There are a few reasons why you might want to make your attic door less obvious to the casual viewer. Maybe the goal is to eliminate the dangling cord or to simply remove an eyesore. Attic access doors are usually installed between the trusses (or ceiling joists), but they can be enlarged if storing large items in an attic. Today, we will discuss the most common methods the pros use to hide or disguise an attic door in a ceiling.
Do I Have an Attic Door or a Scuttle Attic?
Generally speaking, an attic door will be about two feet wide and four feet long with a folding ladder mounted to the door. An attic door is commonly found in a hallway and opens directly into the attic. In older homes, attic access may be accomplished through a scuttle door located in a hallway or closet. Scuttle doors are usually about two feet by two feet and do not include a ladder. Scuttle doors are often made from plywood and typically are held in place by trim.
How Do I Hide Or Disguise My Attic Door?
The goal is usually to blend the door into the environment so it is not so obvious. Because most ceilings are smooth and flat, sometimes this can be a challenge. The most common method of disguising an attic door is to add decorative panels, like acoustic ceiling accent tiles to the ceiling to create a pattern. Special recessed attic doors can also be used, which eliminate the dangling pull cord and trim normally required.
Typically, you can either camouflage the door to draw eyes away or draw attention to the door by decorating it.The most important thing to remember is to not negatively affect the operation of the door, nor add significant weight. The springs on the door are designed for its weight only, and adding significant weight can cause the door to fall open unexpectedly. Here will will suggest a few ways to disguise or hide your attic door and why they are used:
Create a Visual Pattern
Likely the most commonly used method to disguise an attic door is to camouflage it by adding a visual pattern to the ceiling. A flat, smooth ceiling is likely the worst place to locate an attic door from an aesthetic point of view. If the door provides the only texture on the ceiling, the eye is naturally drawn to it, so you’ll want the opposite.
An effective way to add texture and a pattern to the ceiling is to add a grid, or framework the exact same size as the door. Doing so makes the door simply one part of a larger pattern. Many professionals will add a grid pattern to the ceiling with 1” x 3” lumber laid flat, as this will avoid building any decorative beams. However, if a more distinctive appearance is required, the same lumber can be used to build small box beams, which add depth to the ceiling.
Add Interesting Artwork
A different approach involves drawing attention to the door as opposed to disguising it. Some homeowners apply decorative artwork like a mural, stained glass, or an old window to the flat surface of the door. Using this method often involves painting the entire ceiling as well to help the artwork blend into the landscape. Most projects using this method replace the pull cord with a magnetic push latch to eliminate the unsightly cord.
One creative method uses a 2’ x 4’ light fixture. In this method, you will need an electrician to install a flexible conduit that will provide electricity to the fixture. Using this technique essentially covers the entire door, so only the most careful eye will notice the door behind it. Installing a light fixture that can move with the door will be the most complicated method, but also one of the most attractive.
Another creative trick is to use an old smoke detector attached to the door to hide the cord. If you remove the electronics from an old smoke detector you are left with a round plastic box. Savvy homeowners coil up the pull down cord and store it inside the fake smoke detector and simply pop off the cover when needing to use the door. However, DO NOT REMOVE the existing smoke detectors.
Build a Coffered Ceiling
A fancier, more elaborate method of camouflaging an attic door involves building a coffered ceiling. A true coffered ceiling is recessed into the ceiling to avoid lowering the ceiling height. However, a shallow coffered ceiling (usually less than 3” in depth) can be installed directly onto the ceiling without modifying the trusses or significantly lowering the ceiling.
Coffered ceilings create a pattern as mentioned previously, but also provide texture and depth. The goal is to create an interesting visual pattern that draws the eye away from the border of the door. The pros do this by adding trim or decorative milling away from the door, drawing attention to those areas instead. Coffered ceilings can be labor-intensive to build, but they add a unique flavor not found in most homes.
Install a Drop Ceiling
If you really want the attic door to disappear, the best way is to install a drop ceiling. Also known as an acoustic ceiling, this system is common in commercial spaces because it allows access to areas above the ceiling. A drop ceiling uses a suspended metal grid hanging from the ceiling, into which acoustic ceiling tiles are placed. Acoustic tiles come in the same standard sizes as attic doors, so endless trimming of the panels is not required.
In a drop ceiling, each tile simply rests inside the grid and can be removed at any time by simply lifting it out. Drop ceilings are perfect for hiding wires, pipes, ductwork, or any other component that would normally be behind drywall. However, when using this method the door may need to be adjusted downward slightly to avoid hitting the drop ceiling when the door is opened.
Replace the Attic Door with a Recessed Attic Door
Recessed attic doors differ from standard attic doors because they are usually made from metal or plastic and require no trim. Because a recessed attic door does not require wooden trim, the door lies virtually flat with the ceiling. Recessed attic doors often include a magnetic latch or other hidden lock, eliminating the pull cord. Because the mounting flange of these doors is often less than ⅛”thick, some homeowners go the basic route and simply paint the door to match the ceiling so that it blends in.
Replace the Attic Door with a Scuttle Door
Another option involves removing the attic door altogether and replacing it with a scuttle door. If you rarely use the attic, removing the large door completely is an option in some cases. Attic access is required by building code, so you cannot just remove an attic door without replacing it. Since scuttle doors are half the size of a drop down attic door, they can be moved to a walk-in closet or other out of the way location.
However, there is one caveat to this method. Building codes require that any mechanical devices, like the air handler for an HVAC system, be replaceable. In turn, this requires that the attic door be large enough for the unit to pass through. If your home has an air handler or other mechanical device in the attic, make sure whatever door you install will allow the device to be removed.