Attic Pull-Down Ladders

Attic pull-down ladders, also called attic pull-down stairways, are collapsible ladders that are permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics without being required to carry a portable ladder.

Common Defects

Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pull-down ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common defective conditions observed by inspectors include:

  • cut bottom cord of structural truss. Often, homeowners will cut through a structural member in the field while installing a pull-down ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be modified in the field without an engineer’s approval;
  • fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall or deck screws rather than the standard 16d penny nails or ¼” x 3” lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and they may not support pull-down ladders;
  • fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they probably do this for a good reason. Inspectors should be wary of “place nail here” notices that are nowhere near any nails;
  • lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are not likely to be weather-stripped and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into the home, which may cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  • loose mounting bolts. This condition is more often caused by age rather than installation, although improper installation will hasten the loosening process;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too short. Stairs should reach the floor;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can cause breakage;
  • improper or missing fasteners;
  • compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage;
  • attic ladder frame is not properly secured to the ceiling opening;
  • closed ladder is covered with debris, such as blown insulation or roofing material shed during roof work. Inspectors can place a sheet on the floor beneath the ladder to catch whatever debris may fall onto the floor;
  • and cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.

In sliding pull-down ladders, there is a potential for the ladder to slide down quickly without notice. Always pull the ladder down slowly and cautiously.

Tips for homeowners

  • Do not allow children to enter the attic through an attic access. The lanyard attached to the attic stairs should be short enough that children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic ladder so that a key or combination is required to access it.
  • If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While properly installed stairways may safely support an adult man, they might fail if he is carrying, for instance, a bag full of bowling balls. Such trips can be split up to reduce the weight load.
  • Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. Newer aluminum models are often lightweight, sturdy and easy to install.

In summary, attic pull-down ladders are prone to a number of defects, most of which are due to improper installation. Source: InterNACHI.

Chinese Drywall

During Florida’s housing boom of the mid-2000s and after Hurricane Katrina created a shortage of building supplies, contaminated drywall imported from China was commonly used in new homes and in hurricane restoration. Builders were unaware of the potential problems that would arise from the use of this drywall that had been manufactured overseas without quality control.

coilsOver time, inspectors noticed a blackening of copper electrical writing and AC evaporator coils (see photo) due to the release of sulfur gases that have the potential to sicken the people who live in homes with Chinese drywall. Health issues may include headaches, nose bleeds, eye irritation, or breathing problems (though there are many other possible causes of these health issues).

According to the experts, “Chinese companies use unrefined “fly ash,” a coal residue found in smokestacks in coal-fired power plants in their manufacturing process. Fly ash contains strontium sulfide, a toxic substance commonly found in fireworks. In hot and wet environments, this substance can off-gas into hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, and carbonyl sulfide and contaminate a home’s air supply.” Source: InterNACHI

On every inspection, we look for tell-tell signs of metal corrosion and can advise the homeowner of their options. There is no remediation other than replacement, which can be expensive. The value of the home, potential health problems, and the cost of replacement are all “must know” concerns. If you suspect your home may be contaminated, it’s important to have the residence undergo a Chinese Drywall Inspection by a licensed home inspector as soon as possible.

More information can be found at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

The Ideal Home Inspection

In most cases, Florida and the FHA do not require a home inspection. But a home inspection is encouraged and most buyers want them. So, how can a seller prepare for inspection day?

checklist-2470549_1920The ideal home home inspection goes like this:

  • The seller is not at home during the inspection.
  • The buyer is on time for the appointment.
  • The home inspector is on time and has all the tools needed.
  • If the house is vacant, the utilities are turned on.
  • The house is spotless and all personal items are secured or tucked out of sight.
  • Pets are crated or removed from the house; bird cages are covered.
  • Lighting is in working order throughout, including attics, garages, and closets.
  • Appliances are all in working order; pilot lights are lit.
  • Washer/dryers and dishwashers are empty and dryer filters clean.
  • Ovens and microwaves are clean and in working order; stovetops spotless.
  • Access to attic stairs, pulldown ladders, and crawlspace hatches are obvious and unobstructed. Workspace around furnaces and water heaters are clear of obstacles.
  • Air conditioning and heating units are in working order with original installation dates noted and a filter change schedule attached to the unit.
  • If septic system or water well, a location sketch is left on the kitchen counter.

Unfortunately, home inspections like this are rare. But they don’t have to be! When access areas requiring inspection are are locked or otherwise inaccessible, inspectors need to return to finish the job, slowing the sale and sometimes raising suspicions—even costing a sale!

Florida Rules for Home Inspections

new home 2841442_1920An appraisal is required as part of the home loan process in Florida, but lenders do not require a home inspection. But it’s highly recommended that you do.

HUD even requires FHA or VA applicants to sign a form acknowledging that they have been advised to get a home inspection for their own protection. But it’s not a condition of the sale or mortgage process that you do.

There’s one exception: if the property is being re-sold less than 90 days after being refurbished (flipped), and the price is more than 20% higher the what the flipper paid for it. Appraisals on flipped homes are more thorough than those in a conventional transaction; using an experienced inspector with a reputation for thorough inspections is the way to go.

If it is spelled out in the contract that a home inspection is required, the loan underwriter will review the home inspection report before processing the loan, and all deficiencies noted in the home inspection must be cleared and reinspected prior to closing.

An FHA appraiser is required to check the home more thoroughly that is typically required in a conventional transaction. Some people refer to this appraisal as an inspection, but it is not a full home inspection.

While the FHA does not require a third-party home inspection, the Appraiser is required to note “health and safety” issues. The identified issues will need to be addressed in order to close escrow. In this case, use a home inspector certified in indoor air quality testing. These inspectors have the proper equipment to inspect issues with temperature, humidity, ventilation, mold from water damage, exposure to chemicals and the like.

Learn more at the National Association of Realtors’ House Logic