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Create better access to attic storage area?

QuestionI need some advice about how to install doors in an attic storage area adjacent to an 18-foot by 20-foot family room over our garage. The 18-foot section has walls on each side that are about 4 1/2 feet high. Both walls have roughed-in openings installed by the builder that are about 22 inches wide and 4 feet high covered with particle board panels with trim. I would like to know the easiest way to install doors in place of the panels.

AnswerThere's no easy way around this project. It all comes down to how much work you want to do yourself.

The room's 18-foot-long sidewalls ("stub" or "pony" walls) are normally associated with stick-framed cathedral roof designs, not engineered trusses. It is this design which creates the open storage space with visible roof rafters.

Because this is a "bonus room" above a garage, your room's floor joists should be 2-by-12s or I-joists, necessary to achieve the required R-30 insulation in the floor. The 2-by-4 pony walls should be insulated to R-21. Normally, subfloor is installed over the entire flooring area in this type of design, making the attic space ready for storage.

Your existing 22-inch openings are not wide enough for easy access to storage areas. I recommend at least 30-inch finished openings, which may require new headers. Double 2-by-4s standing the 3 1/2-inch way will work for the headers. Support the headers with at least one framing member (trimmer) under each side, including one king stud nailed to each end of the headers.

To install hinged doors, you'll need to construct rough openings wide enough to accommodate each door's width and frame. For example, 30-inch doors require 32-inch rough openings.

Consider purchasing inexpensive pre-hung hollow-core doors. To make them fit the new openings, cut them off just above the top of the pre-bored handle holes for a 42-inch-high door. You may be able to purchase doors with three hinges so you won't have to relocate hinges. If you purchase doors with two hinges, you'll need to relocate the bottom hinges.

Because the doors are hollow, replug the bottoms of the doors with the bottom rails from the cut-off portions. Trim the plugs on a table saw so they fit between the veneers and the stiles visible in the cut openings of the doors. You may also have to push back the cardboard webbing in the same area.

Do not cut the doorframes until you know how high you want the doors to clear the finish floor. Normally you install a threshold under the bottom of the doors with clearance to about a quarter inch above the thickness of the room's floor covering. Cut the frame length so the legs rest directly on the subfloor. For reference, look at doors in your home to see how doorframes extend below the door.

In your case, the spaces under the new doors need to be filled to accommodate thresholds, act as stops for the bottoms of the doors to rest against, and leave a surface to attach weather stripping to and around the remaining doorstops on the inside frames of the doors.

I suggest two touch latches per door rather than handles. Adjust them carefully so when you push in on a door both catches release at the same time and the door springs open.

If you don't have a table saw, order pre-hung doors to fit your new finished rough opening, keeping in mind the clearance space needed at the bottom to clear the thickness of the floor covering in the room. If you opt for touch latches, be sure to order doors that are not pre-bored for handles.

Another option to consider would be to mount two drop-down stairs (attic folding ladders), one on each side, parallel to and dead center of the 18-foot pony walls and as close to the pony walls as possible. For this approach, you may want to hire a professional so this could get expensive.

Remember that you won't have much headroom at the top of the stairs, but you would have access from the garage and wouldn't have to move any furniture in the room to reach the access doors. I have a drop-down stair unit in my garage, and I love it.

Before you make any decisions, consider what you plan to store in this space. Depending on its size and bulk, it may be easier to carry items to be stored into the room and then into the storage space through the doors you initially asked about. Carrying something large and/or bulky up a drop-down ladder to the storage space could be a challenge. Only you can make this choice.

Good luck with your project!

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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