Oftentimes, taking on a remodeling project on one part of a client’s house will lead to a completely different project on another part of the house. That was the case with the insulated hatch cover described in this article. I was in the process of fixing some rot-damaged garage framing and doors in my clients’ 1960s split-level home when they mentioned that they also had a problem with the drop-down stairs leading up to the attic. Even though the stairs had been recently replaced, the ceiling opening was still very drafty. To block the cold air leaking into their upstairs hallway, they had tried cobbling together a hatch cover using rigid foam and scrap lumber, but this solution wasn’t particularly effective. They were hopeful that I could cap the stairs with an insulated, airtight cover that wouldn’t block access to the attic.

When I checked out the stairs, I saw that air-sealing the hatch cover would be complicated by the attic’s uneven floor, which was sheathed with scrap pieces of plywood of various thicknesses. I had a good idea of how to build the hatch cover, since I’d recently built several of them for other clients, but I had to figure out a cost-effective way to even out the floor around the opening so that the hatch cover could close tightly against it.

My solution was to cover the opening with an apron cut from a single sheet of Zip System sheathing. Zip sheathing is flatter and more stable than regular CDX plywood and therefore easier to shim as needed to make it perfectly flat over the opening.

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