By Gene and Katie Hamilton

We've installed two attic stairs in homes we've owned, and in both cases stretched their livability by making untapped space usable. The foldaway stairs, also called a pull-down folding attic ladder, made it easy to access otherwise difficult-to-reach areas and created plenty of open storage space.

The unit is a complete framed assembly with a folding, sectional ladder designed to be installed in a ceiling opening. That's the rub: you have to cut a rather large hole in the ceiling - not a job to be taken lightly. The unit is bolted into the rough opening, then trimmed with molding and painted for a finished look on the ceiling. Stair units are sold at home centers and lumberyards in a range of ceiling heights from 8 to 10 feet; there’s also a 12-foot model that’s designed for high ceilings, which you’ll find in some new and older homes.

This is a job that requires having a helper on hand. While someone is up in the attic opening muscling the stair unit in place, you need to have someone else in the room below standing on a ladder to adjust the unit in place.

While you'll save a whopping 66 percent by doing the job yourself, we suggest you hire a carpenter or contractor, who will charge $647 to install a good quality, three-section, 25-inch-wide unit for an 8 to 9 foot ceiling. This includes the labor and material. The job involves cutting through ceiling joists and reinforcing them with headers without destroying the integrity and strength of the joists - clearly a job for an experienced professional.

Consider your options for placing the stair with a carpenter who will inspect the ceiling joists and suggest the best location for the foldaway unit. Ideally, it should unfold into a room or hallway and be easily accessible. Schedule the inspection with the carpenter during the day so you'll have light in the attic. Have a ladder, flashlight and measuring tape handy.

That sums it up. Knowing the average cost to install attic stairs lets you compare doing it yourself with what you can expect to pay a contractor. To customize the cost to where you live add your ZIP Code in the cost box.

Cost updated 2014

Would you do this project?

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  • DIY34%
  • PRO66%