Attic Stairs: An Overview
Materials, safety, access & insulation
Attic stairs are vital for access to your roof space, even if you haven't remodeled your attic into a living space. Attic stairs come in two broad categories: fixed and folding. If you have converted your attic into a bedroom or office space, fixed stairs are probably a better option, because easy access and "proper" stairs will make the attic feel more like a real room. However, if your attic is just used for storage, folding (pull down) stairs are probably the best option for you, because they save space. It's also possible to buy sliding stairs, which slide down when you pull the hatch, and telescoping stairs, which fold up like an accordion into small spaces.
Materials for attic stairs
The most common materials for attic stairs are aluminum, steel and wood. Metal stairs last longer than wood stairs, and have a sturdier construction. Aluminum stairs have the additional advantage of being light, which is great if you're buying the folding kind. However, many people prefer the homey look of wooden stairs, and they're cheaper too. Sliding stairs tend to be made from wood, and telescoping stairs are usually aluminum.
Attic stairs and safety
When you buy your attic stairs, make sure that they have a slip-resistant tread, to reduce the risk of falling off as you climb. You should also make sure that the stairs are strong enough. This means checking the load rating. It's best to choose a ladder with a load rating of at least 300 pounds.
Attic access and insulation
When you're installing your attic stairs, you should also think about insulation, as the attic access is one of the areas of your home where you can lose a lot of heat if you're not careful. Our page on attic remodeling discusses insulating the attic itself. If you're using the attic as living space, you will want the temperature in the attic room to be similar to the temperature in the rest of the house, so insulating the hatch between the attic and the rest of the house is not as great a priority. However, if your attic is unheated storage space, you don't want the heat intended for the rest of the house to escape into the attic and add dollars to your fuel bills. And if you live somewhere hot, you don't want your storage space to get the benefits of your air conditioning. Add an insulated cover to your attic access to reduce heat loss. These can be bought from a home improvement store for around $30, and they're easy to put on. They can be removed any time you want to go into the attic. It's also possible to add latch bolts for a tighter seal.