Our first DIY in the new house… installing a new attic hatch with a ladder! What an exciting place to start, huh?? Let me explain. When we moved, the last room we packed was the garage which means everything in it made the least organized exit. Our tools and other garage junk exploded at the new house. We knew we couldn’t work on other projects until our tools were organized, so we resolved to start in the garage! But, oh wait, there’s no room to work in here- let’s store some stuff in the attic! Uh… the attic access is barely large enough for a human. Okay, let’s get a new attic hatch. So, here we are!
Our first step was to inspect the attic situation. There wasn’t much up there except cellulose insulation and trusses. When looking for a good location for an attic hatch, especially if you have trusses like we do, you’ll want to find a spot that will give you the most head room when standing at the top of the ladder. The underside of the roof will have a bunch of spiky nails sticking out of it from the shingles. (We don’t plan on finishing the attic because the framing isn’t designed to support that much weight. If you plan on finishing your attic, you’ll have to take that into account when finding the perfect spot.)
A good attic hatch location will also take into account the landing spot of the fold-out ladder. We planned for the ladder to fold out into the spot where we park out car. Our new house has a pretty small 2-car garage. We’ll be able to pull the car out and have plenty of room to access the ladder.
Not being structural engineers, we’re not in the business of cutting joists to allow for a wider attic hatch. We measured the distance between the joists (about 23 inches) and found an attic hatch to fit that space. This Werner Universal Fit Attic Ladder was the perfect solution to fit right between the joists- no major engineering required. The ladder came with extensive installing and safety instructions. Just to highlight a few of the best features of this attic ladder…
- Light-weight aluminum ladder
- Insulated and sealed door
- Gas struts for smooth opening and closing
Location, check. Attic ladder, check. Now how do you get it up there? Our next step was to cut a rough opening in the ceiling. I don’t know about you, but we’ve never cut a huge hole in our ceiling before, so we were a little nervous. We decided to cut the opening from the attic using a DeWalt oscillating multi-tool. (SAFETY NOTE: When you’re working in an attic space, you must remember two things: 1) Balancing on joists is difficult. No stepping off or you’ll go straight through the ceiling and 2) Moving around in insulation is a dangerous and toxic job, so be sure you are following all safety precautions. Tyler geared up in a full Tyvec coverall suit, eye protection, gloves, and a respirator.)
The instructions gave us the exact rough opening requirements so we moved the insulation out of our chosen area and marked out those dimensions. Slowly but surely we had a big hole in our ceiling!
Next up- framing out the horizontal supports. We cut two 2×6’s to fit the horizontal space on either side of the opening and nailed them into the existing joists. These will support the short ends of the attic hatch.
The instructions for our ladder had details on how to install temporary supports to hold the ladder while bolting it to the attic joists. We deviated from the instructions for this part because it made us more comfortable, safety-wise. The instructions say to install supports length-wise so that the very edges are supported while still allowing the ladder to open. (The ladder needs to be open to access the area where the bolts go.) We didn’t like the idea of this heavy thing being suspended by a 1/2 inch overhang. So, instead, we screwed two 1×4 supports to span the whole width on either end.
Time for the heavy lifting. This next step is definitely not a one person job. You’re going to need help! There are a couple of options for getting the ladder in place… Keep in mind, after this step, you’re going to need to access the ladder from the attic to bolt it in place. So, if you have an alternative entrance to the attic like we did, you can lift the ladder into place from below. If you only have a single attic access, you’ll need an extra person with all of the required tools already above you in the attic so that they can bolt the ladder into place. Hopefully this goes without saying, but you can’t open the hatch and use the ladder until it is fully bolted and secured.
We lifted one end up into the attic and slid the end into place on the support. Then we let the high end rest onf the other support.
Once the attic was resting on the temporary supports, Tyler headed back up to the attic and drove some construction screws through the joists to hold the hatch safely. With the screws in place, we knew the whole thing wasn’t going drop on our heads but it wasn’t ready to climb yet. We moved the temporary supports to the edges like the instructions had said to do from the beginning and carefully pulled the ladder down.
We opened the hatch and unfolded the ladder to expose the areas that needed structural bolts. Then, from the attic, we squared up the hatch using some shims and bolted it into place (all of which was detailed in the instructions, as well!).
Once the bolts were in place, we had to trim the ends of the ladder to just meet the floor. We cut ours with an angle grinder cutting wheel (Please, be sure to wear safety glasses, a face shield, and other protective gear! When we were cutting, the metal bent in such a way that it caught the cutting wheel and sent the grinder flying across the garage floor. Terrifying but that’s why you always prepare for the worst case scenario! Angle grinders are no joke. Be safe.) Once we had the right ladder length, we attached the little ladder feet that come in the box to finish it off!
Finally, it’s finished and ready to use! Enjoy this awkward video of me trying it out.
And just for some finishing touches- we sealed the gaps with door/window spray foam insulation for energy efficiency and trimmed it out! (On an energy efficiency note, the gas struts that help the ladder open and close also pulls the door snug to the opening, adding even more sealing power!) We’re patching up that barely human-sized attic hatch that was in the most inconvenient corner of the garage- never to be seen again!
I know an attic hatch seems like a silly place to start, but since we’re starting renovations in the garage it will be SO convenient to store some bulky things overhead! Do you have a terrible attic hatch? Let me know in the comments! See you next time!