We left off with our nostalgic tour of the master bedroom "before" with a goal, a direction, and a sliver of progress. During our prep for the project we acquired the closet doors we had search for endlessly over the course of four years, and we had purchased a great looking antique rug off of eBay. We were headlong on our way to a huge project but we didn't really realize it. Why? Because our antique rug was distracting us due to it's extensive FILTH!!!

I'm not sure if any of you have ever purchased a large rug from eBay, but they sometimes seem to arrive as if someone had stored it in a sand or dirt pit. I'm talking stored in a barn and dirt falling out of them and getting left on the floor dirty. Of the eight rugs we've purchased from eBay that are layed throughout the house, an unbelievable amount of dirt has come along with the rug for at least three of them. Usually we can clean the rug well enough with shampooing and vacuuming, but for our master bedroom behemoth that wasn't going to cut it.

We ended up enlisting the help of Hadeed's, a local carpet cleaning service. They took the 100+ pound rug away and did an offsite clean before returning it in pristine condition. Money well spent. We also got such a great deal on the rug (about $400 including shipping), we felt an extra $140 was well worth it to know that we were walking on a clean rug in our bare feet.

While our rug was out getting cleaned, we kicked off our end of the major project. Our plan was simple but lengthy.

  • Strip all molding
  • Install pull down attic stairs
  • Get injured (optional but likely)
  • Fix the walls and ceiling
  • Install lighting
  • Build closets (a project in and of itself)
  • Restore windows
  • Mimic hallway door in bathroom door
  • Install crown molding
  • Paint
  • Purchase and install window treatments
  • Complete finishing touches

Simple, right? Well...easier said than done.

We started with what we knew best -- paint stripping. We applied Peel Away 7 around the baseboards and removed the window and door casings to strip them in the basement. To say it was a slog is an understatement. It felt like we were stripping for years!

We stripped, scraped, sanded, and stripped some more. When we felt like we couldn't strip any longer, we stripped some more. It was like the song that would never end, and it went on and on my friend.

We also ended up uncovering a significant amount of plaster damage under the windows. Unfortunately the weep holes were blocked in our old storm windows, and as a result, rain sat on the window sills and ultimately ran into the sash weight pockets. This ultimately ran down and into the area beneath the window sills and ruined the plaster. 

After scraping away the damaged plaster that was being held together by layers of paint, we were left with a rather disgusting mess, but one that also revealed many of the paint colors of the last 125 years.

When we had all of the cracked and failing plaster exposed, I had a "6 Million Dollar Man" moment. You know, "We have the technology...we can rebuild it!"

Once we had the molding stripped, window and door casings removed, and the project rolling right along, we decided to tackle a project that I had both dreamed about and dreaded for years. Attic stairs!

What we inherited with the house was an old attic hatch that required the need to haul and set up a the ladder every time we wanted to access our Halloween, Christmas, or Easter decorations, or if we needed to get into the attic to deal with the HVAC. In other words, we were in the attic often, so we left that ugly orange ladder in our room 24x7. I honestly don't know how Wendy managed. I mean, I totally know that Wendy is the most tolerant person in the world and probably didn't even notice the ladder or simply accepted why it was there...ok, I really don't know how she didn't kill me and have a nervous breakdown, in no particular order.

To resolve this I started looking around for a good set of pull down stairs that were minimal in size. I came across several different types, but one company in particular stuck out as a really reputable organization with a high quality product, Calvert USA.

Calvert has a high end set of metal telescoping stairs that I had my eye on. They were light weight, cool looking, and compacted down to a small area. I really wanted to take this approach but their $800 price tag was far too much. I mean, just look at how easy it is for this classmate of Jesse Spano and the rest of the Saved By the Bell kids from the early 1990s to operate it.

Instead, I started looking at a compact opening wood stair that they offered as well.

This wood stair was great for small openings, worked with our ceiling height, and was great from an insulation standpoint. We ordered these stairs and the add on styrofoam insulation piece that brings the stairs up to R-7 (which is much better than the single piece of uninsulated plywood we were using).

When I began to remove the old attic opening, I realized that the person who installed the opening who knows how long ago had simply cut back a ceiling joist and stuck in an unsupported piece of wood. The weight resting on this one joist was not being held by anything other than the plaster lath and furring strips of the drywall. It was shocking to say the least. To resolve this and ensure no catastrophes while installing these stairs or in the future, I built a small temporary wall perpendicular to the joists to support the cut joist.

With the temporary wall in place, I was able to make the opening the size it needed to be for the stairs, and I was also able to properly structure the opening to support and carry the load of the unsupported joist.

After I took the photo above and installed the stairs, I added two more cross lengths of 2" x 8" as well as some metal hangers to make sure it won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Probably overkill, but I was fine with that after what was there before.

After ten years of hard work, I'm almost at the point where I can stop being shocked by previous owner's and contractor's stupidity in this house...almost.

Our attic opening was cut and ready to go, so it was about time for me to have my single obligatory injury on this project. There are no photos of the event, so you'll need to imagine the scene from my articulate description.

I fell off the ladder.

Okay, okay, that may have been what happened, but here's the real story.

It was a cold February evening in 2009. The wind outside was whistling but Wendy and I were too busy to be bothered by the cold as we were working on our bedroom. Too much? I'll tone it down a bit.

Wendy and I were working to place the attic stair kit into the opening. The stair kit consists of two components; a frame for the opening, and a stair assembly that installs once the frame is in place. It's a great approach and reduces the overall load while installing, but it is by no means light. The frame still weighed about 60 pounds.

Since I constantly force Wendy to be my only helper on tasks that are more reasonably three person jobs, we're used to just making it work. In this case, the plan was for me to hoist the awkward stair frame and carry it up the ladder, walking with my back to the ladder and backwards up the rungs, while Wendy supported the frame from the bottom. In retrospect, it was stupid, unsafe, and reckless. But luckily I'm still alive to share my stupidity with you and tell you, "Don't ever do this!."

I lifted the attic ladder frame and began my ascent to place the frame into the attic. About three rungs up the ladder, I began to realize this was a poorly thought out plan. Being male, I opted to ignore the common sense that was running through my brain. Instead, I soldiered on. As I went to take my next step, with Wendy standing beneath the frame and pushing it along, I somehow stepped on the back of my pants leg. This threw my momentum completely off, forced me to tip to the side, and at that point (with everything moving in slow motion) I realized I was headed to the right, off of the ladder, and towards the ground...while holding a large 60 pound attic stair frame.

As I fell, Wendy somehow pushed the ladder box in an attempt to push it away from me. I absolutely give her credit for her efforts, an O for outstanding even, but if I were grading her on execution, I'd have to give her a C at best. Why? Because she inadvertently pushed the falling ladder directly on top of me. As you can imagine, this is a very hotly contested story to this day, but I can assure you my retelling is absolutely and 100% the accurate one, so don't listen to anything that Wendy says that might tell this story differently, even if she says that her actions actually saved my life.

Fortunately, I was able turn as I fell, landing on my back and sort of catching the falling stair frame on top of me about a half second after I hit the ground. Unfortunately for me, I fell back first onto a pile of tools and a box of drywall screws. When I got up my back was covered with little puncture wounds and a few small cuts that were bleeding onto my underwear.

Undeterred, I stupidly walked it off, picked up the ladder frame, and I got that bastard into the attic, and I did it without bodily harm. By the end of that hysterical day, we had ourselves a new attic pulldown hatch!

Installing the pulldown ladder and the additional insulation was pretty easy. I was able to take the ladder assembly into the attic and had Wendy close it from beneath. As she held it in place all I had to do was to place a few screws and the stairs were secure. The hardest part was probably cutting the wood legs to ensure proper height, but the manual had a step by step guide on how to properly measure and cut using an extra length of 2"x4" as a template. 

Once the ladder was in place I giddily opened and closed the hatch and ran up and down. It was so much fun. Trust me.

We opted to install the ladder in the orientation we did in order to maximize the possibility of getting larger items up and down from the attic. If we had changed it to go the other way, it would have been near impossible to actually get anything up and into the attic. That being said, the whole unit could be turned around rather easily if someone really wanted it the other way in the future. But this way works best for us and our purposes.

This small component to our much larger project solved an issue with our bedroom that was often overlooked, but glaringly obvious once we had the new solution. Having the ability to simply pull down a stair rather than setup a ladder makes the attic space of our house actually usable. It's only about three feet tall, but it's enough to store all of our Christmas, Halloween, and other misc decoration items that we don't constantly need. We were very limited in placement by the existing opening, HVAC, other joists, and our eventual closet location, so we made our situation work as best as possible. Even better, we can extend the stairs without moving a single piece of furniture.

Stay tuned next week for another installment in the look back at our master bedroom makeover. Until then, what do you think of my typical one injury per project approach to DIY? Is it about par for the course? It doesn't even need to be major, maybe just a really painful splinter, but I feel like a project isn't complete without at least one.

Comments 15


11/10/2012 at 9:22 AM
Blood in, blood out.
11/10/2012 at 5:14 PM
Ah yes, new attic stairs are in my near future. The 50 year old stairs we have just aren't cutting it anymore.

Also, my husband uses the "we have the technology" phrase often. It seems to come up a lot during home improvement projects.
"We have the technology." Hysterical! :-)
I don't know what it is that makes me love that saying so much. I think it just reminds me of watching that show with my grandparents. It's so fitting when trying to essentially rebuild an old house. And it's better than constantly calling it a money pit. :-)
Jenn in Portage
11/12/2012 at 10:16 AM
tetanus current? Please say "yes."
Current, yes, but only due to my "nagging." :-)
11/12/2012 at 10:59 AM
One injury per project? I am more likely around the 3 per project maek. At least they're usually minor, and always due to my own stupidity. This weekend I hit myself in the head with a tape measure...
Ouch! I hope it was a pocket sized tape measure! :-) So glad we're not the only ones that have renovating mishaps!
Karin K
11/12/2012 at 11:41 AM
Now everyone knows you like GAP underwear, just in case someone wants to get you a gift one day. Wouldn't it be hilarious to come home to find a gift bag of underwear on your stoop? Hahah Great post as always - you two definitely do everything right.
Karla aka Threadbndr
11/12/2012 at 12:55 PM
Ouch, Ouch. I've fallen off a ladder. Twice. The second time was just about 4 years ago. The first time was 30 years ago when I was in my 20s. It's a true fact that I don't bounce as well as I used to.

I feel very blessed that my attic is accessed behind a waist high builtin just off of the second floor landing. And you can almost stand up in the center of the peak. I just keep a small step stool just inside the attic hatch and it's just three steps up. My parent's house has a hatch that is so poorly placed (over a stair) that it's never used. Instead, they cut out little half height doors into the dead space under eaves and put down flooring in there to use as storage.
12/14/2012 at 2:25 PM
The picture with just the legs hanging from the ceiling is hilarious! Overall it seems like you did a great job and had fun while doing it! Thank You for sharing!
We did, scabs and all. :-) Thanks, Francesca!
10/18/2015 at 1:41 AM

I've just rented a house that has one of those 'ceiling trap-doors' for accessing the attic...and have made-up my mind to re-do it with a set of pull-down stairs. I've already poked my head up there to have a look, and lo-and-behold I have the same joist-issue that you had. I'm glad to have stumbled upon your blog, and have spent the now hours that I have perusing it, in order to have found this post.

I'm the consummate DIY-er and have all confidence that I can install those stairs by myself. However, I'm happy to have your examples and tips...from the temporary supporting frame to how not to scrape-up my back!

Loft Boarding Specialist
11/15/2021 at 2:20 AM

Thank you for the information. It's very useful.

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