The Different Attic Stairs

Attic stairs come in several widths, lengths and weight capacities. They make access to your attic so much safer and easier than using a step ladder.

There are several versions that slide down without the triple folding action of typical units. These are called disappearing stairways. These tend to have larger side rails and larger steps. Weight capacities for this ladder can easily be 800 pounds.

Personally, I prefer the folding aluminum units that can be insulated easily and also have larger weight capacities. The extruded aluminum attic stairs, if done right, are very strong. Weight capacities are usually 300 pounds.

A picture of the aluminum attic stairs is to the right.


The economical or CHEAP wooden ladders can be only hold 225 to 250 pounds. By the time you add your weight and the weight of what you are carrying, the capacity can be easily exceeded.

If you currently have less expensive wooden stairs, make sure, before using them, that they is in good condition.

It should have no broken, missing or damaged hardware. If there are any problems, FIX them BEFORE using the stairs.

YOU COULD GET HURT. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t bounce like I once did.

If you buy wooden attic stairs, make sure the steps are at least 3 ½ inches wide, 3/4 inch thick and have steel rods under the steps with washers on the outside. These are to keep the side rails from spreading under the weight and dropping you.


If you are installing a new set of stairs or replacing an existing set, there is only one consideration to deal with. That is the width between the joists.

    • If your joists are 24 inch apart, the stairs should drop right in; but,

 

    • if your joists are only 16 inches apart, there are structural considerations to account for.

The 16 inch joists will require you to modify the framing structure.

NEVER CUT OUT THE FRAMING WITHOUT CONSIDERING HOW IT MIGHT AFFECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE ROOF. If you are not sure how to do this, consult with a structural engineer or an experienced carpenter.

Once you get the rough opening established, the rest is easy. Most manufacturers provide instructions. Follow them to the letter.


Most stairs come with an unpainted panel as the door. Paint it and seal the trim seam with caulk to help keep the heat out.

The door itself should have a seal of some type where it contacts the frame. Get or build an insulated box inside the attic that seals the stairs and keeps the heat and cold out of your living space. If the stairs are in the garage, you will probably find the attic above the garage is not insulated. Installing insulation will help keep the temperature in your garage more constant.

REMEMBER, your stairs should have no play and never give under your weight or the weight of whatever you are carrying.

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Dave Altman
 

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