Attic Ladders (sometimes referred to as Attic Stairs, Attic Steps, Ceiling Ladders or Pull Down Attic Stairs) are great for adding extra storage space in your home. However, like just about everything, sooner or later they wear out and need to be replaced. My home initially had an attic fan in it but we needed the storage space so I removed the fan and used the opening to install an wooden attic ladder.
Over the years (as wear and tear took its toil) I have replaced my wooden attic steps with similar wooden steps twice before and most recently with an aluminum attic ladder. Now that I have installed and used an aluminum attic ladder, I will never go back to a wooden one. My previous wooden ones worked well but were not near as stable as my aluminum one. The aluminum one gives me a much stronger sense of safety (that is, that the steps won’t break when I go up or down the ladder).
Tips in Deciding Which One to Buy and in Installing It
1. As I said previously, buy an aluminum one rather than a wooden one. (Aluminum ladders will cost more but they are worth the money for the peace of mind that they provide.)
2. IMPORTANT: Whether you are purchasing one via the internet or at the store, be sure and take the time to open the box (at the store or upon receipt) and make sure that the ladder is not damaged AND THAT ALL THE PARTS ARE THERE (INCLUDING BOLTS AND NUTS). There are few things more frustrating than having a couple of friends show up to help you install the attic ladder and then to open the box to find that the ladder is damaged or that some of the parts are missing.
3. Manufacturers will say that 2 individuals can install one, and 2 individuals can. (I have done it that way before.) But my strong recommendation is to have 3 individuals if at all possible – one up in the attic and two lifting and holding the ladder in place. Using 3 individuals will probably shorten your installation time by 1/2, make it much easier on your helpers, and also allow you to do a much better job.
4. I would recommend purchasing either a regular ladder with a load rating of 300 or 350 lbs or a telescoping ladder with a load rating of 250 lbs or more. You want it to be able to support both your weight and the weight of what you are carrying up or down the ladder. A telescoping ladder has less of a climbing angle (that is, it is more of a straight up and down climb) and thus I don’t feel you need as high a load rating as you would with a regular one.
5. If you are replacing one, the rough opening size where your previous ladder was will pretty well dictate the model you install unless you want to spend time resizing/reframing the opening. For ease’s sake, I would recommend that you choose a ladder that will fit (closely) into the space of the ladder you are replacing. Just measure the rough opening size (width and length at both ends of the opening) and identify those versions that will fit in that rough opening size.
6. Similarly, the height of your ceiling will dictate what attic ladder model you will need. Most ceilings will be between 7′ and 10′; however, you may have a 10′-12′ ceiling which will require purchasing a model with a longer ladder.
7. Another feature you want to have on your ladder if at all possible is adjustable legs. Not only will having adjustable legs make the installation much, much easier but, more importantly, they will help ensure that the legs of your ladder have a close, tight fit on the floor to give your ladder increased stability.
8. In replacing your attic ladder, if your present attic ladder is really cramped for space, you might want to consider replacing your regular size attic ladder with a telescoping attic ladder. There are both pluses and minuses of going to a telescoping style attic ladder. The really big plus is that you can put in an access ladder to your attic in a much smaller space. They are also highly rated by individuals who have installed them. Some of the minuses include: you will have to do some reframing to install the ladder; you may have to use smaller storing boxes because of the smaller size access hole; and since you will going straight up and down on a telescoping ladder (rather than at more of a 45 degree angle with a conventional attic ladder), it may make carrying items up and down the ladder more difficult. In addition, telescoping attic ladders can be too short for really high ceilings.
9. Finally, once you have your ladder installed, don’t forget to insulate both the attic ladder door and the space in the attic around the attic opening. Doing this will help prevent the loss of cooling/heating through the attic ladder door area.