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Upward Thinking: Overhead Storage Space

Construction How-To, Stairs - Directory, Storage July 10, 2009 Sonia


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Looking for more storage space? Look up! One often unused storage area is the loft or “attic” over your garage. In some instances of attached garages, opening this area may also provide easier access to the house attic. If you already have a crawl-hole access door, the first step is to examine the area. Is the framing open, or are trusses used? A trussed building provides less storage space than an open-framed building, and in some instances the area above a garage may not have much available space. Determine the approximate access opening location. Use a drill to bore a starting hole and use a saber saw to cut between the ceiling joists to create an initial examination opening. Use an electronic stud finder to locate joists. If the ceiling joists are 2-by-6′s or larger, there will probably be enough support for storage. If the ceiling joists are 2-by-4′s, they will have to be strengthened by adding 2-by-4′s to their sides. You may also wish to add vertical stiffeners from the joists to the rafters along the sides. Also examine for exposed wires and other utilities that may need to be relocated. Joists in a garage loft space are rarely floored, and you will probably wish to add flooring. Three-quarter-inch particleboard underlayment makes a decent support floor over the floor joists. The main idea is to provide a good, solid support floor for storing items.
The next step is to provide access. Drop-down folding stairs, such as those from Memphis Folding Stairs, are the best choice. These provide a safer access than ladders, and are stored up, out of the way in the loft space when not in use.

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It is extremely important to make sure the ceiling will support the storage weight. Also, use the proper framing around the opening. Make sure any cut joists are strengthened with the proper headers.

Measure and Cut

The first step is to measure the ceiling height carefully, and purchase a unit that allows the stairs to be properly unfolded. Make sure there is room for a safe landing area at the bottom of the stairway. There must also be enough clearance for the swing of the stair unit as it is being unfolded to full length. In most instances folding stairways are installed parallel to ceiling joists. In some instances, however, the stair must be installed perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

Cut the rough opening in the ceiling or plaster to the size indicated by the stairway instruction sheet. Normally this will be about 1/2 to 5/8 inch larger than the actual unit to allow for shimming and squaring. If you must cut ceiling joists to allow for installation, make sure you install headers to tie the cut members to other joists. The header materials should be of the same size lumber as the existing joists. Regardless, form a four-sided frame or stairwell to install the stairway. Make sure to keep the construction square for easy of installation. If the home has roof trusses, do not cut ceiling joists without consulting an engineer or city inspector and getting approval.

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Stair Installation

Installation of the Memphis Folding Stair begins by using temporary support boards across the width of the opening at front and back. They should be nailed or screwed securely enough to support the stairway until it is permanently attached. The boards should form a ledge of 1/2-inch at the main hinge end and a 7/8-inch ledge at the pull cord end. Raise the stairway unit into the attic by turning it sideways and through the rough opening and then lowering it carefully onto the ledge support strips. The best tactic is to have one person in the attic and a helper on the floor to position the stairway in place.

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Caution: Do not at this time place any weight on the stairway. Do not raise or lower the stairway. Do not allow the stairway to be moved in any manner as it may fall and cause bodily injury. Use a ladder to do any work that involves further anchoring. Make sure the stair is square and level in the rough opening. Use blocks of wood as shims to straighten the stair frame if it has been bowed in inventory. Bowing boards can be straightened using nails and shims. Also use shims between the rough opening and the stairway frame. Several 8d common nails can be driven partially through the frame into the rough opening framework to add further support. Do not drive these nails in all the way.