. 

Insulation

You might not be surprised to hear that a hole in your ceiling won’t do any favors for your home’s energy efficiency. Since that’s basically what an attic ladder is, it’s a good idea to design a way to make up for this drawback. Attic ladders with insulated doors that are tight-fitting are exactly what you need.

Alternatively, you can also add weatherstripping yourself to reduce heat loss. To maximize your home’s energy efficiency, you can also add a rigid foam insulation board to your attic ladder’s door. These solutions won’t completely claw back your energy losses, but they will make a measurable difference.   

Features to Look For 

More Compact Attic Ladders Are Available

More Compact Attic Ladders Are Available

Aside from materials, there are a bunch of cool and convenient features that you can add to your attic ladder for added practicality and safety. There are a few features you should take a look at if you're in the market for your new attic ladder. 

Handrails 

Not all attic ladders have handrails, but those that do are a lot safer and easier to use, especially if you need to regularly move stuff in and out of the attic. With a handrail, your attic ladder becomes more like an attic staircase, thereby allowing you to carry more stuff at once into your attic without taking too much of a risk.

This one is ultimately down to half preference and half convenience. If you choose not to use handrails you can still use the rungs of the ladder to hold on to and prevent yourself from losing your balance. 

Folding vs. Telescoping Types 

This refers to how the ladder unfolds. Folding ladders unfold like a book opening, and are fairly easy to open with a handle or strap. Telescoping ladders slide (or telescope) outwards using a scissor-like mechanism.

This is the same kind of design old-fashioned bathroom mirrors use, and it can help with space-saving and ease of opening the attic ladder. Telescoping ladders are also referred to as concertina-style attic ladders. 

Rungs or Steps? 

We touched on this earlier, but your attic ladder can have rungs just like any other ladder, or it can have attic steps to be more like a fancy carpeted staircase. Of course, it is important to note that your pull-down attic steps will be smaller and steeper than those of a regular staircase owing to the cramped dimensions. So if you choose to make use of an attic ladder, you may be happier with rungs for the sake of space-saving.

Railings and Steps Are Safer for Carrying Heavier Loads

Railings and Steps Are Safer for Carrying Heavier Loads

Length and Weight Ratings

There is another important detail, and this is the length and weight of the attic ladder. Attic ladders come in different lengths and so it is important to ensure that your attic ladder will comfortably reach the floor from your ceiling and will be able to extend fully without any conflict.

Attic ladders are also rated to hold a maximum amount of weight. At a minimum, you’ll want to get a ladder that can handle the weight of the heaviest person that will be using it. This generally means 250 pounds of capacity will work just fine, although you can find attic ladders with higher ratings 

Pricing 

Depending on load limits, length, and materials used, your attic ladder cost will range from $150 to $1,500. Obviously, more sophisticated models will be at the top end of this cost range, and that price will be well worth it for those that need that level of functionality and quality. But if you just need basic drop-down stairs, the more affordable options should do just fine.

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes