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You Might Get That Sinking Feeling

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

You ever get that feeling that something just isn't right? A nagging feeling perhaps misfortune is but a moment away. Surely everyone has experienced it at one time or another.

One place I'm sure many people have anxiety is on a ladder. Especially one set against the house or precariously perched on an un-level surface. The combination of height, those little rungs and a somewhat wobbly perch is enough to start heart palpitations in anyone.

Now a relatively steady, rugged and permanently installed ladder should be another thing all together. For instance your attic pull down stairs. Attic ladders are not too high; a good quality unit is actually quite steady and sits on a nice flat and level surface.

But...what if the frame were fastened to the ceiling joists with teeny, tiny little nails. Nails so small that the moment you're carrying up the Christmas ornaments to put away for another year, right before you get to the top rung those nails fail like a Wall Street investment bank. A catastrophic collapse with no bailout.

Take a look at the photo with those two big red arrows. They are pointing at the finish nails (finish nails are for fastening trim work) used to "secure" this set of attic stairs to the ceiling joists. The scenario I just painted very easily could have occurred to a family member using these stairs.

The diagram pictured is from the installation instruction for a set of attic pull down stairs. Notice section "a"; Drive 10 16d nails... 16d nails are 3½ inches long and 10 would probably hold a rhino...a baby rhino. This fastening method is pretty much standard for this type of stairway. Yet I see them screwed in with sheet rock screws quite often as well. Sheet rock screws are made for holding up a piece of drywall, not an attic stairway.

When you're home today or the next time you're showing a house and happen to look at the attic stairway, see what's holding those stairs in place. If its itty bitty nails and you happen to decide to go up it, you may just get that sinking feeling.

James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

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Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Hi James, I finally made it back to Seattle----sat on the runway for over 2 hours before takeoff:)  It was so fun meeting you yesterday.  It is so funny that you are doing a post on these stairs----I am working on one to post tomorrow.  These things are almost always installed by persons who are not quite handy enough.  Many of the installations are injuries waiting to happen----good post.

Apr 28, 2009 06:59 AM
Dan Callahan
Callahan's Home Inspections - Casper, WY

I noticed they didn't even counter-sink the nails and putty over the holes! I hate shoddy craftmanship!!! Like Charles said, most of these ladder installs are injuries waiting to happen.

Apr 28, 2009 07:22 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Hi Charlie, Glad you made it back safe. Was good to meet you as well yesterday. You know what they say about great minds:)

Dan, I think I find more put in wrong than right.

Apr 28, 2009 07:54 AM
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Frankly, I am not pleased that two undesirables, who have not got my best interests in mind, would be meeting on the east coast. Also, I would have no fear about whether or not that ladder would support me. It would be a piece of almond cake.

Nutsy, feeling like a victim

Apr 28, 2009 12:20 PM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Nutsy, Nothing to fear from our meeting. We weren't planning anything horrible, just figuring the best way to cook a bunch of---um---ah pork, yeah pork for the big barbecue. Remember your the main course uh guest of honor.

Apr 28, 2009 12:45 PM
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Can't imagine what Nutsy could possibly have to fear:)

Apr 28, 2009 01:02 PM
Mary Strang
Viroqua, WI

Yes an injury waiting to happen... I was showing a couple a home last month; it turned out the husband was a master carpenter. He pointed out to me in one house I had listed, that the basement steps in this home only had a few nails holding the entire flight of stairs in place, no posts at all under it. It was nailed only on the top tread with a few plain old nails that with enough weight could give way under pressure. I learned some interesting facts from him and they were very similar to what you are posting.  Since he shared that with me, I immediately informed the owner about this faulty fastening job on their basement steps. Weeks later, there is now an offer and it was now nice to know the home inspector did not call that out since it was repaired with extra support posts to shore it up properly.

Apr 28, 2009 01:03 PM
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

Looks like the homeowners here put pull down stairs up the same way homeowners there do.

Good post James.  Are you saying that finish nails won't work?

Apr 28, 2009 03:37 PM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Charlie, He's a squirrel, they fear everything.

Mary, It's good that someone saw those faulty stairs and they were fixed before someone was hurt.

Jack, I believe poor workmanship is universal and yes I am saying thin little tiny pieces of wire won't work. :)

Apr 28, 2009 10:56 PM
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Mr James,

I am an expert at barbecue.

Nutsy

Apr 29, 2009 03:27 AM
Suesan Jenifer Therriault
JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team - Blakeslee, PA
"Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own".

I think these are usually installed by the home owner and his friends after the consumption of at least 2 six packs.

Apr 29, 2009 05:57 AM
Jason Sardi
Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina - Charlotte, NC
Your Agent for Life

James - Thank you so much for this info!  I was led here from Charles:)  I have an attic like this and plan on revamping it sometime down the road.  I have bookmarked this post.  It should come in handy.

Apr 29, 2009 06:47 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Nutsy, You will be barbecued.

Suesan, I would agree with that scenario.

Jason, You're welcome:) Having the right info can go along way in preventing problems.

Apr 29, 2009 08:12 AM
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Mr James,

I have a low profile because of snotty comments like that.

Nutsy (Planet Nutsy to you)

May 04, 2009 11:05 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

NutsyI was referring to your place of origin, which is undoubtedly lunar. That is the home "planet" of all loonies.

May 04, 2009 11:45 PM
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Mr James,

I solved that problem for you, over at your new post. Glad to share the wealth of my wisdom.

Planet Nutsy to you.

May 05, 2009 07:13 AM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I understand that one 16d holds 80 pounds, but have never had that proved to me.  I see finish nails in those units all the time!  I think they install them temporarily, thinking to return later with better holding power, and forget. 

May 10, 2009 01:01 PM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, That just doesn't make any sense. If you're using small nails to hold it temporally wouldn't you think the permanent fasteners would be handy to finish the job. 

May 11, 2009 06:45 AM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

James!!  Depends on what's in the pouch!  Time available before quitting time!  How much beer is in the cooler in the truck waiting for quitting time!  Whether or not they remember to get back to it!  You name it!

The other installation problem with these is that the supports into which the ladder assemblies are attached are not doubled up.  Most instructions require two 2x4's front, rear and on each side.  How often to you see that?  Me, not often...

May 11, 2009 10:48 PM