How to build an attic access door: Choose the method that suits you
Regardless of whether your attic is cold or insulated, the passage to the attic space should be closed. Accordingly, an attic access door is needed. Next, we will consider the varieties of such structures, plus we will tell you in detail how to build an attic access door with your own hands to have access to the unconditioned space of your attic.
The hatch providing passage upstairs should be voluminous, comfortable, but not only. The staircase leading to the attic should decorate the interior, in the ceiling of which there is a hatch. Obviously, a banal stepladder cannot be considered such an ornament.
Different Types of Attic Access Openings
Scuttle hole attic with ladder and hatch system
In most cases, this design is replaced by a thin lid. As a result, cold air enters the building from the attic, and moist steam from the rooms rises, causing the destruction of insulation. It has been observed that excessive moisture level is one of the two causes of mold. This is very unpleasant, and it is better to prevent it by all means.
This kind of attic access entrance usually includes a hatch attic access panel system with pull down stairs instead of whole staircase. Scuttle hole attic access panels can be telescopic, scissor, folding, and electronic.
Attic access stairs can be installed in several types.
Possible variations of attic access stairs
Stationary is a good option when the attics space is large enough and the stairs will not interfere, because the attic space will be constantly occupied. This option is quite safe and reliable, however, it will cost more.
Screw stationary modifications are also popular with “duck step” steps.
Portable: the ladder will have to be carried back and forth every time, the most troublesome option. It can be used as a temporary option, but the safety is low, it can fall and injure, for example, a child.
Folding is a beautiful, functional, very convenient option and perhaps the best.
Folding ladder options
There are also such varieties of folding ones:
- accordion design.
Basically, they are attached to the attic access panel and, when folded, are neatly removed to the attics.
Attic staircase and attic access door
One of the most common types of attic access is the attic access door, which leads to a regular staircase leading up to the attic. These species are more commonly found in older homes and are potentially dangerous. Because the passage is usually quite narrow and the steps are steep.
Knee wall doors
This is a fully assembled attic access panel that will give you occasional but quick access to the attic through the wall which is slightly smaller than a normal attic access door.
This type of attic access is usually located at mid-height on a short, vertical wall instead of on an attic floor.
Usually, this kind of attic space will have a roof pitch.
Attic access panels
Attic access panels are actually the same as the hatch. The attic access panel folds down in the same way and most often a pull down ladder descends from there that leads to the attic.
Attic doors are conditionally divided according to the type and material.
To be fair, there is another way to get into the attic from the outside. This method involves making an attic access opening in the pediment, which is equipped with an attic door or attic access panel.
On the one hand, such an entrance is a good solution, because the integrity of the building is not violated, in comparison with the air sealing of the attic access panel on the ceiling. On the other hand, you will need a staircase, which will be located at the pediment or on the exterior wall.
There are three types of exterior stairs:
- single leaf;
The choice of materials is also slightly smaller, because the market offers wooden, metal-plastic and metal hatches.
Lumber and plastic are usually placed in private houses, metal is focused on high-rise buildings and office buildings.
How to Make an Insulated Attic Door
The dimensions of the attic access panel directly depend on which pull-down stairs to the attic will be installed:
Under the attached models, a small hole is typically mounted.
For stationary models, the width of the attic access panel is selected according to the width of the stairs.
When calculating the length, you need to start from the angle of inclination of the stairs. The principle is simple, the vertical distance from the edge of the attic opening to the steps should be at least 6 ft. So that an adult does not bend down and does not cling to the opening with his head when lifting.
Opening in the slab
For an attic opening cut in a reinforced concrete floor, it will be necessary to make a wooden box from a board with a thickness of 1 inch or more. The structure is attached to the reinforced concrete slab with anchors, after which the perimeter is air-sealed with mounting foam with an expansion coefficient of not more than 60 units.
To provide the access door with a tight fit, we need a box with a quarter.
There are 2 options for arranging such a box:
Those who have a milling cutter or an electric planer at home can choose a groove in the bars and make a box out of them, or order such bars separately. Immediately under the groove in the box, bars are cut for the framing of the attic access panel.
You can do it easier, screw the strips inside the box, which will ensure a snug fit of the access panel.
To do this, we require 2 sheets of lumber.
According to the instructions, you must first knock down the framing from the bars, and then screw it to the plywood sheet.
Next, we lay a heater inside the door leaf, for example, basalt wool and fasten the second sheet on top.
How to Embed a Finished Attic Door into an Opening
We are talking about a plastic or metal attic access hatch panel.
Order a plastic sunroof according to your size at the nearest company that makes plastic windows for an attic access panel without a ventilation function. Inside, instead of double-glazed windows, it’s better to put a sandwich panel.
Metal-insulation hatches are usually bought ready-made, although there are companies where you can order a design according to individual sizes, although metal costs an order of magnitude more expensive than plastic.
We will consider the installation itself using the example of plastic doors to the attic.
This technology is suitable not only for plastic, it can be used to embed metal structures and ready-made hatches with a pull-down ladder.
- When measuring for the attic access panel, keep in mind that there should be a gap of about 10 mm between the framing and the opening.
- When your panel is ready, fix the framing on the wedges in the opening and remove the door from it.
- Drill holes for the anchor in the drywall. If the floor is wooden, then the holes are drilled only in the frame, because it will be screwed with self-tapping screws. Slice through the drywall covering, using a utility knife for drywall or a reciprocating saw for paneling
- Fix the frame made in the drywall with anchors or self-tapping screws, then remove the wedges and insert the door into place.
- The gap between the door framing and the opening is filled with mounting foam.
- Next, you will have to cut the foam when it hardens and equip the slopes around the perimeter.
Where Should You Locate the Attic Entrance
The placement of the entrance in the attic must comply with the requirements in the code. The entry should be in the ceiling or wall and lead directly to the attic. It must be located in an accessible area of the house.
There are several types of entrances that you may be familiar with. One is a door in the wall in the hallway. This door opens onto a staircase that leads to the attic. Another example is an attic access hatch. Hatches usually stretch down, then a pull-down ladder extends from there that leads to the attic.
A tip for keeping your head safe
Stay away from the edges of the home, near the exterior wall of the house, to avoid problems with not having enough head space when you climb into the attic.
Some people even manage to create an entrance inside the garage or through an exterior wall. Just remember to get you changes complied with the residential code.
What is the required size of attic access door?
The attic access opening must abide by specific dimensions. Section R807.1 of the Attic Access Code dictates that the frame of the opening MUST be at least 22 inches wide, and 30 inches high—20” x 30”.
Your head should also be free to pass through the doorway. There should be a minimum of 30 inches between the door jamb and the head.
A hatch can also be purchased at a hardware store. It is distinguished by the presence of installed insulation in the lid and the presence of a folding staircase, which freely transforms and “goes” up along with the closing of the hatch.
Folded type staircases
For such a compact and functional device of the hatch to the attic, you will have to overpay a little, but it’s worth it.
We emphasize the advantages of using such a system:
- two people are enough for installation. For example, it could be you and your assistant;
- the height of the stairs can be easily adjusted;
- the lock is located on the inside of the manhole cover, so no structural elements are visible from the outside;
- the profile of the steps is made in such a way that it is impossible to slip on them;
- compactness and design.
Because a purchased product is a design with given dimensions, before going to the store you will have to measure:
- The dimensions of the premises in which the steps will be in the unfolded state.
- An entrance under the manhole to the attic, if you have already made it.
- Ceiling height.
The next step is insulation of the hatch in the attic to reduce heat loss. This is necessary so as not to overheat the house in the winter season, so as not to reduce the level of sound insulation of the house.
For insulation, it is better to use mineral wool, it is a natural insulation, environmentally friendly, reliable. In order for it to serve for a long time, a layer of vapor barrier should be laid.
Further, the insulated hatch must be finished, given an aesthetically pleasing appearance, and equipped with an opening mechanism. For example, hydraulic cylinders, which can be purchased in stores.
How to Insulate an Attic Access Door?
All attic hatches are divided into two main types: with a ladder attached to them and without it.
If you bought a ready-made design of an attic hatch with a folding ladder, you do not need to insulate it: usually such structures are already insulated. If you do everything with your own hands and want to prevent heat loss, thermal attic insulation will definitely need to be thought about.
If you start thermal insulation yourself, you will need a wood sheet and the insulating material itself – the one that you used when making the insulation of the attic is better. After all, you probably still have some trimmings or extra material.
And just a couple of simple steps:
- We measure the opening of the attic entry.
- Based on the data obtained, we assemble a frame from boards with a thickness of about one inch.
- Now we assemble the hatch cover, which is exactly 18 inches smaller than the frame. A layer of insulation keeps it from wiggling.
- We lay a vapor barrier film on the manhole cover.
- We fix all the details of the hatch with glue and wooden planks.
- We sew up the hatch with plywood.
- Be sure to treat all the wooden parts with an antiseptic.
- Now we fix the finished cover in the opening, using self-tapping screws and hinges that will hold the opening hatch.
Choosing a hatch location
The installation site for the hatch is selected in such a way that when the attic access panel is opened up, nothing interferes with it. The design of the attic access panel should “fit” into the overall interior.
If it is intended to use a stationary staircase, then it should not interfere with movement around the room and be in harmony with the overall design concept.
It is necessary to perform insulation of the entrance to the attic from the house. To this end, quite suitable insulation, which was covered with a loft. Most often use mineral wool or polystyrene foam, pre-laying on the bottom of the hatch cover vapor barrier.
Speaking of design, enjoy this inspiring video:
How to air seal an attic door
- Install weather stripping along the inside door frame and threshold.
- Install a latch that will pull the door tight to the frame and the weather stripping. Do not undercut the door.
- Insulate the attic side of the door by gluing rigid foam to it or attaching batt insulation with screws and wire.
How to air seal attic pull-down stairs
Install 1×2 or 1×3 wood trim pieces to surround the inside edge of the hole access frame. When closed, the back panel of the stairs will rest against this trim, so recess the trim in well enough to make sure the back panel flushes into the ceiling.
Install the weather stripping along the bottom edge of this trim or along the inner top edge of the back panel.
Installing the box
Install more caulk on top of this trim to provide an airtight seal that will provide the insulation the stairs. Make or buy a box made of rigid foam caulk to fit in an accessible hole. Some prefabricated stair sets are sold with insulation attached to the inside of the back panel, between the panel and the steps.
Add strips of wood of the desired length to each side of the steps to form a frame structure that will act as an insulation dam to hold in the attic insulation.
How do you create an attic access entry?
- On the bottom surface of the attic floor, mark out the planned opening and add the thickness of the finish.
- Now install the jack stands.
- Next, drill a through hole in the opening, from bottom to top.
- Climb up to the attic and insert a pin into the hole and use twine and a pencil to draw a circle.
- Make a hole in this circle and cut out along the contour of the entire opening. You will meet beams on the way, do not touch them, because you will cut them out later.
- Now, to make an opening in the shape of a circle, you need to make a bend of lumber.
How do I frame an attic access?
Locate the wooden frame behind the ceiling drywall covering. Tap on the sheathing to identify hollow areas where there are no ceiling joists or beams, use stud finder if not confident. Choose places where the ceiling appears to be sound and solid, this will be an indicator of the frame.
Screw in a small nail to make sure you found ceiling joists or rafter. Or use stud finder. If you find even one beam, the rest are usually 16-24 inches and in the same direction. Mark the parts of the frame with small crosses.
What is the code for access to an attic?
The International Residential Code states that access to the attic must be provided in certain circumstances. If your attic is at least 30 square feet and 30 inches high, with a ceiling structure that is combustible, it requires access. The opening itself must also meet certain standards. If mechanical equipment is stored in the attic, access must be possible regardless of the size of the attic.
What material is used for attic access doors?
Wooden version. Now ready-made structures with and without stairs are being sold, although they are expensive, making and installing an attic staircase with your own hands is an order of magnitude more profitable, but more on that later.
Metal. Buying an iron hatch is not a problem, they are made to equip fire exits, but it makes no sense to put it in a residential house, especially in a cold attic. Firstly, it is heavy, and secondly, it is not insulated. Such a product is only suitable for giving, so that robbers do not climb inside through the attic.
Follow these guidelines:
- If your house is wooden, you can cut a hatch into the attic and insulate it directly in the wood of the attic floor, using it as a box.
- Hinges can be hung from any side, as convenient given the structure of the roof.
- You can increase the strength of a do-it-yourself lid with a diagonal strut.
- If the attic is warm, powerful insulation is not required.
- The choice of stairs to the attic depends on the design.
The options and methods for arranging attic access panels or doors described above are universal, they are suitable for all types of structures, you will only need to adapt the technology to the dimensions of your attic opening.