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How to Install Attic Stairs

Step-by-step instructions to help you install folding attic stairs for easier access to your attic.

In this video, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains how to install attic stairs.

Most of the newer folding attic stairs on the market today are lots better than the rickety models installed in tract houses in the 1960s and 70s

How Much Does it Cost to Install an Attic Ladder?

In the case of these products, you get what you pay for; more expensive models are better made and generally have a higher weight capacity. According Home Advisor, it can cost anywhere between $220 to $650 for attic ladder installation.

How to Install Attic Stairs

  1. Mark rough opening of new fold-down staircase on the ceiling joists in the attic.
  2. Use a reciprocating saw to cut joists and nails holding any joists that must be removed.
  3. Cut around ceiling trim with a utility knife.
  4. Cut out the framing around existing hatchway opening with a reciprocating saw
  5. Using the reciprocating saw, cut away all the old joists from within the new rough opening.
  6. Cut new 2x8 joists and header to fit the staircase's rough opening.
  7. Nail the side joists to the new header using 16d common nails.
  8. Set the partially assembled framing into place; nail through the existing ceiling joist in the ends of the new side joists.
  9. Fasten the opposite ends of the side joists with metal joist hangers.
  10. With the new framing installed, use a reciprocating saw to cut the ceiling from within the new rough opening; collect the dust during sawing with a wet/dry vacuum.
  11. Screw temporary 1x4 cleats to ceiling at each end of the opening; be sure the 2 1/2-in. screws go into solid framing.
  12. Slip the collapsed staircase into the attic, then drop it down so that it rests on the cleats.
  13. Tap shims around the staircase to center it in the opening.
  14. Pull down the stairs and drill pilot holes through the side framing of the staircase and into the joists.
  15. Fasten the staircase to the joists with 4-inch lag screws.
  16. Remove the cleats and trim off the shims.
  17. Pull down the stairs and use two 1x4s to determine the angle and length of the lower section of the stair stringers.
  18. Trim the ends of the stair stringers to the proper length and angle with a circular saw.
  19. Install casing, or other wood trim, to the ceiling around the staircase opening.
  20. Paint the casing and staircase panel to match the ceiling.

3 Folding Attic Stair Installation Tips

  • Putting temporary cleats across the stair’s jamb makes it easy to hold it in place while you shim it. And while you may be tempted to nail the jambs to the framing, don’t use lag bolts instead. The little extra time and cost it requires will give you and your homeowner peace of mind.
  • Folding attic stairs can be a huge energy suck in a house. It pays to invest in an insulated hatch cover. You can either make one from rigid foam board, or buy a premade from Battic Door.
  • If you’re at all unsure of how to cut the bottom section to length, watch that part of the video a couple of times. If you cut the section too short the stairs will not reach the floor and will tend to bounce when climbed. And if you cut the bottom section too long, the stairs will not unfold all the way.

Tools and Materials