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Loft ladders are an essential part of any home for accessing your loft space and making the most of your home's space. However, fitting a loft ladder is not as easy as it may first seem. Having a safe, secure ladder to use is paramount to the safety of the person using the ladder and the structural integrity of your loft opening.
In this article, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide to loft ladder installation. We will assume for this tutorial that you already have an appropriate hatch opening (even if you don’t have the hatch itself).
Before you think about buying and installing a ladder, you’ll need to get all the right tools. You’ll need:
Most of these can be found at your local DIY supply store if you don't have something from this list.
Everyone’s home will have a different loft opening. While most hatches will have a similar size, not all of them will. Some may even have slight differences in clearance that could equate to millimetres of difference. But any DIYer or joiner will know that a few millimetres is still a difference that can impact what’ll work and what won’t.
The first thing you should do is decide the type of ladder you want to have. Will you have a fold-down ladder attached to the hatch? A ladder that slides down from the loft itself? A ladder that is independent of the loft opening and latches on for use?
Decide on what style you think will work best.
After you’ve decided what style of ladder you want for your loft, you’ll need to find one that fits. You’ll need to measure the length, width, and depth of the hatch you have (or opening you have) to determine what’ll work and what won’t.
Having these measures to hand is crucial as, without them, it is possible you’ll end up with something that won’t fit. Even if you’ve taken measurements before, always take fresh measurements. Wooden structures can warp and bend over time, widening or tightening the amount of clearance your loft opening may have.
In this stage, you’ll also want to use your level to get a rough idea of how to level the loft opening and if any work will be needed to correct any warping before installing your new ladders.
Suppose you do indeed discover there’s been a fair amount of warping in the wood. In that case, it is recommended that you consult a contractor or independent party before proceeding (to ensure the loft can structurally withstand the extra weight of the ladders).
After taking the measurements you need, it’s time to look at the installation of the ladders themselves.
When it comes to fitting the ladder, it is usually best to add some battens to support your existing loft opening frame. You can do this by nailing a length of wood appropriate to the opening size to either side of the opening. This can also make it easier to adjust your ceiling opening to the size of the hatch and ladder if it is slightly too big or small. After doing so, ensure they are level with one another before proceeding.
Next, you’ll want to line up the hatch or ladder assembly and ensure it is supported by the battens you’ve just installed. When you line it all up, it is vital that you triple check the hatch and ladder set is flush with the battens and opening. Now you’ll want to check that you can open and close the hatch and that the ladders fold appropriately before continuing.
Double-check that the ladder isn’t obstructed by any beams in the loft or by the ceiling itself. Adjust its position until you’re happy with the clearance you have.
If you have a non-folding set, you’ll need to make sure there’s enough space for your ladders to pivot down through the loft opening or that there’s enough space to attach a free-standing set to the mechanisms on either side responsible for holding it in place for use. You install these mechanisms with the battens. As non-folding ladder sets are rarer nowadays, it may be worth consulting a professional to install them if you do have a set.
Now that you are happy with the placement of the ladder, all that’s left to do is secure it in place. The method you use is entirely personal preference, but you can:
Either way will work equally as good as the other. The length of the ladder will determine how many holes you’ll need to drill or nails you’ll need to apply. Smaller ladders may require two holes on either side of the frame, whereas larger ladders may require three or four holes on either side.
Again, if drilling, then drill the holes equally spaced and then screw the ladders firmly in place. If using nails, nail the ladders to the frame using equal spacing between each nail. This will ensure the weight of the ladders is dispersed equally between all the nails or screws.
If all has gone well, the frame should be firmly in place with the ladders folding into and out of your loft space smoothly. Be sure to lubricate any runners your ladders may use for folding to ensure they don’t stick or jam.
Always be certain to slowly check the stability and weight threshold of the ladder. Check one rung at a time, and always have a soft landing prepared just in case.
Installing a loft ladder is no easy feat and can take quite a lot of effort as well as DIY knowledge. If you are at all in any doubt about the ladder, chassis, loft opening, or stability of the build, always consult a professional.
Only attempt this if you are absolutely certain that you are able to fit them correctly.
As a last note, it is always worth checking with your local council about installing a pair of ladders. You won’t need planning permission, but different regions will have different rules regarding home modifications that could impact structural integrity.
Just be sure to be safe!