In an effort to improve attic accessibility, ladder assemblies have been developed. Homeowners interested in expanding their storage options may have an attic pull-down ladder installed to ease access to the area. While potentially improving some of the safety concerns associated with entering an attic, they end up receiving many defect notations in home inspection reports.
Pull-down style attic access ladders are a popular improvement item at home stores for the owner with expanding storage needs. Believing the installation is simple, homeowners often tackle the installation themselves. Chances are, the project will not go as the manufacturer intended.
During a recent Phoenix home inspection we encountered an attic pull-down ladder with multiple critical flaws that rendered a device intended for safe attic access into an immediate cause for concern. What common problems might exist? Here is a brief list:
1. These assemblies are often installed in garages and they most frequently have a thin wooden cover to seal the opening when retracted. This represents a violation of the fire separation requirement for the garage ceiling and would need correction.
2. Wooden ladder assemblies are often cut improperly at the base causing hazard and/or excessive stress on the assembly components.
3. The hinge area is a chronic problem with these ladders and can result in an extremely unsafe assembly.
4. The opening frame attachment to existing roof structure components are often improper or fasteners may be loose.
5. The roof structure may be improperly altered by the installer.
As a long time Phoenix home inspector, I find it paradoxical that something intended to provide easier and safer attic access is so often one of the most dangerous things in the home. Notice the picture above. If you go to buy an attic access ladder, consider this aluminum style. Some of the concerns are lessened with aluminum assemblies. Also remember, an attic pull-down ladder is not an afternoon with a six-pack of beer project. Leave this one to a professional installer.