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Attic conversions advice - installing an attic ladder

A. Making use of your attic space for storage is just about the most financially astute decision any growing family can make. You already own the space; do not need planning permission to access and it can add substantial storage area to your home at a minimal cost. – So it’s a wonder that more people don’t use them to their full capacity! We covered attic conversions a few weeks ago and the various requirements for that project; this is a much more straightforward and basic requirement. 

Before you decide to fully commit to this route you should undertake a check of the load bearing and access criteria of the attic space. Is the attic going to carry the weight of the items you want to store and of a person’s full weight when accessing it? If in doubt consult a structural engineer to asses it for you at . Frequently attic floors in older houses comprises of wooden beams with plasterboard placed in between them. The plasterboard will not take a person’s full weight – so you may need to lay some strong boards across the beams in the areas that you expect traffic in. Next, have a look at the space directly underneath the attic hatch. Will it provide a solid, even and unobstructed foundation for the attic ladder when it is down? Remember you want to make sure that it is as safe as possible for your family when they are accessing the attic on the ladder – if it is positioned over a stair case or similar then you will probably want to revise your plan to provide a safer alternative.
If everything is in place you will now need to measure the attic for the ladder to make sure that it is going to fit. Most ladders come with manufacturer’s dimensions and you should get them before you buy. To get started simply measure the width and length of the attic hatch at its opening. A rule of thumb is that the hatch should be about 760mm long and 510mm wide in order to provide easy access to the attic – particularly when carrying items up and down. Next, up in the attic itself, measure the ‘pivot space’ between the middle of the hatch opening and the wall of the attic itself. This ‘pivot space’ is the area where the foldaway ladder will lie in the attic when it is ‘up’ or folded flat.  Once you have these measurements compare them to the manufacturers dimensions. Is the attic hatch wide enough? Is the ‘pivot space’ adequate? Is there enough room on the floor underneath the attic hatch for the extended ladder?
If the attic hatch or the ‘pivot space’ measurements are too small for your preferred ladder then there are options. In the case of the latter there are other ladders that are collapsible and can fold away into a smaller ‘pivot space’. Where the attic hatch itself does not measure up you can always enlarge it. This will require some handy carpentry and plastering skills – so if you’re not up to it get a professional in at In most cases it is not a major undertaking and will not cost a huge amount.
For the installation itself, attic ladders are most commonly fixed to the hatch opening when they are installed - however this may vary from model to model. For this reason fairly comprehensive fitting instructions are included with most ladders, it is advisable that you follow them closely. The most difficulty that you will experience during the fitting will be around access to a good light source – given that you are planning to use the attic space more regularly it may be a good idea to install a permanent light fitting in the attic itself, preferably with a switch outside the hatch itself.
Finally, in most cases you will want to have a good hatch door in place that covers the area when closed. You should make sure that it provides adequate insulation when you are looking at this – a poorly sealed or insulated attic hatch can be the source of a strong draught and higher heating bill if left alone.


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