In the UK, a loft ladder is a permanently fixed flat section staircase that leads from inside your home to a boarded loft space.
It does not include a ladder for accessing a roof or an attic. Lofts are often converted into bedrooms and studies in order to maximize the amount of useable space within a house.
What are the benefits of following the regulations?
Building Regulations are there to ensure the safety of the people living in your home.
If you decide to build a loft ladder or stairs without following the regulations, you are not doing anything illegal per se, but if someone is injured due to poor design or construction then you may be held liable for their injuries under the law.
This would include any medical costs and, depending on severity, compensation that could be awarded against you.
On top of this, any compensation awarded is likely to come out of your own pocket as opposed to an insurance company which is where it belongs.
So even if no injury occurs, the cost of building work may outweigh any savings made by cutting corners or skipping stages. It’s always better safe than sorry!
How to install a loft ladder or loft stairs safely
The regulations for building loft stairs and ladders are set out in the Approved Document B (ADB). The standard requires that when fitting a permanent ladder or stair, all parts must be safely supported by substantial structural members.
It’s important to note that the board used to close off the upper landing when making conversions does not count as adequate support.
When deciding how your stairs or ladder will be fixed to your structure, you should consider what is below them so they won’t land on anyone underneath.
If you have good access to the floor joists supporting your upper-landing floorboards then this is an ideal place to support it. Most houses weren’t built with this in mind however but there are likely areas where you can fix them too.
You should also consider what will happen if there is a fire and how it will affect your escape route.
If you use a loft ladder and the attic space below is not sealed (boarded) then you should never store anything that could catch alight or produce toxic fumes as this poses a serious fire hazard.
The different types of loft ladders and stairs available on the market
There are three different types of loft stairs currently available on the market, they are A permanent solid central ladder with a secondary platform or stringers used as steps.
A folding ladder is designed to be clipped onto primary boarding to form the upper and lower strings/staircase.
Turned hardwood treads nailed together vertically to make a freestanding staircase, which is suitable for lofts with open spaces only.
If you can’t find a legal solution then you should consider other options such as a fold-away stepladder or another type of temporary access that does not involve altering your structure in any way.
The first two options both require a code of practice compliant hatch fitted below the completed stairway, or another pre-existing one.
How to choose the right ladder or stairs for your home
There are a few things to consider before installing your ladder or stairs, for example, some loft conversions may have the headroom reduced by having eaves added which could limit some options.
You should check with whoever is doing the conversion before purchasing one of these items otherwise it may be rendered useless.
Installation tips and advice
Remember that you should never use a loft ladder as a permanent escape route from your house in the event of a fire.
If you have to evacuate it’s important that ladders are kept at least 1 meter away from combustible materials such as insulation and Loft boarding or floorboards.
The best place for a loft hatch is generally on an external wall so this will enable better access with ladders and also provide alternative escape routes in case of emergency.
The size of the hatch depends on what’s above it so if you’re going to be accessing your equipment directly then it must be big enough to fit through comfortably.
If you’ll be using secondary means such as a stepladder then make sure there’s plenty of room for them too.