How to install an attic and attic ladder: 5 Easy Steps

Attics can come in handy to store items. It also allows you to run utilities such as plumbing ventilation systems in them. Let’s take a look at how to install one.

Why does my house not have attic access: what if a house has no attic

Some houses do have an attic but there is just no access. If your house doesn’t have an attic, it is possible that they converted the attic to a room. This is a common way of making houses bigger. It is not always possible though as the floor and foundation has to be strong enough for this.

If you don’t have access to your attic, it can be possible that you can install one. You will have to examine how your house is constructed. In some instances you will be able to cut open the drywall and install an attic ladder (as outlined below). This ladder can provide you access to the attic. Make sure to study the house so that you don’t break walls or other items. You can consult a structural engineer to see if you can build an access to your attic.

Installing an attic ladder can be a laborious task. But in many cases, it’s easy to do and only takes a few hours. However, there are some important things you should know before you start the process. Maybe your ceiling heights are too low for a traditional ladder, or maybe you have a lot of obstacles in your way. Whatever the reason may be, following this guide will help ensure your ladder is installed properly and safely.


Tools needed to install an attic ladder

Before you can begin installing your ladder, you will need a few tools. You’re going to want to have a hammer, saw, screws, and a screwdriver. Gloves and safety goggles are handy for this process as well. You should also purchase some lag bolts and washers for extra security.

If there are any obstructions in your way, like pipes or electrical lines, you may need help from an electrician or plumber to move these obstacles before starting the installation process.

-Circular saw

-Tape Measurer

-Safety gear (including safety goggles)

-Screw machine and drill bits

-Wooden joists and support brackets

-Box saw


-Someone to help you

Types of attic ladders

Before you start installing your ladder, it’s important to determine the type of ladder you’ll need. There are three types of ladders for attics: straight or extension. Straight ladders are great for low ceilings or with minimal obstacles in the way. Extension ladders can be used in cases where you have a higher ceiling and there are no obstructions in the way.  Some flip open whereas others slide. Sliding ones are often easier to use but can be more expensive.

Attic ladders often come in wood or aluminum. Aluminum is more expensive but can be more durable. Especially if you have a moist attic, wooden can deform after a while and it might be less safe to use this ladder. 

Recently we have also seen motorized ladders. These are easier to push up and close down. Some ladders can be quite heavy and make them too hard to use.

Installing the Ladder

Measure and prepare

The first step to installing your ladder is to measure the distance from the floor to the ceiling. You can cut the ladder if needed but it is impossible to make it longer so you need one that is longer than the height from the floor to the attic. You will also have to study if your ceiling is strong enough to support the weight. Check the direction of the ceiling joists (these are wooden bars that hold up your roof). 

Cut a hole in the ceiling

You will have to cut a hole in the ceiling. It is a great idea to draw this out before you start cutting it. This wouldn’t be a plumbing blog if we didn’t warn about pipes and drains that can be present. You might have to reroute the copper, PEX or PVC. Be careful that you don’t break them when you install the ladder. This makes sure that you get the right size. You can add a screw from under the ceiling to get a reference point. You might have to remove some insulation to find it. Be careful when you walk in the attic as you often can’t walk in certain areas as they are too fragile.

Be careful when you work on the attic as electricity or plumbing might run in it. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Add supports

The next step is to support or brace the wooden frame of your room. This is done by adding a piece of wood to the existing structure. When in doubt, you can always consult with an engineer to confirm that everything is stable. 

Once it has been braced, we can cut the joist with our circular saw. It is best to finish the cut by hand so that you don’t damage the drywall. To strengthen the area where we have removed the joist, we will add two pieces of wood on the outer ends. This is done with a metal supporting bracket. You can add another joist if the hole is too wide. 

Once you have your frame out, you can go down and cut out the drywall. Don’t remove the plastic spanner around the ladder yet! You can add some temporary support at the edges. This is done by adding wooden pieces to it. This will damage your drywall but this makes it easier to install the stairs. 

Put the ladder in place

You can start with this step if you replace a ladder:

You will need assistance from someone else to get the ladder up. You will put it in place and on the temporary supports. The next step is to attach the screws. Make sure that everything is sturdy and that the hole has the right size. 

The next step is to test the ladder and remove the temporary supports once we notice that this is working well.

Finishing the installation 

Finally, we are going to measure the distance between the floor and the attic. This will allow us to cut the legs of the ladder down. You can use a (metal) saw to do this by hand. Make sure that the ladder is straight. You can add the feet so that it has rubber feet that will last longer and offer more support. Check the installation a few times to make sure that it works well and everything is properly tightened and in place. 

After the installation

A lot of cold air can escape through the hole of the ladder. It can be a great idea to add insulation over the hole. This is often as easy as stapling it to the wooden joists. 

If you have a stick to open and close the ladder, you have to find a safe location to store it. This can be a closet or dedicated storage room. 

Sometimes you will have to add oil to the rotating parts (hinges) of the ladder. This makes sure that it can move without too many issues. 

There are some other things that you have to take into account when installing an attic ladder:

– Install the ladder on a flat surface and against an adjacent wall to prevent it from tipping over. Make sure that it hangs level.

– Make sure the ladder is properly secured to the ceiling by using lag bolts or screws.

– Ensure there’s enough space for people to walk around the ladder without hitting their heads on the overhead beams.

– Install the ladder securely so it can’t be pulled down accidentally.

– You should never store anything on a ladder’s top step, as this can make it unstable and easy to tip over.  If there’s no room for storage space, be sure to put these items out of reach on a shelf or in another area.

 You also need to take the weight of the ladder into account. Some attics are not very sturdy and a heavy ladder can cause cracks. 

To conclude, we can state that installing a ladder to the attic is quite straightforward if you have the right tools and take safety preconditions. It can make it easier to store items in your attic so a ladder can be useful.  If you want to further upgrade your attic, we have discussed how you can install attic baffles here.

Are there houses without an attic: can I build a house without an attic?

Yes, some houses don’t have an attic. If your house has a flat roof there is often no attic in place. Some people have converted their attic to a living room and this removes the attic space from a house.

Modern appartment buildings also don’t have an attic.

Your local code determines if you can build a house without an attic. In a lot of places this is not a problem but it is a great idea to reach out to your local city to see what they require.

If you don’t have an attic, it can be harder to insulate a house or to run certain utilities accross the house. It is also a great way to store uitems that you don’t need.

Attics are less frequently seen in cities as space comes at a premium there. Home builders want to use the space as efficiently as possible and often convert the attic in a living room or bed room.

Why did old houses have an attic?

A lot of older houses have an attic. This is a great way to store items. Families used to be larger and it is always handy to store some items.

It is also related to how roofs were constructed. Back in the day flat roofs were not that popular. This means that a part of the roof was sloped. People preferred to live below this and reserved this area for storage.

More recently people have started to convert attics to living spaces to make houses bigger.

Attics have their advantages though as you can install insulation there and also run plumbing pipes in them.