Installing a Pull-Down Attic Stair
This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains optimal conditions for pull-down attic stairs, and how to install them
My son wants to install pull-down attic stairs in a hallway ceiling. The problem is that the ceiling joists run perpendicular to the hall, and we've been told this makes it impossible to install pull-down stairs. Is that true?
—Frank Kornick, Glenshaw, Pa.
Tom Silva replies: Most things are possible, but some are a lot more difficult than others. If your son's roof is framed with trusses, for example, you'll have to get a structural engineer involved, and the job will probably end up being more trouble, and more costly, than it's worth. But if the roof is framed with lumber rafters and joists, you're in business.
What you'll have to do is cut an opening through the joists-probably no more than three, if the existing ceiling framing is on 16-inch centers. Then support the cut ends with doubled-up headers. These will redirect the loads to the nearest intact joists, which will -also have to be doubled because of the extra load they will carry. Once all the framing is in place, trim the drywall flush and install the ladder.
This is a messy job, but you don't need a lot of materials. In fact, the most expensive part of the project will be the stair unit itself.