Saturday, November 4, 2023

Lessons Learned With A Year-2009 Fakro Fire-Rated Attic Ladder, Much-Improved

To assess achievements in any job, it is helpful to note starting conditions that had been coped-with for many years,

My 17' Little-Giant-like aluminum ladder in stepladder mode, reached this high to a ceiling 114.5" above the concrete floor.

A 3/8" plywood flimsy skirt about the "hole" was 16" high, far taller than surrounding R19 loose-fill insulation. Somehow from the top step of a step ladder, one had to place weight upon the wobbly skirt, to hurdle over tripping electric power cables and to land on a single 24" path to the furnace platform. Furnace filter changes and more demanded safe access.

All of the landing area is over house heated space and should have remained R38, undisturbed. R38, at R2.2 per inch, demands 18" insulation depth, not achieved anywhere. If insulation over 10% of heated space is only R8 and the remainder were actually R38, the effective R-value is as 1/(Reff + 3) = .1/11 + .9/41. Reff = 29. If the remainder is only R25, Reff is 21. In Metro Portland Oregon at Fall 2023, there is a $1.25 per sq ft rebate of cost paid for added attic floor insulationInstallation specifications: Existing insulation must be R-18 or less. Must insulate to R-38 or greater or the fill accessible cavity.

I would do further math to prove qualification at <R18, where space with no insulation, under the furnace and in general near roof eaves amply brings down the average.

  The insulation space under the furnace platform is 10 1/4". I will build framing in new safe passage to the furnace that again is 10 1/4" tall. I want no trip-edges. Where the found loose-fill so-readily collapses to 3 1/2" depth, new insulation should be in the form of tough and resilient R25 fiberglass batts 24" x 48" parallel to the trusses, for total then of almost R38. Very importantly in this, all space with no insulation, must be filled. This might demand temporary jacking of the furnace off of the messy flooring, two heavily-nailed layers of 7/16" OSB.

Get on now to the core purpose of this post, considering lessons learned with a unique attic ladder.

A fire-rated ladder must not be compromised by a gap about the ladder frame, only concealed by wood trim. This framing is trimless as seen in the full-scale drawing that follows.

Limit arm upper pivots are 5/16" x 2 1/2" lag screws embedded strongly in the ladder rough frame (well-strengthened truss bottom elements).

See that the ladder frame is tight against the perfectly-square rough frame. No shims. No gaps. With removal of a few screws, the ladder is fully removable, not bonded in place. At some future time, the ladder might be in the way of furnace replacement or removal.

The clear no-snags ladder opening with a 22" frame width will pass large bags of insulation now-needed. Know that no large garage like this could have other than 24" on-center framing. With truss framing, this is the best-possible accessibility. Be very grateful to have this last-of-its' -kind-on-Earth, wonderful attic ladder.

The deployed ladder steps are quite rigid, The two rails meet the floor equally with soft, gripping leveler legs.

The invoiced ladder cost is $419, now a bargain where inflation has doubled costs of weatherization since 2009.

See that the upper section of the ladder is highly customized. To have the Top Step I now demand for customer safety, I blocked the little step section, raised above the door, in a sturdy birch-plywood frame. The springs to-be-added can't be strong enough to have the heavier assembly slam-close as is foolishly and firmly a Fakro fire-rating feature. Fakro then will not offer a door latch that would reduce demands upon the springs.

I have been tasked then with invention of the latch, using good Central-European hardware purchased from one-time ladder manufacturer Calvert USA, in 2011. Calvert USA built excellent ladders in Maryland until 2016, including fire-rated ladders  that did not cost extra.

Affordable fire-rated ladders are now wanted from high-end maker MidMade, in Sweden.

This is the currently-offered Fakro LWF 54" ladder shown with 30" frame width. 
$805 at Home Depot. A large fraction of this cost is in individual FedEx or UPS shipments from an Illinois warehouse.

See much-steeper 66° fixed angle, and large springs obstructing the opening. The door linkage is at a tripping-point, no down-stability, ready to lift and slam with a nudge. The needed pretty handle is absurdly placed, with barely enough clearance for finger-grips.

The new, level plywood floor is non-tripping, although 19/32" plywood does flex some.

Pay attention to a successful further evolution in nature of a tenting rest.

A screw protruding from the left stile engages the tenting rest slot. Stability of the tent is dependent on having the tent center of gravity well behind the tent pivot, the center of the step section hinge at left in this photo. Stability of the screw engagement in the rest slot may be yet better with the rest pointing upward as in this drawn-on overlay.

Study the dangerous factory-default deployment of this ladder at door angle 66°.

The better as-built installation is almost perfectly as drawn in the project bid. All installers of attic ladders should have such facility in planning. Surely architects demand this. Why should anyone want a ladder for its thoughtless cheapness?

Learn to follow the example of Swedish MidMade ladders in the location of lower pulls for the 
balancing springs.

Want the upper and lower pivots of limit arms to be at the same elevation, as low as possible. See multiple drilled-in positions for lower pivots upon the door face. Each one-inch shift from the 60° position set, brings the door steeper by approximately 2°. Choose least-steep as the factory default.

Please know that I have successfully installed Fakro fire rated ladders of current production, with 60° default, springs resident on the door and pretty-good slam closure. I have wished these ladders could have door latches for more-firm sealing. Here is the installation of Fakro LWF 25/54 Model 869719, costing $770 in May 2022, and costing $855 in November 2023. Surely the customer now with the LWF 22/54 of 2009, has  gotten a better deal.

Here is the stowed condition, showing spring leverage to pull fully closed. This works! Fakro should care to learn from my innovation, and has not.

Here see a door pull at the door opening end. There is no latch above. The door must self-close. See that installation requires facility with patching of drywall including fill of gaps to the steel edging that perfects frameless installation.

See more elements of the plastic Fakro Pull, as also a latch. I have had two of these from Fakro, not knowing what they are good for. The two long bosses at top in this view would need to be located very precisely by holes drilled in the opening (back) header of the ladder frame.  The mating of the latch halves would be by strong slam, and release by very hard pull. I despair of installing this with sufficient accuracy.

The slam closure is better with a smaller ladder 47" frame. Be convinced of invention, with this video of the 47" ladder:  With the easy-reach 47" ladder, there was no interest in tenting.

See a similar YouTube demonstration, year 2012, with a Calvert USA ladder and a ceiling nearly eleven feet up, in a home born as a warehouse of the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exhibition, in Northwest Portland, Oregon:

Saturday, September 9, 2023

An Attic Ladder Installed Diagonal to Attic Floor Framing

 In a very tall attic, let all HVAC ducts be buried under R49 insulation. Here is an example of method to protect all and to provide safety, with a maximum of flooring, safely accessible. Build always for service life of at least sixty years. Such service life adds orders of magnitude to the value of construction. Cheap construction is unaffordable. (Search my Perpetuity Math.)  Build the floor 17” above drywall as dictated by economy in using 16” rips of plywood as webs in a complex box beam structure. Beam lower elements are the found floor joists whatever their dimension. Beam upper elements are typically upright 2x4s of maximum length. There is common practice to be applied in the density of screws or nails bonding webs to the 2x framing, Beam bottoms are room drywall. Beam tops are the plywood flooring, demanded for strength. Let attics be useful, with simple and sturdy lifts that add to user safety.

Such a thick floor was needed where a best attic ladder would be at 45° vs. framing.

Diagonal placement is really quite easy. Here it was wanted in part to allow painless repair of a ceiling fracture in a misstep while installing electronics wiring in the usual attic conditions of darkness and danger. The ceiling cut consumed the broken drywall. The diagonal placement is least obstructive in the hallway, and egress is off the path of work in the attic.

An attic ladder may be simple architectural beauty. This ceiling cut will be almost invisible with the ceiling repainted. The hole is well barricaded, with cautious approach in a step-off well.

Let demand for better, avoid the usual construction with phony insulation really R8, weakly stapled to fragile drywall.

Here is the ladder plan, where a very strong ladder rough box beam frame bears directly on the surrounding walls, and two floor joists, cut, are captured by the ladder frame.

Surrounding flooring ties to the ladder frame, with a walking surface 17" above ceiling drywall. This space is ample to move HVAC ducts to the attic floor, with safe, level, trip-free walking over a large decked area.

Under construction, see found inefficient HVAC ducts that had to be dodged to install the ladder, in August 2016. Construction was then paused to October, when HVAC would not be missed for awhile. For a complete story of this construction, consult the job photo album.

Here are photos of the finished, safe and useful attic.

The found attic access is converted to a storage lift
. Near the lift, the 17" floor level is maintained beneficial to coverage of HVAC ducts, but not needed for floor strength,

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Fire Hazard Prohibition of Cheap Fans, Can Lights or Cut-In LED Edge Lights

The just-prior post at this blog is a  call that all residence attic access portals must be suitably air-tight and resistant to fire propagation. By the same reasoning, ban ceiling lights that penetrate drywall, leaking energy and propagating fire. Where the USA has surrendered leadership in lighting concepts to myriad fabricators in China, clip-in LED edge lights have become a madness tipping point. These clip-in lights dominate big-box store displays, ruining homes with ceiling cuts nearly as big as the light lens diameter.

Many posts at this blog deal with air-tight disk-LED installation in strong RACO 175 steel boxes. There is much reporting of the fire-resistant and efficient replacement of awful can lights, with box-mounted disk LEDs. With factory-produced drywall rings precut to can OD and RACO 175 octagon ID, and with some patching grout, a can light may be upgraded in an affordable few minutes. Of many jobs with lighting improvement, one of Winter 2014 is most memorable, for thorough presentation of the math of energy savings. This home built in 1988 was the subject of four blog posts already:

Math Of Under-R12 Attic Floor Insulation Rule, For IncentivesMarch 17,2014.

I was called to improve personal safety and the capacity for attic storage. I added fire safety at the attic access, but was not yet mindful of other ceiling penetrations as matters of safety against fire propagation.

A silly hinged wood door opening to dangerously small headroom, gave little storage potential nearby, over tops of 2x4 truss bottom elements, among loose-fill fiberglass insulation. Something smarter was wanted.

At planned egress to the attic under the roof peak, see that there is no fire separation of garage and house attics. An attic ladder to be added, must be thirty minutes fire-rated, matching surrounding 1/2" drywall. Yes, this garage ceiling has 1/2" drywall. 

I offered this new "Calvert Recovery" Size 2248 fire-rated attic ladder, set in 2x4 trusses strengthened as better than 2x10 framing. Good Calvert USA ladders with small premium for fire rating, were a fleeting opportunity in 2014. The Maryland attic ladder business operated for about ten years, beginning with a few wood attic ladder models built in the Czech Republic. Ladders then Made In USA had novel features including frames and steps built of best 3/4" plywood, stiffer and stronger than ordinary wood.  The factory closed in 2016.

The Calvert fire-resistant door is of heavy 3/4" thickness treated-composite wood. Not rated, but at least U = 0.25, with affordable heat loss when properly gasketed.

Here the installation is fire-sealed about the ladder frame, with a strong taper of flexible grout covering reveal of the wood ladder frame. I do not use wood trim, that usually just hides shimmed large clearances about the frame, defying the fire rating.

With the better access,  replace a badly-installed-as-usual noise-maker bath fan.

Does this look like much of a fire barrier to you?

Plastic bodies, thin aluminum frames and large flame paths at air gaps are fire-propagation hazards.

Don't expect to find an offered fire-rated bath fan.

The aluminum flex duct too, will incinerate quickly, although slower than a silly plastic duct.

We find duct foolishness like this even with a kitchen exhaust fan sometimes, Here it is not a building code violation. A much shorter duct directed through-roof,  is just common sense, and is required by rebates sponsor Energy Trust of Oregon.

I offer only simple and rugged Panasonic bath fans as replacements. The solid steel body with penetration only at the duct bell, might sport a 30-minute fire rating if required. It clearly is improvement. The hard-plastic grill is not an accelerant of flame.

Preset the outlet bell assembly standing alone, clipped to drywall.

Insert the body from below, sliding past and securely attaching to the outlet bell assembly

There will be no fire propagation about the fan body.

Wall header gaps commonly 1/8" surely propagate fire that has penetrated walls. Learn to see sealing of gaps as mandated by fire-prevention codes.

My flexible grout, chemically similar to Custom floor tile grout, will not carry flame. 

Foam foolishly prescribed for weatherization contractors, is immediately skinning, and rarely bonds airtight. The foam itself is quite flammable. Foam sealing must be forbidden. I remove and replace foam whenever found. What a mess. What a crime.

Two incandescent bulbs upon porcelain lamp-holders supplemented the twist CFL bulb of the garage door opener, in a dismal garage. The 2 7/8" fiberglass box with knockouts, and large gaps to drywall, both propagate flame.

There is no economy in junior box size; crammed wiring is less safe. A best LED light now demanding converter space in the box, is not possible.

Install air-tight RACO 175 boxes with mount structures built of scrap 3/4" plywood and select 2x4 remnants.

Lithonia Versilite FMML 7 830, two places. 

Note to self nine years later: I must fully grout the RACO 175 to drywall annulus despite nearly airtight enclosure when the luminaire is pulled against the ceiling. Keys for mounting screws admit bugs seeing light through the box annulus.

Lighting in the garage remains barely adequate. In a wished  return visit look for bugs in light lenses, and offer more light positions.

I have no room-side photo record of six can lights found  in the kitchen, holding hot 150 watt incandescent floods by my records. 6 1/4" OD cans had especially large annular gaps, to 7" drywall cuts. Can interiors must have been loaded with cobwebs.

Lightolier cans over the kitchen have the usual obstacles to absurd covering of a non-IC can with a Tenmat Hat, never air tight to the drywall, little resistant to fire, not resisting energy losses, certain to be thrown off by pressure differential in a fire.

Poorly-accessible space over the kitchen sink was warmed with lack of insulation, congenial to mud wasps.

The better kitchen ceiling has the 7" opening of a can invisibly and quickly replaced by a ring of GP Densarmor drywall, fitted to a heavy-gage steel RACO 175 deep junction box. There are no leakage paths from the box, to the attic. This is fire-proofing!

The drywall ring has full penetration grouting at the OD and at the RACO interface. I have built and installed hundreds of these mount structures built of scrap 3/4" plywood and select 2x4 remnants. Two screws attached through the ceiling drywall pull the patch into alignment.

6" Glimpse LED disks are not glaring. They are pretty.

A bit of fire-proofing, however much perpetual energy saving was the sure achievement. Those savings are detailed in the linked prior blog posts for this home. Copy the math statements here:

The can annulus diametral clearance was 7” - 6.25 = 0.75”, quite large. The frame was not pushed against the ceiling, and probably did not further constrict the passage of leaking air. Each can light had a gap of up to 7.8 sq in.  Apply Insulation Math for a Portland, Oregon home with a common 88%-efficiency furnaceThe annual cost of heating lost air is $0.555*Path Area, $4.30 per year. At four places I replaced a 65 watt incandescent downlight with a 750 lumens 14.5 watt LED. Another can that had a long-dead 65 watt incandescent was patched out. At the sixth can, over-sink, I installed a 450 lumens 9.5 watt LED in place of a 150 watt incandescent downlight. 

Apply Insulation Math . Completing insulation in the floor should save, at each light:
$2.4 * Baffled Area, sf* (1/3 - 1/50)  = $0.75 * Baffled Area, sf
= $1.30 per year for an 18” baffled circle (1.8 sf).
= $3 per year for 4 sf uninsulated over the kitchen sink

There is about $6 per year typical savings from air sealing and insulating each very leaky non-IC can light. 

Additionally, credit $12 per year electricity savings vs. the found 150 watt incandescent flood bulbs, with basis $0.11 per KWH. 

Overall annual savings for the home due to my work:
$116 (22%) Fix Kitchen Lights
$160 (30%) Insulate Attic Walls to R30
$101 (19%) Seal Wall Headers
$199 (29%) Insulate Attic Floor to R38

$536 total annual energy savings

 A small flight of steps beyond the ladder egress serves much of the added storage area, little obstructed by truss uprights.

.Treasure was was waiting to be found in the efficiency, safety and usefulness of an attic.

Added content 9/3/2023:
With the encouragement of a received comment, add details in this job, of the bath fan replacement, that is is fire-resistant as can be. I replace awful plastic noise-makers with solid-steel-boxed basic Panasonic fans. See posts Label Bath Fans., steel-ducted through the roof just as is code-required for kitchen exhaust fans with their grease-fire propensity.