Occasionally we get opportunities to review products, which while interesting just don’t fit into our current needs. In these cases, we may turn to folks we know as I did this time with Matt Knowlton. You may remember Matt from his help this spring on the article How to Grow a Healthy Lawn. (He also ultimately contributed the article – Irrigation 101.) Matt is 1/2 of the husband & wife team over at The DIY Village, where he and is wife try to cross off completed projects from their Never Ending Honey-Do-List. Thanks Matt. ~jb
For the last 2 years, the only access I’ve had to my attic was a small opening in our upstairs utility closet. The first time I checked out the access, I was surprised to find that there was no existing ladder that would allow an easy means up into the attic. So anytime I needed to gain access, I had to use this step ladder.
I’ve researched my options for attic ladders for some time now. Like many, I am a bit limited due to the location of the existing opening and the pitch of my roof. In order to accommodate an average sized attic ladder, I would have to cut a larger opening. But even then – there still wouldn’t be enough vertical clearance because of the pitch of the roof. Luckily, I got a message from JB about an opportunity to review a Werner Compact Attic Ladder and even have it professionally installed in our house. (Editorial Note: The ladder featured here is currently unavailable but at the time of this post listed for $160 on Amazon.)
First of all, I didn’t know JB was a mind reader! And second of all…Sign me up! Normally, this is the kind of project that I’d gladly tackle on my own, but no way could I pass up the chance to step back and observe the ladder installation. It was going to be a great opportunity to talk with the pros about the difficulty level of this installation, in comparison to other styles of attic ladders!
Installing a Werner Compact Attic Ladder
The morning of the scheduled installation, I came home from work excited to meet the pros from Mr Handyman.
As I pulled in the driveway, Mr Handyman | Knoxville franchise owner, Allen Ellison, greeted me. Along with him – Craig and Charles, two of his top notch handymen! This was their first installation of a Werner Compact Attic Ladder, so I was eager to see what they thought!
While they were gathering equipment, I took a peek at the compact attic ladder. I couldn’t believe how lightweight it was. According to the Werner specs, the compact attic ladder weighs in at 15.5 lbs. A lot of the attic ladders I’d seen around weighed in excess of 50 lbs … so this was a nice surprise! It’s definitely light enough to be managed by a single person.
Having read through the instructions, I found just a few steps to get the ladder assembly ready for installation. A couple of hinge guides, and the top and bottom stops have to be attached to the ladder, but it’s a very minimal amount of assembly … and took all of maybe 5 minutes.
Installing in a pre-existing Opening
Since I already had an attic access, we were able to skip the instructions on creating an opening.
In my case, the existing access measured 28″ x 21-1/2″ and was framed in with 2×8 lumber.
Modifying Attic Access Framing
Because the ceiling joists in the attic were lower than the top of the 2×8, the existing framing had to be cut flush with the surrounding joists.
Installing a Deck Landing
This was necessary in order to install a 3/4” decking surface to attach some of the key elements of the ladder system!
Ladder Hinge Guides are Installed to the Deck Landing
The ladder installation is as simple as securing the ladder’s hinge guide brackets to the decking surface using 35mm screws.
The hinge guides allow the ladder system to easily slide from the stowed position into the extended position.
Installing the Power Pivot Unit
The next step in the install was to place the power pivot unit, which basically contains the assist arm. This comes into play when deploying or storing the compact attic ladder. The installation of the power pivot unit has a few more steps, but is still an easy process. One of the materials included with the compact ladder is a drill hole template.
I couldn’t easily gain access to snap a picture, but Craig explained that he set the template against the left hinge guide bracket, marked the necessary holes, then pre-drilled pilot holes, before securing the power pivot unit to the deck. Then he slid the housing cover over top of the spring housing and secured it to the deck as well.
With the ladder in its stowed position, Craig attached the left side ladder rail to the power arm linkage plate with a bolt, washers, nut, and nut cap.
Attaching the Handrail
The last step of the ladder installation is attaching the handrail. It’s easily secured into place by a combination of bolts, spacers, washers, and locking nuts.
The Werner Compact Attic Ladder doesn’t come with a door, so Craig measured the opening and fashioned a correctly sized door in no time flat!
Charles removed the existing trim from around the access opening and then framed in the opening using 1×3. Then he went back and added a recessed 1×2 that was to act as a door jamb for the new attic access door.
Once the door had been cut, Craig attached it with hinges to the newly installed 1×3 framing. Then, on the opposite side, secured it shut by installing a latch and latch catch. It took literally minutes to install. Charles then added some new trim around the new access door and the installation was complete!
The entire install took a couple of hours, but I’m 100% positive that had I not been distracting Charles & Craig with my questions and repeatedly getting in their way for pictures, that it could have easily been done quicker.
Operating the Werner Compact Attic Ladder
I’m really impressed with the ease of deployment. It’s practically effortless. It’s as simple as turning the door latch with the assist pole, lowering the door, then using the same tool to hook the bottom rung of the rear ladder and pull outward. Because of a spring that holds tension on the assist arm, the ladder is easily controlled as it is lowered.
How to Extend the Compact Ladder
Small catches on the left and right sides hold the ladder sections securely in the stowed position. To extend the ladder, retract the right side catches and rotate them upwards to lock them out of the system temporarily.
Then beginning with the front section, support the ladder with your right hand and release the catch on the left side with your free hand. Slowly lower the ladder section until is fully extended and the catch re-engages.
Repeat the same process for extending the middle section. Make sure the feet rest firmly on the ground before climbing and that the catches on both sections are re-engaged.
To store the compact attic ladder, retract the latches, raise the fly sections into their storing positions, and re-engage the latches. Finally, using the assist pole, push the ladder up into its stowed position.
Shut the door, and lastly turn the latch to the closed position.
What the Pros Think about the Werner Compact Attic Ladder
After the installation, I questioned Craig and Charles on what their thoughts were on the compact ladder install. They were surprised with the ease of installation. Both were also confident that one person could tackle it without a problem. Craig pointed out that not only did it allow for a smaller attic access, but since the ladders didn’t fold out, the clearance that the ladder itself required was less also. (I’ll definitely be keeping the contact info for Mr Handyman, these guys were true professionals – and now I know who to call if I get in over my head!)
I can’t even begin to explain how fortunate I was to have had the chance to try out Werner’s new compact attic ladder. In all honesty, this is the absolute perfect solution for those of us who have limited available space. And after observing an installation, I feel confident that the average DIY weekend warrior could take on the install! But, since everyone doesn’t have the luxury of observing their own install, Werner has provided their customers with some great video tutorials that walk you step by step through installing their attic ladders.
A big thanks to Werner, Mr Handyman, and JB! Now if you need me, I’ll be up in the attic! ~Matt.