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Folding Attic Stairs

Staircases that fold up to fit into the ceiling are a great way to gain access to the attic in your home or garage without having conventional stairs take up valuable space. Folding stairs are basically ladders that are pulled down from a unit installed in an opening in the ceiling that is typically 221/2 to 25 inches by 54 inches. When not in use, their bottom panels need to fit flat against the ceiling to prevent heat loss. Look for models that have insulation and weather stripping. The stairs should be easy to operate by pulling an attached cord or using a long pole with a hook on its end that slides into a ring attached to the flat bottom panel. Some models have springs and gas pistons that help lower and lift the stairs. Better stairs units will hold at least 300 pounds and have sturdy treads, stringers and hinges. These stairs can be easily installed by a handy homeowner.

Consider the following choices when buying folding attic stairs:

  • The most common type of folding stair is made from wood and has two hinged ladder sections that unfold when the stair is opened so that it reaches the floor at a comfortable climbing angle. These usually have stair treads from 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Thicker treads are better for those who will be moving things in and out of the attic.
  • Metal folding stairs can be made from steel or lighter weight aluminum. They cost more than wood units, but often last longer because they have riveted construction. Look for slip resistant treads when buying this type.
  • Aluminum telescoping stairs are the most compact. They can fit into tight spaces such as closets because they extend straight down.
  • The strongest type of attic stair is a one piece wood ladder that is counterbalanced by spring loaded drums so that it glides gently to the floor when the bottom panel is pulled down. These are sturdy rigid models that can reach up to 12 feet and hold up to 800 pounds. They are more expensive than other types, and there must be enough clearance under the roof for the ladder to slide all the way up.

Installing attic stairs requires three important measurements: the width and length of the

rough opening in the ceiling and the ceiling’s height. Most units can be trimmed to fit a range of measurements. You also need to know how much swing clearance and landing length the stair will need when it is lowered, especially if your space is tight. You should have at least 24 inches in front of the stairs for easy access.

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