Sunday, April 21, 2013

Replacing the cord on pull-down attic stairs

This might not seem like a very important topic for you, but it might become a bit more front-and-center-of-your-attention if your pull cord suddenly snaps like mine did yesterday.
See how this man's right hand is pulling the cord that dangled from the underside of the stairs in this screengrab from a This Old House DIY webpage?  A similar common style of attic-access staircase was installed in our house by our builder. 
Before yesterday, I never really realized how flimsy that pull-down cord was.  Really, it's not much thicker than a piece of string or a window blind cord.  And it snapped as I was lowering the stairs.  Our house is just over 3 years old and we don't access the attic very much, so there wasn't that much wear and tear on this before it failed. 
Fortunately in my case, I was able to grab the edge of the stairs and pull them the rest of the way down by hand.  If instead the string had broken while they were still well above my head, they would have slammed back up into their ceiling frame and then I would have been looking at a more difficult situation.

The side-springs on these particular stairs are very tight, and the stair unit sits flush with the frame.  If it had slammed shut without a pull cord in place, I would have had to climb up there and try to wedge something into the crack to pry them loose.  Or maybe I would have had to screw on a solid gripper handle while they were still up in the ceiling, which would have been a pain. 
So my advice here is - check your pull cord, and if it's flimsy, you might want to replace it proactively with something heavier so that you can potentially avoid this snapping scenario.
I drilled out a larger hole for a better cord. 
This is a piece of mooring line intended for a small sailing dinghy such as a little Sunfish, perhaps.  I ran the line through and tied a bowline around a metal washer to keep it from pulling back out.   
If you don't know how to tie a bowline, it's worth learning because they never slip and yet at the same time, you can loosen them easily.
On the grab portion of the cord, I cut a section of my old split garden hose to use as a more comfortable hand-hold. 
Given that I was forced to do this maintenance on our pull-down stair unit, I scanned the internet in order to see whether there was anything else stair-related for which I ought to be on the lookout while I was at it.  I did find references to a class-action lawsuit (e.g., here and here) that alleged premature hinge failure.  Our stairs do not appear to be of the age referenced by those actions, but I'll be eyeballing our hinge from time to time anyway, just in case, because a failure of that type had never occurred to me as a possibility. 

Yet another minor mishap transmuted into an equally-minor missive of the blogging variety. 

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