How to Install Attic Stairs

By Gene and Katie Hamilton

Tools Required
  • Hammer
  • Hand saw
  • Coping or saber saw
  • Circular saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Ladder
  • Electric drill with bits
Materials Required
  • Foldaway attic stair unit
  • 2x6 8-foot framing lumber
  • Scrap pieces of 2x4s
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask
  • Shims
  • Metal joist hangers
  • Caulk

Before You Begin

Not all homes have the space or floorplan for attic stairs. It's best to locate the stairs directly under the roof ridge so there will be maximum attic headroom above the stairs. This is particularly important if the roof has a low pitch. Note the location of doors and the traffic pattern, so the unfolded stairs don't interfere with doors or passageways you'll need access to on your way to the attic. It will be very inconvenient if you have to close a door in order to lower the stairs.

Carefully measure the area and make sure there are no heating/cooling ducts running over the area. Look at the ceiling joists. Install the stair unit so its long dimension runs parallel with the joists. With this type of installation, only one joist has to be cut. If you can't find an installation location like this, consult with a qualified contractor who can appraise the options.

Carefully read the specifications and installation instructions that come with the folding stairs unit.

Some homes have attic floor joists that are not beefy enough to support concentrated heavy loads. If the attic has 2-by-6 or less floor joists, consult with a qualified contractor or building professional to see if the attic space can be converted for storage.

If the job is too intimidating, consider hiring a contractor who specializes in attic remodeling. To find one near you, click Home Advisor, a free referral service that connects homeowners with local prescreened contractors.

  • Step 1 : Lay out the opening

    Lay out the opening

    After you've assessed the attic for the best location, use chalk or marker to draw the rough opening on the ceiling joists where the stairs will be installed. Then drill pilot holes through each of the four corners and poke a stick through each hole so you can see them from below. Go downstairs and find the holes, checking that there will be no conflict with objects in the room below.

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