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Before purchasing a folding attic staircase, inspect the direction of and the spacing between the attic floor joists. Attic ladders are installed in the space between the joists. Most attic ladders are 22 inches wide and designed to fit between 2x1" attic joists spaced 24 inches on center. Also, measure the ceiling height to determine length of staircase.
Determine where in the house is the best location is to put the attic access. For the most convenience, select a spot that is large enough to provide room to maneuver around all sides of the attic ladder.
From below, use a hammer to create a small hole in the ceiling somewhere within the proposed opening. Stick something through the opening to mark the hole. From above, mark out the location of the four corners of the opening, following the framework of the attic floor joists. Drive a nail through the ceiling at each corner.
Spread out a drop cloth to catch falling debris. Snap a chalk line from nail to nail to mark out the opening to ensure that the area to be removed is straight. Use a drywall saw to cut along the chalk lines. Remove the ceiling to create the rough opening.
The existing attic floor joists make up the long sides of the opening, but the two shorter headers must be cut and installed. Cut 2x10 boards to fit perpendicularly between the attic floor joists. Make sure the tops of the boards are flush with the existing joists. Nail the joists in place (Image 1).
Tip: To ease installation, attach 1x4 ledger boards across the short ends of the opening. These temporarily support the ladder during installation (Image 2).
While it is still folded, angle in the attic ladder from below and rest the ends on the temporary ledgers. Use shims to fill any gaps between the ladder and joists, and to make the unit square and level. Once the shims are in place, the ladder can be secured by hammering 3-inch nails through its hinges.
Make sure the ladder is opened completely and straight down to the floor before adjusting the feet. This will ensure the feet of the ladder make solid contact with the floor below. Remove the adjustable bolts to position the feet and then replace and tighten them.
Install trim molding to give the ladder opening a more finished look. Attach a pull cord to the door for easier use.