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DIY Disaster Doctor: Tight Squeeze

Filed Under: Small Spaces, Living Spaces

attic openingPhoto credit: Brandon Dyles of Picture Perfect Inspections in Bartlett, TN (via The Money Pit). Used with permission of the ASHI Reporter.

When you can't fit into your attic hatch, you know it's either time to start that diet or to rethink the size of the attic opening.

Actually, this ridiculously small attic opening is too tight for just about any adult, no matter what their height or weight. It's possible that the required opening was cut first, and size specs came with a much later version of the building code. What's needed here is an attic opening wide enough for comfortable access and maneuvering when you're storing or retrieving items from above. Better yet, the widened attic hatch could include a pull-down ladder for extra convenience and safety.

The phrase "first do no harm" definitely applies in this project situation, because to make the attic opening wide enough for comfortable entry, you're going to be touching the very structural elements that hold up the ceiling and roof of your house. Installation of an attic hatch typically requires that you cut away ceiling joists, and any joists removed must be compensated for by doubling up the framing on either side of the new opening; otherwise, you'll be creating a big structural problem rather than a safe attic access solution.

Plus, if your attic was framed with trusses, you have NO options for enlargement! Trusses are designed to never be cut; doing so can ruin the structural integrity of the entire roof system.

Also critical to project planning is the size of the attic stair you plan to install. You'll need to know the dimensions of the unit when stowed, and the right rise for your home's floor-to-ceiling height. The unfolded ladder must be able to make a firm, fully unfurled landing for safe travel up and down, and needs to have enough clearance above in the attic when it's stowed away.

To finish this attic stair project, take a few extra steps for safety and the energy-tight sealing of your home's interior. You wouldn't leave a window wide open to let heated or air conditioned air escape, so prevent the same phenomenon from happening with your new attic opening by equipping it with an easy-to-install attic stair insulator cap. And for safe storage and solid footing in the attic itself, consider installing an attic floor. Options include high-tech tile made for attics and the traditional plywood sheeting.

Just keep structure in mind so that once you've made it into the attic, you don't come crashing back downstairs through another spot in the ceiling!

Can I Treat This Myself?
Only if you're comfortable reframing. Advanced DIY knowledge is required.

Tom Kraeutler delivers
home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast or free home improvement newsletter.

** Got a DIY disaster you'd like us to feature? Send a photo of the disaster to, and we just might publish it here on DIY Life. All submissions will remain anonymous. **

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