Attic pull-down stairs give homeowners access to their attics without consuming lots of space. Typically, pull-down attic stairs fold up and out of the way behind a panel in the ceiling. There are many styles of stairs--some are metal and others are wood, and some support more weight than others. Overall, pull-down attic stairs are a convenience, but they create their share of problems for homeowners.
Homeowners waste energy and raise their heating and cooling costs unnecessarily when they fail to insulate their attic steps properly. Attic steps lose energy in two ways. The principle problem is the gap around the perimeter of the attic access panel where it meets the attic floor. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, If there's as much as a quarter-inch gap, the attic stairs “can potentially leak the same amount of air supplied by a typical bedroom heating duct.” To prevent or minimize this loss, add weatherstripping or caulking around the perimeter of the access panel. The second area of concern is that the steps create a void in the attic’s insulation. The EPA recommends homeowners build a box to slide over and cover the attic steps while the access panel is closed. By insulating a lightweight box and placing it over the stairs, homeowners create a barrier that keeps heated or cooled air from escaping out of the living quarters and into the attic.
Homeowners create problems with attic pull-down stairs when they don't keep them in good working condition at all times. A loose screw can lead to a spring that pops out of place, the steps collapsing and a personal injury. Make minor repairs and adjustments, such as tightening screws and lubricating parts, as needed. Periodically evaluate the overall condition of the attic steps. Look at the wear on the treads, note the condition of the wood or metal of the stringers and inspect the spring assembly. Consider replacing the entire stair unit if there are major problems with more than one element. According to “This Old House” magazine, replacing pull-down attic stairs is a two-person do-it-yourself job for those people who are willing and able to hold at least 75 pounds over their heads during the process.
Attic pull-down stairs have more in common with ladders than with a full staircase. The problem is that it's difficult for homeowners to carry items up and down the ladder while maintaining their balance, and there are few means to correct the problem. Homeowners who make frequent trips on these steps to add or remove stored items should evaluate their storage options in other parts of the house. Use the attic for long-term storage, such as for seasonal items, including holiday decorations and summer clothing. Call an architect and a licensed contractor to advise you on whether it's feasible for you to install a set of permanent stairs up to the attic.
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