Where would I put new stairs for attic?

joslin99October 27, 2011

We have a foursquare home built in 1900 and it seems like we have the space to add stairs and finish our attic. I am just spitballing since this may not make financial sense, but I thought I'd ask around- where/how/what type of new (not spiral staircase) stairs can I put in without changing my roofline?

I have a single dormer under which I may be able to put a landing and then have you turn 90deg. and go up 3ish steps to the attic and be in full headspace under the hip. I just can't figure out where and how to do the ten steps from the second floor to that dormer landing.

here is my house:

You walk in the front door and to your immediate right is 3 steps up to landing, 90deg left turn, 5 steps up, 90deg. left, 5 steps up. I guess this would be a U shape.

Upstairs you end in a hallway and a foot to your left is a 5 x 5 landing with a 2 x 2 linen closet on one end of it seemingly just hanging above the stairs. I think the linen closet is a place holder for attic stairs, given the economic use of space in the whole house.

this is the landing, this window is below and left of the dormer.

I found these inspiration pictures of a home for sale nearby, that is basically identical but there are no pics that give me an indication of where the steps are, other than the point of view of the pictures.

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Without knowing more, and just judging from what I see in your photos, it seems taking out that wall drawer/closet would be the most natural area to create the stairway to the 3rd level.

Our home, which seems to be a 4 Square, has the walk up in a small 3rd bedroom on our 2nd level, which essentially is in the same area as your landing on the 2nd level. Not quite the same configuration as yours I think (ours is a 2 level Craftsman so there are probably some differences). In fact, I'm not even so sure that our 3rd bedroom was originally a bedroom - I suspect that it actually was a landing area due to it's small size and odd configuration.

In other words, may not have been a 4 square at all.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 8:27PM
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Joslin, your foursquare is a bit smaller than mine it seems, which was built in 1908; if you check out my house pics, you can see the entrance to my attic stairs to the right of my bath in the upstairs hall. My house has a straight run of eleven steps, then a landing with five more steps at a 90 degree angle up to the second floor.

My attic stairs start between the upper part of the main stair and the wall of the bath--going up about eight steps to a landing, then doubling back for another eight steps to the attic floor--this places the upper half directly over the upper part of my main stairs. So, my main stairs are shaped like an upside down 'L', and my attic ones like 'll' sharing a single handrail between them from the landing.

My house has three dormers, and the stairs come up in one to the right in the exterior picture--with that dormer, the ceiling height in the attic landing is about ten feet. :) My other two dormers are normal with a height of six feet.

If your linen drawers are to the left of your hall, what is to the right?

Here is a link that might be useful: House Pics At Last

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 11:09PM
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Here are drawings of my layout--since my description might be confusing. :)

The attic landing obviously (I hope) overlays that of the main stairs as well as part of its own space.

Hope this may give you some ideas!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 12:09AM
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Thanks so much for the input. I think that the main, original square of our house is something like 1300-1500sq.ft. so definitely on the small side were it not for the various additions. That must be the reason for the U shaped stairs.

To the right in my picture of the landing is the a bedroom, with the attic dormer being almost exactly above the main upstairs wall that divides the house.

The more I think about this the more confused I get. There is no obvious or linear way to have stairs end under that dormer, I will definitely have to do some measuring.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 10:51AM
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One house I looked at when hunting was another foursquare (they are plentiful in my neighborhood), and the stairs up to the attic there as I recall started from a landing a couple steps up like your main ones, but the second leg was a straight shot along the wall to the attic floor--no dormer, and you had to duck a bit at the top, but it worked. I think the stairs started in a bedroom from what I can recall.

The circa 1880 victorian I lived in for six months before buying had a similar set up for its attic stairs, but they came up near the center of the attic space, since the longer part of the run was over the main upper stairs.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 12:58PM
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The staircase & layout looks a lot like a foursquare that I rented years ago except mine was possibly larger but without an attic access. Attached to the landing (possibly where your linen closet is?) was a back stair well that went to the kitchen/hall. I can't tell if yours does or not but it seems to be the logical place to consider entry to the attic.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 2:49PM
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Joslin, I think your assumption that the stairs have to end at the dormer is the flaw here.

We have a back staircase that goes to an attic space that has no dormer - it's a small Victorian with a peaked roof. The stairs enter the attic from the side, so if you looked at it in cross section, the stairs and the roof are parallel. THat is why you can go up them without hitting your head at any point. The stairs emerge into the attic about 3 feet in from the shoulder wall. It will take me some time to do a sketch and or some photos, but I'll work on that.

The tall part of the staircase is right along the outside wall. When you would hit your head, the stairs turn toward the centre of the house and emerge in the taller part of the attic.

Hope that helps to break the logjam a little till I get some photos.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 12:23PM
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I think you are right! Last night I was up there thinking that exact thing. The dormer is getting me stuck, I realized that the stairs should start in the linen closet and go along the back wall parallel to the roof (as you karin1 said)and then turn left to end up in reasonable head space in the attic.

While in my mind, it makes my current stair well kind of "tunnel-y" compared to what it is now (2 stories open shaft) from looking at pictures it seems that this may be the norm.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 2:55PM
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Joslin, tunnelly main stairs are pretty common, especially for upper legs. My upper main stair has headroom of about 6.5 feet, while the landing on the main stair has barely 6 feet--the landing is about 3 feet square or so. There is plenty of headroom on the lower part of the stairs, but from the landing on up, you can't move big pieces of furniture easily--we had to move a box spring through a window above the porch roof!

My own bed (circa 1875) takes a double mattress--but luckily it came with the original springs, which folded in half--pretty clever of them to anticipate narrow space for moving in the old days!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 5:13PM
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I started trying to sketch up our layout but did an image search in the meantime for "stairs to attic" and found this photo that looks way better and shows what I mean about how the stairs can enter the attic. This is what mine SHOULD look like :-)

The other way to imagine it is by looking at photos of "retractable attic stairs - some come up when you do the above search. These consist pretty much of a ladder that lays on the floor of the attic and is dropped down through the ceiling. That might help you imagine where to put a staircase and where it would go.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: Looks better than mine!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 11:43AM
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There's a LOT more ceiling room in your inspiration pics than you are going to have in your space, especially after you take care of the needed insulation. Also, the stair access will have to be built to modern codes, which take more room than the typical stairs in older homes. A third floor suite isn't undoable, but with a hip roof and modern head height and insulation requirments, it will most likely require more dormers. It might be easier and cheaper to just tear off the roof and reframe the whole space to a real third floor.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 4:15PM
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Taking pictures upstairs will require some tidying first, but here is a photo of how the stairs go through the kitchen ceiling. The stairs run parallel to the wallpapered wall, behind it, and turn at a landing to go up the short run you see here. The roof at this point is parallel with this run of stairs.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 3:37PM
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