Roughing an Opening for Fold-Down Attic Stairs


Attic stairs are the ideal solution to create access to needed attic space where there is just not enough room for a traditional set of stairs. The convenience of fold-away steps is far preferable to using ladders. With folding steps, you are able to carry much bigger loads up and down than with ladders. Getting and installing the right set of attic stairs begins with the opening for the location of the stairs.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Nail gun
  • Screw gun
  • Shims
  • Circular saw

How to rough out an opening for fold-down attic stairs

  • Be sure to check local building codes for this type of stair installation. Some areas are more restrictive than others. Confirm and conform to local stair building codes.

  • Locate the area for the installation. Look for adequate space in a hall or other suitable location. Make sure there are no electrical or fixture obstacles in the selected location. Measure the space to see how much room you have at the desired location. Go to the local big box store and purchase the fold-down stair kit to match the measured location.

  • Access the attic and go to the location for the stairs. Use the template that came with the kit, and measure and mark the rectangular hole to be sawed. Measure a hole slightly wider than the size of the stair assembly purchased. Add enough width to accommodate the 2-by-6 framing needed and the stair casing included with the kit. Remove the insulation, and recheck for any obstacles before starting the removal.

  • Use a reciprocating saw and saw down through the rafters and the drywall. Saw out the entire rectangle where the attic stair will be mounted. Install temporary 1-by-4 cleats at each end of the stair hole to set the stair assembly on. With the help of an assistant, lift the stair assembly up into its hole for a trial fit. Saw the 2 by 6s to the required lengths to make up the frame in the attic. Nail the attic frame into place.

  • Drop the attic stairs box frame onto the cleats of the 2 by 6 attic frame just completed. Use the frame and ceiling joists to support the weight of the folding attic stairs. Pull down the stairs and drill pilot holes into the side of the ladder and the joists. Attach the stairs to the joists with 4-inch lag screws. Make sure the stairs fit tightly and are aligned exactly with the frame. Use shims to make the necessary adjustments.

  • Lift the stairs up and down each time to check each adjustment. Test the stairs by walking up and down them as you adjust them. Work with the assembly until it opens and closes smoothly, and the stairs do not move around as you walk on them. Remove the cleats and trim the shims you have used to adjust the stairs. Saw the stair stringers off as needed to meet the floor.

Tips & Warnings

  • This is at least a two-man job; these stairs are too heavy to work with alone.
  • This is an advanced skill level job for carpenters with professional skill.

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  • Photo Credit stairs image by Dmitry Nikolaev from dark hall image by CraterValley Photo from saw dust image by Wolfgang Zintl from The worker with tools image by Artem Lapenko from
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