What I'm Seeing Now

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Stairway To Heaven

OK, I may be a Led Zeppelin fan and this post may not exactly be going to heaven, but it might just keep someone on this earth for a while longer!

One very useful, and potentially very dangerous, thing in our houses is the attic access ladder.

So why this post?

Because I find that they are seldom installed correctly.  Or safely!

ESPECIALLY ON NEW CONSTRUCTION.

On new construction I always check the attic access ladder BEFORE I go into the attic!  Why?  Because, as I said, they are seldom installed correctly or safely!

The ladder on this new construction was no different.  It was installed with four, yes FOUR, drywall screws!  Two on each end.

That's scary!

Notice the position of these two screws.  Can you read the plaque in between?  You can't?

Can you read it now?  Maybe the installer couldn't read!

The attic ladder, or "stair" as it is called here, is rimmed on all four sides by jambs.  These are the sides.  Each side, or jamb, is to be anchored.

Each manufacturer has its own recommendation as to how they prefer their ladder to be installed.

Such recommendations include large nails, as it says here, square-head steel screws, "Dacronized" screws, and brass screws.  There may be more for all I know.

Many producers recommend AGAINST drywall screws of any length.  Why?  Because they are not that strong.

They are kind of narrow up near the screw top.  And they have been known to sheer off under heavy loads.

In addition to hefty nails or screws, another installation necessity is a doubled-up 2x4 at each end.  That way the longer nails or screws are anchored all the way through their length.  This is the same principle used at front doors to set them strongly.

Anything less than the above installation means that the ladder assembly is far weaker than it should be.  Carrying a heavy load up into the attic, or down therefrom, can result in the assembly breaking off from its support, or completely falling down.

On this new construction, the ladder was installed with too few, and incorrect, screws and not into doubled ends.  Surprised?  I am not either...  It is, in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen.

My recommendation:  check any ladder access assembly carefully for proper installation!  If it is not, and if someone should fall, the ladder might, in fact, BE a stairway to heaven!

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 63 commentsJay Markanich • November 23 2010 05:46PM

Comments

Great post, jay. We actually did a blog about attic ladders a couple months ago as well. Do you have a blog outside of Activerain and would you be interested in exchanging links?

Posted by David Swartz (Advantage Inspection Service) over 9 years ago

Good catch on this one, Jay.  Is this the same new house that is providing so many other fine examples of what not to do?

Posted by Mike Weber, 40+ years in Northern Colorado (Keller Williams Realty Northern Colorado) over 9 years ago

Another issue I see is people using these to put way too much stuff in the attic.  Around here, most roofs are built with engineered trusses, and the bottom chords are not built to carry the load that many homeowners will put up there with the convenience of the access ladder.

Posted by Mike Weber, 40+ years in Northern Colorado (Keller Williams Realty Northern Colorado) over 9 years ago

That's a good post David!  Thanks.  Yes, I do and we have already exchanged links, your site to mine!  Smooch!  I have some of my blogs on my website, but no where else.

Mike - same house buddy!  I could have taken a home inspection class through this house and had a lot of fun!  Don't do this, don't do this, don't do this...  This was one instructive house!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Oh, yeah Mike.  I see that too.  And then there's the plywood, resting right on the trusses and squishing the insulation down to a comfy 3.25"!  R-value of what then?  About 9?

But you are right, too much stuff is too much stuff and the trusses are not made for it.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Again, excellent information.  Thank you.  I'm going to check mine now.

Posted by Kenneth Cole, NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson (Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, Appleseedhomes.com -) over 9 years ago

You are welcome Ken.  Hope yours is installed well!  And safely...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, I hate it when the ladder "rungs down my leg.":)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Well, I'm glad to hear it is only the ladder Charlie!  I guess it just proves that sometimes we are all just ragged and rung out...

Stay warm tonight!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay - Subcontractors don't read the instructions and I'm sure you see the evidence regularly.  You're right about the dangers of pull down stairs; we have a local code inspector permanently disabled by an improperly installed set.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) over 9 years ago

I got to a house once, John, and the seller met me at the door in a wheelchair.  He had fallen not only from an improperly installed ladder, but its position was at the top of a staircase and it did him in.  I have had another post on properly-placed ladders!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay ~  Had to lean on the button -- just had the exact same situation arise in a condo yesterday!

Sending you best wishes for a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Posted by Tish Lloyd, Broker - Wilmington NC and Surrounding Beaches (BlueCoast Realty Corporation) over 9 years ago

Thank you Tish!  You seem to be leaning a lot!  Have a great Thanksgiving also...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, my brother (also a home inspector) was hoisting himself into an attic scuttle the other day and fell through the ceiling into the closet......the builder never nailed the scuttle in!

Posted by Damon Gettier, Broker/Owner ABRM, GRI, CDPE (Damon Gettier & Associates, REALTORS- Roanoke Va Short Sale Expert) over 9 years ago

Well, Damon, you gotta save on something!  Those builders need some bonus money at the end of the year!  Where better to get it than from nails?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

That might be the best instructional label for attic ladders that I've seen yet.  On new construction, how tough could it possibly be to get the framing nailer out and shoot a dozen nails?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

Not hard Reuben, but too time consuming to do it right the first time.  It is much more efficient to come back later with and have to take care of a huge list created buy some schmuck home inspector!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Another terrific point Jay! You know with all the tips I've read in your posts I'm getting nervous about entering any house, especially new construction!

Posted by Bob "RealMan" Timm, Owner of Ward Co. Notary Services, retired Realtor (Ward County Notary Services) over 9 years ago

Well, Bob, gird yourself, top to bottom and go on in!  I do every day...

Don't forget your sword.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I am the realtor who points to where the ladder is....not the one to climb it...even tiny feet find those a challenge...ewww....all the best of the holiday to you and yours...and thank u from members of AR for giving your best !

 

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 9 years ago

Thanks S&D!  Hope yours is a great holiday too.  For sure I need a day to rest!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I would hate to find out that only 4 screws held the ladder after I crashed to the floor. .  I would look for that next time I'm climbing an attic. 

Thanks for the tip

Posted by Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group, 301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA (Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001) over 9 years ago

Don't be surprised Fernando, but I really see this a lot!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Congrats on your feature.  I will need to be more careful next time I go up one of these - now I know what to look for.  Thankfully, this is a rare occasion for me - maybe I've gone up one 3 x in 3 yrs.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 9 years ago

It is always a challenge to pull these down and have the client go up the stairs.  You never know how sturdy they will be. Now I know why - they are usually improperly installed.

I guess it can actually be easy to buy a stairway to heaven.

 

Posted by Claudette Millette, Buyer, Broker - Metrowest Mass (The Buyers' Counsel) over 9 years ago

Very good post. I followed the mechanics of it perfectly and understand the Stairway to OUCHHHH concept now.

Posted by Cheryl Ritchie, Southern Maryland 301-980-7566 (RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com) over 9 years ago

Hi Jay,

I learned something. Thanks for the post

Phil

Posted by Phil Leng, Phil Leng - Retired (Retired) over 9 years ago

Hi Jay,

I learned something. Thanks for the post

Phil

Posted by Phil Leng, Phil Leng - Retired (Retired) over 9 years ago

Sheesh, don't they ship these things with all the proper parts?  What in tarnation is a 16D nail anyway?

Posted by Joel Gwillim, Associate - REALTOR® (CIR Realty - Condo Specialist) over 9 years ago

Jay - I am a Led Zeppelin fan as well - great post and congrats on the feature

Posted by Broker Nick, Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service (South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Jay - I am a Led Zeppelin fan as well - great post and congrats on the feature!

Posted by Broker Nick, Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service (South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Jay - I am a Led Zeppelin fan as well - great post and congrats on the feature!

Posted by Broker Nick, Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service (South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Congratulations this post is now featured in the Silent Majority Group of Active Rain.

Posted by Broker Nick, Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service (South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Great blog. I also see lots of ill fitting attic steps but didn't realize why.

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) over 9 years ago

That is good to know, as I never ever gave this a thought as so often the male buyer in the group is aways ready to climb the attic ladder and have a look.

Posted by Mary Strang over 9 years ago

Jay, I guess the installer thought the Caution sign meant to be careful climbing the ladder. When in doubt, read the directions.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 9 years ago

Great point, especially on the drywall screws.  Because of the ribs on those screws are designed to "bite" the drywall, but under the pressure of holding wood in place, they do not have the strength.

Posted by James McGary (Agents Set Free, Inc) over 9 years ago

Hey Reuben (#16),

I hate to split hairs, but don't most framing nailers shoot 10d nails?  This label called out 16d nails.

Posted by Mike Weber, 40+ years in Northern Colorado (Keller Williams Realty Northern Colorado) over 9 years ago

That IS scary!  I wonder how many people have been hurt in an accident with one of these?  At least from now on I won't take for granted that the ladder is properly installed.

Posted by Ann Allen Hoover, CDPE SRES ASP e-PRO Realtor - Homes for Sale - AL (RE/MAX Advantage South) over 9 years ago

Jay - yet another reason for buyers of new construction to hire an inspector prior to closing!!!  Thanks for the tip!

 

Brian.

Posted by Brian & Marie Spray, Frisco TX Realtors (www.DFWAreaRealtors.com - Action Realty Group) over 9 years ago

Hey Jay! I am a Led Zep fan, too! Stairway to Heaven probably my least fav song (yes, probably in the silent majority), but the title is what drew me in.

Great post..scary indeed. It's a shame there are many kinds of people who make shortcuts at the expense of others and their safety.

"California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu starbright - the song remains the same. "

Posted by suzanne welch (Coldwell Banker) over 9 years ago

I have always been skeptical when using these ladders. I climb slow and never read the labels BTW

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 9 years ago

Jay, Catchy title - one of my favorite songs, too!  The content of your post was even more compelling!  I'm always concerned when I or my clients go up those "stairways" to take a peek.  Now I'll have some point of reference to determine if it might be safe to go up.  Thanks!

Posted by Menlo Park Real Estate and Homes for Sale, WendeByTheBay.com - 650.504.0219 - SF Peninsula (Wende Schoof) over 9 years ago

Looks like these people are lucky, lucky, lucky they were not talked out of a home inspection because it was new.  I am wondering if all of these lastest posts are from this same house, Jay?  Thanks again for the heads up.

Posted by DeeDee Riley, Realtor - El Dorado Hills & the Surrounding Areas (Lyon Real Estate - El Dorado Hills CA) over 9 years ago

Caught me with that headline... nice job!

Yes, I agree. Thanks for sharing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by Tre Pryor, Realtor, e-PRO - Louisville Kentucky (REMAX Champions) over 9 years ago

Oh WOW!  I will definitely be looking more closely in the future before I or my clients start to head up one of these ladders!  Thanks for the great info!  Now I have to go and read all about this "House Of What Not To Do", as it sounds really interesting!

Oh and by the way....LOVE LED ZEPPELIN!

Posted by Carole L. MacCollum, Broker/Realtor 207-337-4792 (HOME AT LAST REAL ESTATE) over 9 years ago

Jay - A track home employee told me once that he went to check on some ceiling cracks in a garage for warranty purposes.  The home owner had a full room built up there with tv, refrigerator, and couch.  The funniest thing was that his wife didn't even know about it.

Posted by Loren Green, Phoenix Home Inspector & Designer (Greens Home Design L.L.C.) over 9 years ago

Debbie - you don't look very heavy, but I would still look for the good nails!

Claudette - these stairs can be very dangerous, but especially when not put in properly.

Cheryl - I'm glad!  Oh, and it's MaRkanich, not mechanic...   ;)

And I am glad you did Phil!  Stop by again!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Mike - nope, the manufacturers leave it up to the installer.  A 16D is a big nail!

Well, Nick, that's good to hear!  I have liked them since college.

And maybe now Barbara you have a bit more information!

Mary - the stair's installation doesn't distinguish between male or female!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Michael - you make the huge assumption that the installer can read!  Or read English...

James - they do not, even with the wider screw grips.  And they seem to be the universal installation screw!

Yes, that is exactly what they shoot Mike!  For this installation one would have to get out the hammer!  I have about 6 hammers, for different applications!  I also have a shooting framing nailer though.  Indispensible!

Ann - many!   I got to a house once to see the seller in a wheelchair from having fallen down one and he had a broken back.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

This is hardly a new construction problem, I find screws in the majority of pulled down stairways I inspect. Doesn't anyone read instruction!?

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 9 years ago

Brian - those reasons will never end!

Suzanne - I think there are many who do not consider the safety or needs of others.

As to Stairway, I can only say, "There are two paths to go by, but in the long run, there's time to change the road you're on..."

Richie - you should not have to read the label.  The installer should!

Wende - information is power.  Now you know what to look for!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Yes, DeeDee, same house.  Actually many more could be used for similar instruction!

I'm glad I did Tre!  And a merry Thanksgiving to you and yours.

I am happy you are more informed Carole, and that you love LZ!

Loren - how cool is that!  How in the world did he keep his little room from the wife?

Jim - well, I went to high school in Bethesda, Maryland and stayed in the state for college.  I went...

Oh!  I guess I should have read your comment.  Yeah, they're almost all screwed up.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Those stairs always scare me. I don't trust them.

Posted by Eric Michael, Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519 (Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI) over 9 years ago

Me too Eric.  Once I did an inspection for Jon Janzen, who then was an offensive lineman for the Redskins.  He weighed nearly 350 and went right up the stairs and they held!  I was glad they did...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, that is a scary scenario you show us there. Imagine stepping onto the ladder and it falling down. Wow. Very dangerous.

Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) over 9 years ago

Gary - I had another such ladder post a few months ago where the improper-installed ladder opened up to right at the top of the stair case to the second level!  14 stairs to fall down AFTER falling down the ladder!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Another great post Jay, thanks for the tip.  Did the buyer make them fix the ladder?

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) over 9 years ago

I hope so Justin!  I can only observe and report!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Wow..connrats on your feature!

Posted by suzanne welch (Coldwell Banker) over 9 years ago

Thanks, Suzanne - I sucked them in with the title!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay,

I am so curious which builder this is but I won;t ask you to divulge. Obviously, new construction needs a home inspection regardless of the builder!

Posted by Renée Montgomery, Northern Virginia Real Estate (Century 21 New Millennium) over 9 years ago

At first, Renee, I thought it was a builder that shared part of its name with Lenn Harley, but found out it is KH.   You know now?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

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