Attic Pull-Down Ladders
By Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Ralph Brady

Attic pull-down ladders are folding and/or sliding ladders that are permanently
attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics
more effectively.

Common Defects

Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pull-down
ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in unprofessional
workmanship that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common
defects noted by inspectors include:

  • cut attic/ceiling support components/joists. Often, homeowners will cut
    through a structural member while installing a pull-down ladder,
    unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be
    modified without an engineer’s approval;
  • fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall
    or deck screws rather than the standard 16d penny nails or ¼” x 3” lag
    screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have
    reduced shear strength and they may not support pull-down ladders;
  • No nails through the holes provided in the metal mounting brackets. The
    brackets should be secured to the attic framing and not just the stair
    framing to reduce risk of disconnection.  Inspectors often see  “place nail
    here”  labels near the brackets with missing nails;
  • lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are
    not likely to be weather-stripped and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic
    hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into the home, which may
    cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover
    box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  • loose mounting/hinge hardware. This condition is more often caused by
    age rather than installation, although improper installation will hasten the
    loosening process;
  • •attic pull-down ladders are cut too short or too long. This causes excess
    pressure at the hardware, which can result in breakage/failure;
  • compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage;
  • cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.
Inspectors Tips:

  • Do not allow children to enter the attic through an attic access. The
    lanyard attached to the attic stairs should be short enough that
    children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic ladder so that
    a key or combination is required to access it.
  • If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While properly
    installed stairways may safely support an adult man, they might fail if
    he is carrying, for instance, a bag full of bowling balls. Such trips can
    be split up to reduce the weight load.
  • Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. Newer
    aluminum models are often lightweight, sturdy and easy to install.
  • In sliding pull-down ladders, there is a potential for the ladder to
    slide down quickly without notice. Always pull the ladder down slowly
    and cautiously.

In summary, attic pull-down ladders are prone to a number of defects, most
of which are due to improper installation.
Attic Pull-Down Ladders