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Installing Drop-down Stairs

Materials List
Folding stair kit
3-1/2” x 8 screws
2 inch x 6 inch lumber (or same width as existing joists)
1 inch x 4 inch wood
Tools List (click item to shop)
Screw gun
Reciprocating saw
Drill bits
Shop vacuum
Easy2 Home Improvement
Hanging Ceiling Drywall
Insulating an Unfinished Attic
Installing a Ridge Vent
Installing a Soffit Vent
Installing an Attic Fan
Plytanium for Roofs

IMPORTANT: Read this before you start


Who needs more storage space? We all do! You may have an untapped goldmine of storage space just over your head, but it is probably too impractical to access. Of course we are referring to your attic, which unfortunately has only a small access door through one of your closets. Every time you need to get into your attic you have to clear out the clothes in the closet and find a stepladder. Maybe it is time to consider a disappearing stairway and put the attic space to good use. (If your attic does not have any flooring, you will need to get ½” sheets of plywood to create a platform to put the space into use.)

Folding stair kits are available in widths of 25” to 30” and lengths of 54” to 60”. They generally come pre-assembled and ready to install into a roughed-in opening in your ceiling. They are easily finished with a casing around the edges and a few coats of paint. Then easy attic access is just a moment away.

To plan this project, scout out the best location for your new disappearing stairway. Select the room you want to install it in and make sure there is enough room for the stairs to unfold easily. Then you need to scope out the attic. You will want to install the new stairway parallel with your ceiling joists. This way you should only need to cut 1 joist length to create your rough opening. In the area you plan to cut the opening, check for any wiring that may need to be re-routed.

Skill Level & Time To Complete
• Beginner - 5 to 6 hours
• Intermediate - 4 to 5 hours
• Advanced - 3 to 4 hours


This project is not recommended if you have trusses or limited standing room in your attic.

Always wear eye protection when working with power tools and striking tools.

If you do not have a floor in your attic, be careful as you walk around up there. Lay a few short planks across the joists to give yourself a place to work and put your tools on.

When building the rough opening in your ceiling, be sure to double-up the headers on either end of the rough-in frame as explained in the steps below.

Common Mistakes
Using a hammer and nails to install the rough opening can cause your drywall to loosen or crack. Use a screw gun and long screws instead.

Helpful Tips
When cutting the drywall in your ceiling, put down a drop cloth and turn off your HVAC system. This will help control the dust.

1. Once you have selected the ideal spot for your new stairs, pull back the insulation in your floor to expose the area for the rough opening. You will build the entire rough-in frame before cutting the ceiling drywall. That way you can use the rough frame to guide your saw.

Determine the final rough opening size you will need for the stair kit. This should be about ½” longer and ½” wider than the stair frame so that you will have ¼” all the way around the stair frame. Add the thickness of four ceiling joists to your length dimension. (We reference 2” x 6” ceiling joists in this tutorial, but your joists may be 2” x 8”.) “Two-by” boards are usually 1 ½” thick, so you will probably being adding 6” to your length dimension; 4 times 1 ½” equals 6”.

Using this dimension, mark the joist you need to cut in the position you want the stairway opening. Use a square to mark the height of the joist for cutting. Using a reciprocating saw, cut through the joist in both places. Pull out the joist piece you have cut free. Do not stand on the cut joists.

3. Measure the distance between the 2 joists on either side of the joist you cut. Cut four 2” x 6”s (or 2” x 8”s depending on your joists) to this length. These will be your headers. Position the first headers perpendicular to the joists and up against the ends of the joist you cut. Use a square to make sure all corners are 90 degrees. Use a screw gun and put 3 (3-1/2” x 8) screws into all joists that touch the headers.
4. Place the second header set flat against the first headers. Screw these to the perpendicular joists. Also, put a few screws through the second headers into the first headers.
5. Using 1 of the existing joists as 1 side of your rough-in opening, measure the width required for your final rough opening. Cut a 2”x 6” (or 2” x 8”) to form the other side of the opening. Again use a square to make sure all corners are 90 degrees. Use lag bolts to screw this short joist in place.
6. Using the rough-in frame as a guide, cut the drywall out of the rough opening with a reciprocating saw.
7. From the room underneath your drop-in stairs, use drywall screws to fasten all edges of the drywall to the rough opening frame.
8. Using strips of 1” x 4” wood, screw in ledgers on both ends of the opening on the face of the ceiling. These will support the stair kit while you screw it in place. Get a helper and lift the stair kit through the opening and rest it on the supports
9. Using shims, position the stair kit in the middle of the opening and screw it to your rough-in frame. Once the stair kit is securely fastened, remove the support strips from the ceiling.

The ladder portion of the new stairway is probably longer than required. Determine the correct length of the ladder to reach from the ceiling to the floor. Trim the ladder stringers. Angle the cut so the ladder sits squarely on the floor.

You are now ready to add a molding around the perimeter of the stair kit and give it a few coats of paint to make it blend into your ceiling.



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