Installing a Pulldown Staircase – On the House

Installing a Pulldown Staircase

By on September 7, 2015

Like most anything, homes come in a host of shapes and sizes. There are tiny abodes and large baronial estates; compact condos and roomy townhouses; spacious apartments and functional flats. Each has its own style, design and idiosyncrasies. However, one circumstance that is common to virtually all living spaces is that they are “storage challenged” – there simply is never enough storage space!

In the housing frenzy that followed World War II, production homes were turned out with small closets, a single car garage (or carport ) and increasing smaller basements – if at all. A basement became an increasingly scarce commodity except for those regions of the country where they remained a necessary part of construction. Even then basement size was abbreviated.

Ironically, over a half century later, the average size of the American home has grown by more than forty percent, there are more and larger closets and multi-car garages and the storage picture has only grown worse. Americans have become a society of “packrats” having amassed so much “stuff” that an entire industry as evolved – on and off site mini storage. Just have a look around your community. Chances are good that you will pass one or more storage facilities on your daily walk or drive to work. Chances are equally good that you or one or more of your neighbors has a storage shed planted somewhere in the yard.

Are we to resign ourselves that we will forever be storage needy, have cluttered closets or pricey off site storage bills? Not necessarily. The solution to the need for more storage space can be dealt with in several way, not the least of which will be particularly easy, but there is hope.

First, if you have “separation anxiety,” (an acute condition wherein one panics at the thought of getting rid of stuff), get over it! If you don’t, you will forever be surrounded by cluttered closets, cramped attics, bulging basements and storage bills. If you don’t use it, loose it!

Your best defense is a strong offence. Weed through old clothing, shoes, handbags, audio and video media and equipment, toys, games, furniture, house wares and decorator items. It’s a great opportunity to share them with family or friends that may be needy or make a charitable donation and enjoy a nice tax deduction.

After doing this systematically and room by room, you may find that you have more than enough storage space. If things are still a bit too close for comfort, try organizing the space. A close second to mini storage units, closet and storage organization systems have become a top home improvement. A few shelves here and an additional clothing pole there can turn an otherwise poorly organized closet into a space efficient workhorse.

If you’re ahead of the game and you’ve already cleaned AND organized closets and still need help, before calling in the contractor to add on, a more cost-efficient alternative it to look for existing space where storage can added – such as a garage, basement or attic. Though they take up space, cabinets reduce clutter and offer clean, dry storage. Thus, clothing or other sensitive items that could only be store in interior closets can alternatively move to the garage, basement or attic. Sturdy plastic storage boxes and garment bags can offer dry, dust free, pest resistant storage. And clear stackable containers improve storage capacity, accessibility and make it easy to identify items being stored.

Garages and basements are popular venues for storage because they are usually easy to access. The attic tends not to rand as high because it is generally cramped; joist rafters and insulation must be dodged and it usually requires hauling out a ladder and oiling one’s way through a small access door.

On a quest for more storage space, one of use recently discovered that he had a spacious attic that was doing little more than collecting dust. The thought of converting this spacious area into storage space was both intriguing and exciting. However, since this would become the home to boxes of holiday decorations – several holidays and many boxes – the opening to the space would need to be generous and the prospect of going up and down a ladder was, let’s just say, wasn’t a prospect. Enter the pull down staircase. Yes, the same configuration that smacked Chevy Chase square in the kisser in the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie and countless other slapstick bits.

In reality, a properly installed pull down staircase is neither dangerous nor difficult to operate. On the contrary, it is convenient, safe and easy to use. Not to mention the fact that it can convert a desert into a storage oasis.

Is a pull down attic staircase for you? You will never know unless you can answer the following questions.

• Does your attic have enough head room and floor space to justify the cost and work?
• Are there pipes, ducts or other building components that must be moved that will significantly increase the cost?
• Will existing ceiling joist support the additional storage load? If not, can the joist be “beefed up?”
• Can a pull down staircase be installed so that it can be fully extended and can be easily and safely accessed?
• Where will the pull down staircase be located and how will it affect the appearance (and value) of your home?

If you can’t answer all of these questions, enlist the services of a qualified contractor and/or engineer who can. What’s more, be sure to check with your local building department to determine if a construction permit is needed.

Pull down staircases are like ladders; they come in various shapes and sizes, are built of different materials and rated to carry a specific load – you and whatever you are carrying into and out of storage. Staircases come in varying widths and lengths and some hinges and springs are better built than others. Our sage advice; don’t take shortcuts. Buy the best staircase that you can. Choose the one that will work best for you.

Installing a pull down staircase is similar to installing a pre-hung door – except it is on a horizontal plane. So, if you feel confident about installing a door, you might be able to tackle this project.

Depending upon the joist spacing in your attic, usually only one joist must be cut out to make room for the staircase. The joist that is cut is “headed off” with framing at a right angle to the joist. This creates the rough opening into which the staircase frame is anchored. The rough opening should be slightly larger that the outermost dimensions of the jamb – usually about one half inch all the way around. This space allows for shim shingles to be installed between the frame and the rough opening. Use constructions screws driven through the jamb, shims and into the framing. Follow the manufacturer instructions to the letter to ensure the staircase will be safe and easy to operate. Finish the job by installing expandable foam between the jamb and the rough framing and case the opening with wood trim.

Keep in mind that if you will be installing the staircase in a garage or carport, the door must be fireproof to meet fire code. One means of achieving this is to install a solid core fire door separate from and below the staircase. This will require the staircase frame to be held up slightly higher in the opening to make room for the fire door and jamb.

For more home improvement tips and information search our website or call our listener line any time at 1-800-737-2474! All you need to do is leave your name, telephone number and your question.

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