Many houses have a hatch in the ceiling that provides access to the roof space for servicing water cisterns and maintaining the roof structure. Should your house have a large roof space without access, installing a hatch could provide you with extra room for storage. Although the procedure is basically straightforward, it does entail cutting away part of the roof structure.
Access to the roof space is safer and more convenient if you install a folding loft ladder. Some are complete with built-in hatch cover, frame and fittings, ready to install in a new opening. Normally, the length of the ladders suits ceiling heights of 2.3 and 2.5m (7ft 6in and 8ft 3in), although some can extend to 2.9 to 3m (9ft 6in to 10ft).
To fix a concertina ladder, screw the fixing brackets of the ladder to the framework of the opening. Fit the retaining hook to the framework to hold the ladder in the stowed position. Operate the ladder with a pole that hooks over the bottom rail. Fit the hatch door to the frame with a continuous hinge and fix a push-to-release latch to the edge of the hatch door.
Ready-to-install folding ladder
Cut the opening and trim the joists to the size specified by the manufacturer. Insert the casing with built-in frame in the opening and screw it to the joists.
A concertina ladder is simple to install.
In older houses this is not a problem as the timbers are substantial. In modern houses, however, lightweight timber is used to make strong triangulated
trussed-roof structures. These are designed to carry the weight of the roof with each member playing an important part, so any alteration may weaken the structure. If your house is relatively new you should check with the company that built it, or with a local builder, that it is safe to proceed.
If you have a choice, site the hatch over a landing (although not too close to the stairs) so that lowering the access ladder will not cause disruption to the occupants, furniture or function of a room. Take into consideration the pitch of the roof, as you will need headroom above the hatch.
Making the opening
If you are planning to fit a special folding loft ladder, the size of the new opening will be specified by the manufacturer. In general, aim to cut no more than one ceiling joist: these are usually spaced 350mm (1ft 2in) apart.
Locate three joists by drilling pilot holes in the ceiling. Mark out a square for the opening between the two outer joists. Cut an inspection hole inside the marked area to check that there are no obstacles in the way of the cutting line. Saw through the ceiling plasterwork and strip it away.
Pass a light into the roof space and climb up into it between the joists. Lay a board across the joists to support yourself. Saw through the middle joist, cutting it back 50mm (2in) from each edge of the opening. Cut two new lengths of joist timber — called trimmers — to fit between the joists. Allow for a 12mm (1/2in) deep square housing at each end (1). Nail the housed joints, and the butt joints between the trimmers and joists. Use two 100mm (4in) round wire nails to secure each joint.
Nail the ceiling laths or plasterboard to the underside of the trimmers. Cut timber linings to cover the joists and the edges of the plaster. Make good the damaged edges of the plaster with filler. When set, nail mitred architrave moulding around the opening. Make a drop-in or hinged panel of 18mm (3/4in) plywood or blockboard. If you plan to use the loft mainly for storage, fix chipboard panels over the joists. Cut the panels beforehand to ensure they will pass through the opening.