Attic Access Ladder Installation - Dangers Abound

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC 3380-000723

When it comes to attic access ladder installation - dangers abound.

Sometimes I pull the ladder down and look at it and don't want to use it!  I go out to the car and get my ladder.  My ladder is trustworthy!

This, however, is the one year warranty inspection on an "active adult community" house! 

Quick Quiz:   I was especially displeased because:

1.  This was installed by the builder. 
2.  It's installation was supposed to be professional and supervised. 
3.  The County was supposed to insure its safety.
4.  All of the above.  (Hint:  this would be the best answer.)

This is the comment I make on my inspection reports when the attic access ladder is not installed right:

Access to attic:  an attic access ladder should not be installed with small nails or drywall screws as they are too weak.  The ends should have doubled-up 2x4’s for strength and stability.  At least 10, and probably more, 16D nails or screws should be used, and screws should be stainless steel, Dacronized or square head brass.  Most access ladder manufacturers have their own installation recommendations.  It’s always best to have something done professionally, but if you insist on installing one yourself, here is an excellent link for general installation information:  


How big is a 16D (AKA 16 Penny) nail?  It is 3 1/2" long.  It is thick.  It is strong.

That is an excellent link because it is published by a ladder company!  And it has different scenarios for different kinds of ladders! 

When you install the ladder there are manufacturer instructions attached!

So, what's up with the access ladder I saw here?

Lacking basic shims is very disconcerting.  You can't simply nail these things up!  Is there doubled-up support on each side?  No.  Are the nails 16D?  You can't fool me!  Those are 4D or 5D nails.  Into air.


Here is the big question - if air is not a good holder, why am I seeing so many things, in so many applications, nailed into air?  I can answer the question, but my answer brings to light the basic problem with modern construction.  Simply put, the problem is PROFESSIONALISM.

This is a very, very dangerous attic access ladder installation!

My recommendation:  the builder will tell you that a private home inspection is not necessary.  Their reason is so logical too!  You don't need it because there is a supervisor there every day who does an inspection of every aspect of the construction every day.  And there is a county with professional inspectors who look at the house multiple times.  Why just think carefully - why would you need to waste your money on a private home inspection?

P.s.  These were two of 28 photos I took at this lady's house.  I was disgusted.



Posted by

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

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


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Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

I hated "all of the above" as one of the choices on multiple choice questions. When they are right...they are right. When they are wrong..they look right

Aug 26, 2014 11:21 PM #10
Rob Ernst
Certified Structure Inspector - Reno, NV
Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor

The DIY installs are usually pretty bad but when your having this installed by the builder you would hope someone read the directions. I wish the manufactures would include the fasteners. When I see them installed with drywall screws or no fasteners through the metal brackets I won't climb on them. 

Aug 26, 2014 11:31 PM #11
Suzanne Otto
Six Twenty Designs - Lansdale, PA
Your Montgomery County PA home stager

I remember in the house we grew up in, we had one of those ladders. I HATED going up that thing because it always felt like it would fall apart. Seems like these people should have the same fear.

Aug 26, 2014 11:31 PM #12
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jay, I really really really don't like pull down ladders---they almost always go to spaces nobody should be going to anyway.  Attics are for insulation.  If they are big enough for something more, then put in actual stairs and finish it off like any normal part of the house.

Aug 26, 2014 11:33 PM #13
Sybil Campbell
Long and Foster REALTORS® 5234 Monticello Ave Williamsburg, Virginia - Williamsburg, VA
REALTOR® ABR, SFR, SRES Williamsburg, Virginia

Jay, I had a client in another state who sued her builder and won because the attic access ladder was not installed correctly.

Aug 27, 2014 12:32 AM #14
Stephen Weakley
Nationwide Mortgage Services - Rockville, MD


Thanks again for the post.

I guess I will be visiting my attic this evening to verify my attic ladder install.

Aug 27, 2014 01:23 AM #15
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtor, Philly Main Line

Always tell clients of new construction to get inspections.

Aug 27, 2014 01:30 AM #16
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Always seeing the bright side S&D!  At least somebody benefits!

Well said Joe!

Richie - in this case the writer of the test question wanted it to be chosen!

Rob - in this case the 7-11 construction crew does not read.

Suzanne - I went up a very old one once and the ladder tread broke!

Aug 27, 2014 03:08 AM #17
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Charlie - the newer, metal ones are pretty good.  In this case my client wanted that space, with a totally finished floor, for storage.  She admitted she would never use the ladder though!

Sybil - that one must have been just as cute as this one!  Nailed into air!

Stephen - the installation is very important.  They have instructions and rules for a reason!

N&T - a very good practice indeed.

Aug 27, 2014 03:10 AM #18
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

See that way too often. 

To answer your question, yes, air is a good holder, it holds moisture. Balloons hold air. Does that count?

Aug 27, 2014 03:55 AM #19
Barbara Altieri
Kinard Realty Group - RealtyQuest Team, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale

Jay -- OMG, look at those nails!    I came across very dangerous looking stairs a few weeks ago.  I wouldn't step foot on those stairs.  I was afraid to put them back into place. Called the listing agent and told him so no one else pulled the stairs down. I could only envision the whole unit falling down onto someone.  Glad it wasn't me! 

Aug 27, 2014 08:37 AM #20
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

That is something I was not aware of.  Boy that looks very dangerous and it seems someone could really get hurt.

Aug 27, 2014 01:48 PM #21
Bill Reddington
Re/max Southern Realty - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

This looks pretty scary. Don't think my 225 lbs are going to make it up this ladder. I think screws are the only way.

Aug 27, 2014 02:16 PM #22
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Jay, in seller's market, buyers don't bother much about the ladders - even though we believe it's not right.

Aug 27, 2014 02:42 PM #23
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667 (MT), 914-419-0270 (NY), Broker in NY with Grand Lux Realty and in MT with (coming soon!) - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

Oh dear - I have noticed a lot of problems with attic ladders in a lot of homes. They are often dangerous.

Aug 27, 2014 09:00 PM #24
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jay, That is referred to as air nailer, very functional ;) But seriously I wonder if these guys ever read the install directions.

Aug 28, 2014 12:54 AM #25
Christopher Lotte
Red 1 Realty - Lithopolis, OH
Central Ohio Realtor, 614-390-9243

Hey there  ,

I find it quite funny though, well that must have invisible something that holding unto it.

the builder must be a bit lazy for doing that.


Have a great day!


Aug 28, 2014 01:27 AM #26
Les & Sarah Oswald
Realty One Group - Eastvale, CA
Broker, Realtor and Investor

We need air to live, so please don't use air as a source of holder to install your attic ladder. The strength it needs to hold the ladder together might be diminishing from the air I need it to fill my lungs.

I wish builder and individuals alike took more pride in their workmanship.

Jay, thank you for teaching me what 16D. Now if someone asks me to purchase 16D...I know they are not asking for 16 D batteries.

Aug 28, 2014 01:35 AM #27
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Jim - I see that air holds clouds and kites too!  So, silly me for thinking untoward things about this ladder.  I bad.  Better next time, I promise!

Barbara - it's an epidemic worse than ebola.  Beware!

Joan - keep reading home inspector posts and you will see lots of new things!

Bill - the right ones, of course.

Praful - they'll think about them if they are dangerous!  The problem is that people often don't know the dangers.



Aug 28, 2014 07:46 AM #28
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Kat - that they are, and if realtors notice it's a sure bet that someone else has too!

Don - they are often stuck to the ladder!

Christopher - I blame the whole lot - laziness and ignorance.

Great Sarah!  They are also referred to as 16 Penny.  So if you hear that you know what it means.

Aug 28, 2014 07:49 AM #29
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Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
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