Never waste space that could available for storage, even if you have to create your own attic access to make storage space usable.
Dana of the blog House*Tweaking found herself missing out on attic storage space after a remodeling project ate up what had been her fixer-upper’s original attic access. We asked her to take us through the steps of installing an attic door and ladder. That’s what we have here, along with some very clever ideas on how to keep her attic storage space organized.
The photo above probably appears to show your everyday run-of-the-mill hallway. But what if I told you it holds one of the biggest secrets for keeping our modest home clutter free?
Let me explain.
Over two years ago my family of five downsized to this house. It was dirty, outdated and had been neglected for a long time. But the price and location were right, and we could see the potential, so we snatched it up. During renovation, we removed walls and vaulted the ceiling to create an open main living area. This gave us the light and airy feeling we desired but ate up precious attic space.
Before the remodel, the entire attic was accessible via a pull-down door in the garage on the opposite side of the house. After the remodel, the attic itself was smaller plus access to space above the bedrooms and bathrooms was nonexistent (the new ceiling cut off access to the attic space above the bedrooms and bathrooms). Closet space was limited, so we decided to tap into the wasted space overhead.
In this hallway, we carefully cut a hole in the plaster ceiling and framed out a jamb for an attic door. We added a super functional telescopic ladder, threw some junk up there, then lived with a gaping hole in the ceiling for nearly two years. We finally grew tired of The Black Hole in our hallway. It wasn’t efficient by any definition of the word. We were paying to heat and cool our attic, and we avoided going up there at all costs, which meant it was completely disorganized and under-used. It was time for an attic door and some attic organization.
We removed the ladder, and in the photo above you’ll see how we notched out the plaster ceiling and screwed in two wood blocks on which to mount hinges for a flush-closing door.
We made a template out of foam board for the door then cut a piece of furniture-grade plywood to size. Furniture-grade plywood is less likely to warp than standard plywood.
We attached the door using two non-mortise hinges. The non-mortise hinges allow the door to close flush with the ceiling, giving it a more appealing aesthetic with the hallway.
To keep the door from swinging through to the attic, we installed door-stop trim around the jamb. We added self-adhering weather-seal tape to the underside (door side) of the door stop to insulate the opening and increase energy efficiency.
A pair of adjustable springs prevents the door from opening too quickly.
Below you’ll see the four heavy duty magnets we added to secure the attic door in the closed position. We also attached a simple handle to pull the door open.
With the door in place, we re-hung the ladder, added trim leftover from renovations, then painted the door and trim to match the ceiling in the hallway.
The white hinges and white handle blend in seamlessly.
The new attic access is barely noticeable! It’s so much better than The Black Hole we had before.
The attic door’s handle is easily reached with a pole (which came included with the telescopic ladder) to pull the door open and pull the ladder down. When not in use, the pole is stored in the closet at the end of the hallway.
Yay for creating attic access where once there was none!
Here is a roundup of the items we used to create our attic access:
5. White pull
Next up was organization.
I divided the attic into zones. I mapped out the zones on a dry erase board that I DIY’d from a 2′ x 4′ sheet of marker board. (Did you know The Home Depot sells easy-to-handle, easy-to-cut, pre-made marker and chalk boards?! I had no idea.) I simply cut the board to my desired size, finished it off with a washi tape border, then attached it to the attic side of the attic door with adhesive strips. Using a dry erase marker, I labeled the various zones.
The attic “map” makes it easy to figure out where a stored item is and where a needs-to-be stored item should go. Because the marker board is erasable, I can relabel or switch up the zones if or when necessary. (Tip: The Home Depot sells its own version of a magic eraser and, by far, it works better than standard dry erasers on marker boards.) By hanging the board on the backside of the attic door, it’s within view but doesn’t take up precious space.
From there, I broke the zones down further into individual, labeled totes. I call it micro-organizing.
For instance, the Christmas decor zone includes totes that hold lights, ornaments, Christmas books and wrapping paper.
The linen zone includes totes housing seasonal comforters, extra pillows for guests and decorative throw pillows not in use. (I have a thing for throw pillows.)
Truth be told, we edited a ton when we downsized so we don’t have a huge amount of stuff in the attic but every bit of organization helps! Also, I can’t wait to label closet contents now.
Here is a roundup of the items I used to organize our attic:
2. Marker board
3. Easy eraser
4. Label maker
Here are a few tips for creating an easy-to-use attic in your own home:
- Functional and safe access is key! If you don’t have it, you’re less likely to tap into hidden storage potential overhead. Personally, I prefer telescopic ladders over accordion-like, folding ladders and stand alone doors over doors with attached ladders. They are easier to use and less noisy.
- Install lighting in the attic. It doesn’t have to be anything special. A lone lightbulb will suffice. Just be sure to locate the on/off switch as close to the attic opening as possible. You don’t want to be rummaging around in the dark searching for the switch. In our attic, we have two lights powered by a single switch just inside the attic door.
- Add carpet to slide storage totes around. Again, this doesn’t have to be anything special. Carpet remnants will work fine. In our attic, we put down secondhand carpeting that some relatives ripped out of their fixer upper. It’s blue (yikes!) but in good condition. There is no standing room in our attic so we have to bend over or crawl around to move. The carpet makes sliding the totes around easier and quieter.
- Divide your attic into zones and create a “map.” Display it somewhere you will see it when entering the attic. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple sketch stapled to a truss would suit the purpose.
- Utilize labeled totes. Storage totes protect their contents from dust, debris, moisture, insects and rodents. Labels keep you from opening several totes just to find one item. Measure before heading out to the store for totes! You don’t want to end up with a slew of totes that won’t fit through your attic access.
Here’s a peek at our newly organized attic. It isn’t pretty, but it is organized, and that’s all that really matters in an attic space.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a before & after of our hallway…
It doesn’t look like much but this project resulted in efficient use of previously wasted overhead space and it has had a domino effect on our entire home. That’s not to mention, we’re no longer paying to heat and cool our attic. Our new attic access and organization allow us to keep the rest of our home clutter-free and that makes us very happy.
Browse our Storage and Organization Department for everything you need to get your home organized.
Dana received a Home Depot gift card, but received no other form of compensation. The ideas and opinions she expressed are her own.