1. 3)Loose or missing nuts - Ladder rods (the metal rods that run between the side stiles under the treads) are threaded at the ends and and secured to the stiles with a nut at each end. With time and repeated use, some of them will work loose. The nuts at the section hinges loosen over time also. We recommend checking them—and tightening as necessary—regularly.

  2. 4)Cracked lumber at stile or tread - Any small crack will enlarge with use of the ladder and eventually fail.

  3. 5)Damaged hinges - Bent or twisted hinges will eventually fail and should be replaced.

  4. 6)Bottom stiles not trimmed to fit at floor - The bottom stiles of the ladder must be cut back at the correct angle when installed, so that the stiles have full bearing on the floor. In the photo below the  stiles are not trimmed and one leg lands on top of a parking roll-stop.

  5. 7)Ladder too long or too short - Attic ladders are not engineered to hang free at the bottom, and should not be used if the bottom stiles are not angle-cut to securely bear on the floor.

    Also, all sections of the ladder should align when open. If the last section is too long, it will sit at a shallower angle and put too much stress on the first hinge set. Also, ladders should not be trimmed back at the hinge connection (like in the photo below), which creates an uneven space between steps and is a fall hazard.

  6. 8)Failed spring - Beware of opening an attic ladder that has been latched in place at the opening side. It is likely that the springs are damaged or missing and the whole assembly will fall open when the latch is released.

  7. 9)Inadequate access/clearance into attic - A minimum of eighteen inches of head clearance above the ladder opening is necessary to safely enter the attic. It is best if the entry point faces toward the ridge of the roof. The ladder in the photo below is in a brain-dead location: there is no landing at the top of the ladder, and you must enter the attic sideways, with low clearance. Coming out of the attic is even more difficult and dangerous.

  8. 10) Unsafe location - If the base of the attic ladder lands onto stairs or the edge of a stair landing, it is not acceptable.

   Even if an attic ladder is correctly installed and maintained it can be dangerous if used improperly. Manufacturers always specify that you face the ladder when on it, which is the way most people go up the stairs. But trying to descend the stairs facing away from it—perhaps because you are carrying a large object—is unsafe and the cause of numerous falls. Have a second person at the base of the ladder to hand larger items down to.

   Also, most ladders are rated for a 250-pound load (total weight of you and anything you are holding). Exceeding the rated load can cause failure, typically of the treads.

    If the ceiling is higher than available ladder lengths, one option is to box down the well, like in the photo below.

When it is time to replace your attic ladder we suggest getting a new aluminum model. They are lightweight, sturdy, and not prone to some of the problems that wood ladders develop after years of use.

    And a final note: an attic access opening without a pull-down ladder can still be dangerous if installed incorrectly. The photo below shows a well opening that is secured at two sides to the bottom chords of roof trusses, but the other two sides (noted with arrows) have trim that is only attached to the edge of drywall. If someone coming into the attic steps on either side at the arrows, the trim will break away and the ceiling collapse under them. Those two sides need to be framed with 2x4 lumber secured to the side of the bottom chord of each truss.

While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection. -

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Aluminum Attic Ladder

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