The holidays are fast approaching, which means it’s almost time to climb up in the attic and unload all of the Christmas bins. This can be quite a pain for those of us with only attic access panels in the ceiling so today I wanted to share my DIY attic stairs installation project with you!
This is a very doable project and for under $150 at the big box store or Amazon, you can purchase a pull-down folding attic stair and install it yourself.
In this post, I’ll be showing you my version of a DIY attic stairs installation of a folding attic stair that costs $130 and fits a 22.5” x 54” rough opening which is the most common size.
Let’s walk through the steps together to see if this is something you can DIY.
Plan Your Install
To start, you’ll have to do some measuring and check the area to make sure there is a product made for your particular home. There probably is. Attic stairs come in a variety of sizes, materials, and functions.
First, you need to measure the rough opening. After removing the panel door, also remove the trim that surrounds the opening.
Next, check the height from the floor to the ceiling. Most attic stairs will work for ceilings between 7 and 11 feet, but be sure to check the box for the exact dimensions.
Finally, check the area all around the attic access and check the landing space below. The attic stairs will pull down, unfold, and rest at an angle on the floor. Be sure there is enough room for you to safely pull down, unfold, and secure the stairs. Anything directly below the access panel and surrounding area, such as cabinets, could get in the way.
Make sure you have the right tools and materials for the job before heading to the store.
- 6′ to 9′ A-frame ladder
- Socket set
- Impact Driver
- Drill bits
- Tape measure
- Speed square
- Hand saw or jigsaw
- Angle finder
- Razor knife
- Pre-assembled folding attic stairs
- 2 ½” screws (Check the package to see if supplied)
- 3” lag bolts (Check the package to see if supplied)
- 2 1×4 boards at about 30” long (Or reuse the existing trim around the attic panel)
- New trim boards or casing (if not reusing the existing trim around the attic panel)
Prepare the Opening
First, open up the box and check for instructions and make sure all of the supplies are there. Most attic stairs come with screws and lags, but if not be sure to use ¼” by 3” long lags to secure your attic stairs.
Next, prepare the rough opening to accept the attic stairs installation. The rough opening should be just slightly larger than the outside dimensions of the attic stair frame. This allows room for shimming.
Remove the old access panel and any trim surrounding the opening. Sometimes, there are nails or screws left in the joists. It’s best to remove these.
Also, cut back any drywall that is protruding into the opening. You don’t want it getting in the way when you are lifting the attic stairs into the attic.
With the opening prepared and the work area cleared, it’s time for installation.
Attic Stairs Installation
Most attic stairs are fully assembled and have the stairs bound together. You can leave the unit as-is for the first part of the installation.
Set up your stepladder directly under the rough opening so that you can climb and then lift the attic stairs into the attic. Most attic stairs will weigh around 40-60lbs. If this is too much to lift over your head and walk up a step ladder you should ask for help.
Step #1 Set the Stairs Into the Attic
Climb up the stepladder and lift the attic stairs into the attic so that door is facing down. Slide the attic stairs off to the side so that it will not fall back through the opening.
Securely attach two temporary boards to either end or either side of the opening on the ceiling. There should be just enough of a lip protruding into the opening to let the attic stairs rest safely in place, but also allow you to pull open the door. I used the old trim boards and screwed them into the joists on the sides. Caution: Make sure whatever you use they are strong enough to hold the weight of the attic stairs.
Reach up into the attic and slide the attic stairs into the opening and rest it on the temporary boards.
Slide the stepladder to the side and carefully opening the attic stair door. Leave the stairs folded. This gives you access to the frame so you can secure the unit to the rough opening.
Using your shims, center the unit in the opening. Most attic stairs have pilot holes pre-drilled in the frame where the lags will be screwed. Be sure to shim behind these pilot holes.
Step #2 Attach the Stairs
With the frame centered in place, you can use 4 or so of the 2 ½” screws to temporarily secure the unit. Make sure the frame is flush with the ceiling before screwing it in. After the unit is secured you can remove the temporary boards.
Most attic stairs required 8-10 lags through the frame. 2 on each end and 4-6 on each side. Make sure you have shimmed behind each of the pilot holes. Double up as necessary.
If your unit does not come with pre-drilled pilot holes, be sure to make your own according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Secure the frame with the lags through the pilot holes making sure they are tight. I used my impact driver and a socket. The frame should remain square and make sure not to overtighten so that the frame bows.
Move the ladder and test the attic stairs by fully opening and closing the door. Be sure it operates normally and that the frame is square to the door. Go ahead and trim the shims flush on the inside of the attic and along the ceiling and close the attic door.
Step #3 Install Trim
Trim out the attic stairs to close the gap. Overlap the trim onto the frame but leave enough room for the door to open and close properly.
Step #4 Cut Stairs to Fit
Open the attic door and check the angle. You will use this angle to cut the legs to rest on the floor. The attic stair legs are left long for this very reason.
Once you know the angle, unfold the stairs to the last hinge only. You can use a piece of rope or use the pull cord to secure the legs in place.
Measure at an angle down to the floor and record the dimension. You will use this measurement to mark and trim the legs.
Measure down from the last hinge and mark the leg at the correct angle. Unfold the legs fully and rest them on a sawhorse. Using a hand saw or power saw, trim the legs.
Place the stairs on the floor and verify the entire length of stairs are straight with no gaps at the hinges. Both feet should reach the floor. Attach the rubber feet that come in the kit.
If you cut the feet too short and they don’t reach the floor, the manufacturer recommends you buy a new attic stair unit and start over. The best way to avoid this is to make incremental trims until it fits against the floor just right that way you don’t have to start over.
Remember, it is always easier with a helper, but it is possible to install attic stairs on your own. And with basic attic stairs costing under $150, it is totally worth it especially if you make several trips to the attic each year.
Good luck with your attic stairs installation and let me know how it goes in the comments below!
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.