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How to Install a Fire Escape Ladder

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva helps a homeowner install an emergency escape ladder

In this video, Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva helps a homeowner install an emergency escape ladder.

Steps for installing a fire escape ladder:

  1. Take the template that comes with the fire escape ladder and tape it to the wall centered beneath the window and 6 inches below the window stool.
  2. Use a level to ensure the top of the template is perfectly level.
  3. Cut along the dotted lines on the template with a utility knife.
  4. Remove the template and finish cutting through the drywall along the scored lines.
  5. Pull out the severed piece of drywall and cut away any insulation from the rectangular hole.
  6. If there's a stud in the opening, cut it out with a reciprocating saw.
  7. Make the first cut through the stud 3 inches below the bottom of the opening.
  8. Cut the top of the stud flush with the top of the opening.
  9. If the rough sill protrudes into the opening, make a series of closely spaced cuts into the underside of the sill, then chop out the waste with a hammer and chisel.
  10. Cut short pieces of 2x4 to fit inside the wall to provide solid nailing for the fire escape ladder. Secure the pieces with 3-inch screws.
  11. Press a thin piece of foil-faced insulation into the opening to act as an insulating thermal break.
  12. Remove the fire escape ladder from its metal box, then set the box into the opening.
  13. Bore a ⅛-inch-diameter pilot hole through each of the four mounting holes.
  14. Attach the box to the opening with four ¼-inch x 2½-inch lag screws. Secure the fire escape ladder with the two top screws.
  15. Drop the ladder out the window, and then have someone outside climb up two or three rungs of the ladder.
  16. While the person remains standing on the ladder, check the lag screws inside the metal box to ensure the ladder is being held securely in place.
  17. Retrieve the ladder, fold it up, and tuck it inside the box.
  18. Snap the protective cover onto the box to conceal the ladder.
  19. Patch the wall with spackling compound, then prime and paint.