Getting the Right Fit

Before replacing an attic stairway, you need at least three critical measurements: the width and length of the rough opening, and the ceiling height. Measure the rough opening's width and length in three different spots, at the top and bottom of the framing. Choose a stair that fits into the smallest of these measurements and is long enough for your ceiling height; you may have to trim to fit. For a folding or sliding stair in a closet or other tight space, you also need to measure how much swing clearance and landing length the stair will need when lowered. (Make sure to check manufacturer's specs before purchasing.) To make this task easier, hang a weighted string from the header where the stair's hinge will be attached, and measure out from the string. Replacing an existing stair is a two-person project that can take a morning or a weekend, depending on your skill. But if lifting 75 pounds overhead isn't your strong suit, hire a contractor to do it for you.

Buying Stairs

See the photos to the left for a simple guide. No matter which stair you choose, make sure it has a load rating of at least 300 pounds, which ensures that treads, stringers, and hinges will be more robust than on lighter-duty models.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Stair-door trim pulling away from the ceiling
This is an unmistakable sign that the stair's jamb is loose and pressing down on the trim around the access door. To fix it, push the jamb up flush with the ceiling and hold it in place with shims slipped between the jamb and the framing, particularly at the hinge end and on the sides directly beneath the pivot arms. Fasten the jamb through the shims using 16d common nails, wood screws, or lag screws. Drywall screws or box nails aren't strong enough.

Ask TOH users about Stairs

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