1890s home+no attic access =problem

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Old 01-08-12, 07:51 PM
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1890s home+no attic access =problem

The background: My husband and I paid cash for our first house this past summer. The house was originally built in 1890. When we bought it, it was missing plumbing, electricity, and some walls. Since then, we have dealt with the most pressing issues, and are starting to turn our attention to the attic. At inspection, we knew there was no attic access; it was in the report. Since it's very cold this winter in our upstairs, I would like to get some installation up there!

The question: how do we create that access without cutting through an electricity line, or something? We are fairly new home improvers, and are somewhat daunted by this. On the other hand, I'd like to tackle this ourselves if at all possible.

Suggestions, advice? Thanks!
 
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Old 01-08-12, 08:30 PM
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Congrats on paying cash for your new digs. Must be very nice not to have a mortgage payment.

Regarding attic access, I'd suggest you make sure there are no openings hidden somewhere, as in a closet ceiling. And then consider gaining access by means of any attic ventilation vents that might be present, usually a grill-type thing in a gable end of the roof. In view of its age, the house was probably wired for electricity sometime after its initial construction, meaning there has to be some way to get into and out of the attic if the ceilings under the attic have any light fixtures installed on them.

If the foregoing offers no obvious answers, you might plan on opening up an access in a closet ceiling. Preferably not in a direct line between a wall switch and a ceiling light fixture, and preferably away from exterior walls such that you will have some headroom in the attic once you break through. Your walls and ceilings are more than likely to be lath and plaster, meaning you will have to carefully cut through both with a sawzall, while wearing heavy insulated gloves in the event you do cut a hot feed wire.

Might want to consider replacing all wiring with completely new service, meaning you'll be hiring a licensed electrician anyway--and give him the attic-access thing to deal with when he fishes your new wiring into place.
 
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Old 01-08-12, 08:43 PM
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Thanks! It's been a little hard cuz the house does need so much work, but we are learning a lot. we actually had all 3 types of wiring, cuz we are special. The electrician came and wired where he could reach, but not upstairs. Since all the closets are retrofitted, they don't have access either.

Is it okay to have attic access in a bedroom? Or is that weird? Do we just find a stud, poke a hole and hope for the best?
 
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Old 01-08-12, 09:51 PM
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The hole you poke will hopefully be between ceiling joists (studs are the things in the walls). You'll want a rectangular opening, oriented parallel to (and butted up to) the joists, to make entry and egress easier. If the joists are spaced at less than 24" on centers, you might want to consider constructing a few headers and doubling the adjacent joist(s), to make the opening at least 24" wide. Trying to squeeze a bunch of insulation, accompanied by a beer-belly, through a tiny opening, is not fun (don't ask me how I know!).
 
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Old 01-09-12, 01:19 AM
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If you have large enough gable vents you may want to remove one for temporary access to determine the best place for the permanent access opening. In one house the gable vent was actually hinged though for security reasons I don't recommend that. In another there was access but it had been wallpapered over.
 
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Old 01-24-12, 12:51 PM
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In my previous home (built in the 1950's) the access 'port' to the attic was in a closet (as suggested below). Taking the info suggested in the other posts, the only good suggestion I can make is to pick up a good stud finder. It'll help find the truses (be useful in your other tasks) and most have an live wire indicator. This is very useful for finding live wires on the cheap, and saving yourself from the shock.
 
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