Attic Staircase Addition
Five years previously, this client had this home custom built for his family. The large footprint and steep rooflines left an attic that could have been a third floor. His only regret was not designing a permanent set of steps to this attic. The only access to the space was through a standard-size disappearing stairway in the laundry room. To make amends for this regret, he brought to us the design challenge of retrofitting a set of site-built stairs from the second floor to the attic. The first obstacle was the layout. Making room for a staircase is hard enough when designing from scratch, and there were moments in the design process where it seemed like it was not going to be possible. After all of the "thou-shalt-nots" of the code book were satisfied, one solution remained. We entered the staircase from the second floor landing, borrowed a closet and some floor space from a bedroom (relocating the closet under new stairway), and then turned the staircase 90 degrees so we exited the staircase with sufficient headroom under the ridgeline of one of the gables on the front of the house. The second obstacle was engineering. Installing a permanent set of steps effectively made the house a three-story building, and the codes for a three-story building are not the same as the codes for a two-story building. We hired a structural engineer to ensure the attic floor met the requirements for residential loading, and the first floor was strong enough to hold the second floor plus a whole attic full of stored items. To make the attic more useful, we installed additional floor sheathing in the attic, and relocated a couple of HVAC lines that were in the main pathway. To keep it safe, and to comply with the building code, we installed a guardrail around the stairwell in the attic. Since the attic space was not conditioned we installed an insulated door complete with weather stripping at the base of the stairs. We have not been back to see how many elephants he is keeping in the attic, but we know he is very pleased with his new staircase.