How to Open Up an Attic Access

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Any homeowner can find lots of usable living or storage space in most attics. However, the attic must have an access before you review ways to use that space. Install a unit of pre-made pull-down stairs. Or, create an opening in the ceiling or enlarge one already in place. It's important to understand how to support any cuts you make in the floor joists or other wood framing. If in doubt, ask a carpenter to come onsite and assist you.

Things You'll Need

  • Hammer
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Hand saw
  • Round-blade electric saw
  • Stepladder
  • Lumber boards
  • Stainless-steel nails
  • Stainless-steel flat-head screws
  • Pre-made door framing materials

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Cut off the electricity and determine where wiring and plumbing pipes run in the area. Gently tap into plaster or drywall to tear away a section of the ceiling in an upstairs hallway. A hallway is a good place to install pull-down stairs or get into the attic with any type of ladder. Another choice for access space is to create it in an attached garage area if the garage attic and home attic are connected.

Remove ceiling materials, keeping a large waste can nearby. Work from a stable A-frame ladder and use a flashlight to view inside attic space once you've broken through. Ask an electrician to help redirect wiring if it's routed across the area you need for cutting an opening. Call a plumber to move pipes out of the way as well.

Cut one rafter with a handsaw to allow space for you to crawl up into the attic. Use long nails to nail an outline next to joists where ceiling material will need to be cut away. The nails will show where the joists lie in the attic. Do not cut through a double beam in the attic, since these are support beams for the entire house. Use an electric round-blade saw to cut rafters in the outlined area. Remove this material by standing on a ladder or attic space where your body weight will not bear upon the floor area you are removing.

Build a box to frame the opening with lumber boards the same depth as floor joists. Nail this framing into place around the perimeter of the attic access opening. Use an electric screwdriver to drive screws in the framing as well. If you are installing a pull-down set of stairs, follow instructions that came with the unit. Use leveling tools to install the stairs, so they will easily open and close without jamming.

Install 4-inch to 6-inch door framing material around the opening you have created. Make the framing larger than the opening to form a lip where a sheet of plywood will lie. The plywood creates the cover for the attic access, so attach insulation to the top side of it. Miter the corners of the framing material, so the access opening looks finished from the room below. Paint or stain the framing material to match the ceiling or other wood areas of the hallway or room.

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep a shop vacuum cleaner on hand to clean up the falling debris from breaking through a ceiling. This type of house dust can penetrate bedrooms and all areas of the home. Layers of plaster and old insulation can create issues for protecting your wood floors or tile in the room or hallway. Use lots of dropcloths and plastic sheeting as you work in the area.
  • Wear a face mask when you cut into attic space. Old insulation and debris can easily irritate the lungs.

References

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