Our Loft Ladder Goes Electric!

sectional | knit throw | pouf | pendant light | electric hoist

Without a doubt, one of the most charming details in our Tree House is the sweet little loft, or maybe it’s the ladder that leads up to it? Either way, I’ll never forget the day we walked through this home, and Scott and I climbed up the ladder to see the surprise at the top. It was at that moment that we looked and each other and said, this is The One, isn’t it? (The photo below was taken soon after we closed.)

But – and that’s a big ‘but’ – as adorable as the loft ladder is, it’s also proven to be a challenge, too. For starters, it slices off the last third of the main living space. Anything we put behind it (opposite the couch wall) would feel cramped. A low, sleek couch was a necessity, otherwise the ladder couldn’t clear the arms. The pulley system was made up of thick rope that not only hurt your hands, but it also took a fair amount of muscle to use, and the fine fibers constantly flaked all over the floor.

It was such a hassle to put the ladder up, that we left it down at all times, and ideally, the ladder would be up more than it would be down. (Embarrassingly, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we ran into the ropes when trying to make our way towards the bathroom.) And because we have plans to create a built-in banquette where we recently removed the fireplace surround, we needed to come up with a solution that would make lowering and raising the staircase easy! After all, Tree House is too small to be sliced into thirds, you know?

Loft Ladder | Before

For a while, we – gasp! – talked about eliminating the ladder altogether; instead, we kicked around the idea of moving the loft landing to the opposite side and adding a permanent spiral staircase to the corner of the living room (opposite where the fireplace was, by the back door). When we realized we didn’t have adequate space for even the smallest spiral, we began researching modular options, and throughout the day, Scott and I would text each other links to compact, off-the-shelf stair systems.

The problem? Anything new we might’ve installed had to be nixed due to the lack of space. We just didn’t have the square footage to create an entirely new solution! Maybe not surprisingly, but as it turned out, the best option was right in front of us all along – ahem, the ladder we were given – but at this point, our goal was to figure out a way to make it way, way more simple to use. During a frenzy of brainstorming one evening, Scott came up with the perfect, if not eccentric, solution – enter the electronic hoist, or winch!

When Scott first suggested we hook the ladder up to a winch, I had no clue what he was talking about. He showed me videos online, and from what I could tell, hoists were mainly used in garage settings to lift heavy motors or lawn tools. However, the more we researched it, the more we were both convinced this really was a great solution (and spoiler, it totally is!). We ended up purchasing this electric hoist, which has been a dream. And really, really cool. We painted the bright red surround a matte black, and the bright yellow remote control was sprayed white.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to mount it, and to be honest, we had a rocky start. Initially, we mounted the winch to the side of the last ceiling beam, but not only did the downward pulling motion cause the cable to tangle, but the ladder was unable to go as high into the ceiling as we’d like. The hoist (or winch, as we’ve been using both terms interchangeably) is meant to pull straight up and down, and so after a lot of math, we sketched out a bracket system that would work for our unique situation. Our friend Daniel (the same Daniel that killed it with us on demo day) fabricated our idea to life using 1 3/4″ steel square tubing, and we sprayed it matte black to match the casing of the hoist. Note: Using elbows, nipples and steel conduit pipe from the hardware store could also work!

Do you see those hanging clamps across the top of the bracket in the above photo? Those attach to the top of the hoist in the four pre-drilled holes in the casing you see below:

If I haven’t lost you yet (because believe me, our own brains hurt trying to come up with this solution), maybe the photo below will help! One end of the bracket was secured into the floor of the loft, whereas the other end was secured to a ceiling beam. The electronic hoist hangs from the middle of the bracket, like this:

In preparation for this project, we had an outlet installed in the loft where we could plug it in (and also because there were, like, no outlets in the loft!):

When the hoist cable is lowered all the way, it hooks onto an eye hook underneath the lowest rung of the ladder. The red doughnut-shaped thing you see is part of the safety braking mechanism; once that little plastic piece hits the hoist at the top, the hoist will automatically stop:

To operate, we have to hold down on the remote control. If you let go mid-way, the hoist will stop, but as long as we’re holding the control – or until the red safety doughnut (that’s a technical term, ha!) hits the hoist at the top – the ladder will raise and lower beautifully!

Now? The ladder easily tucks away into the ceiling, and when it’s raised completely, it’s almost completely out of sight. The hoist allows the ladder to recede into the ceiling much, much higher than the rope pulley system ever did, so we consider this a huge success!

If you’re wondering what our electric hoist looks (and sounds) like in action, we created this quick video:

The only thing left to address is the dangling cable of the remote control, seen below. Once the door molding has been installed (that’s the bathroom door you see below), we’re thinking we’ll hide the thick cord beneath a cable cover, run it down along the trim and paint it the same color as the walls. We’ll have to come up with a small holster for the remote control as well, but we’ll get there!

Our plan is to have the ladder raised more often than not, unless anyone is in the loft during the night, taking a nap or just playing upstairs. If it needs to stay down for an extended period of time, we can easily unclip the cable from the lowest rung and raise the cable up, up and away. At the same time, if it’s just us at Tree House (or us + one other couple), there’s almost no need to go up to the loft at all, and so this staircase will stay tucked neatly into the ceiling.

We’re so happy with the results, but we’re especially excited to show all the littles in our life the winch, and most importantly, teach them winch safety, too. (One nephew in particular is obsessed with all things mechanical.) We know they’re going to get such a kick out of the ‘electric’ ladder!

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  • Stacy G. - January 5, 2018 - 7:32 AM

    I am all about creative solutions, and this one is a winner. There is something so satisfying about troubleshooting a problem and coming up with a proper fix.

    I love the Tree House.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - January 5, 2018 - 8:30 AM

    Genius!

    I know it’s kind of a paranoid thing, but I wonder whether wrapping the cord to make it look vintage and essentially leaving it “free” would be a better choice. I know plenty of older kids/teens who would think it was hilarious to lock a friend in the loft by raising the ladder. If the cord/remote were free, the trapped person would be able to pull the remote up to the loft to free himself.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 9:01 AM

      We hear you on that! It’s one of the reasons why we’ll be taking the electric ladder seriously in terms of safety, but yes, when we DO have the ladder down, we actually release the wire/cord so it’s not in the way or connected to the ladder. We hoist it up out of the way!ReplyCancel

    • Crystal Beck - January 5, 2018 - 9:09 AM

      I would want a way to operate it from the loft as well. I’m too paranoid about getting stuck up there with no way to lower the ladder. Even just someone accidentally forgetting that someone else was in the loft, raising the ladder, and leaving, could strand someone up there. Probably would only happen once in fifty years, but still.ReplyCancel

  • Mara - January 5, 2018 - 9:34 AM

    I’m not sure if “code” would allow it, but could you put the cord behind the drywall so that you could just push the button in the wall (recessed and flush like a light switch)? Maybe ask an electrician if he could do that and while he was at it, add/extend a switch to the upstairs as well?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 9:38 AM

      Hmm, interesting! Wouldn’t that be nice if it really was just a switch on the wall? Might be worth looking into, thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Kathy - January 5, 2018 - 9:39 AM

    That’s a great solution! Do you have any plans to hide the winch machinery so it’s less of an eyesore?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 10:16 AM

      We actually like the look of the winch, especially after painting it matte black. :)ReplyCancel

  • Cait - January 5, 2018 - 9:59 AM

    This is a great solution!

    As far as the remote, I’m not sure this would even be possible, but could you hardwire the winch and then use two momentary wall switches (similar to ones that control a garbage disposal; you have to hold the switch on, like with your remote), one in the loft and one below?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 10:16 AM

      Interesting! Thank you for the idea!ReplyCancel

      • Cait - January 5, 2018 - 10:46 AM

        You’re welcome! I’m sure you guys will land on a great solution! I’m loving your progress on the Tree House. :)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - January 5, 2018 - 10:55 AM

    You two are always so creative and resourceful! I would love to hear more details about why you nixed the spiral staircase idea. I am picturing the tiny one from Mindy’s apartment in The Mindy Project, and it works well in my mind, haha, but of course how things work in the mind can be pretty different from reality. Was it the combined footprint of the staircase and the position of the doorways that made you stick with the ladder?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 11:14 AM

      You hit the nail on the head! We had about a 36-38″ diameter of space to play with to be able to comfortably open the doors, etc. Maybe it’s a standard, but the smallest size spiral staircase we could find was 42″! In the end, we’re glad we were forced to come up with a different solution, because the ladder is just too adorable.ReplyCancel

      • Elizabeth - January 5, 2018 - 11:36 AM

        It *is* adorable! Thanks for explaining more. :)ReplyCancel

  • Kristy B - January 5, 2018 - 12:19 PM

    I second the notion of running it to a switch. My father rigged up switches in our cottage (off the grid – generator for power) to use as kill switches for turning off the generator. He went with garburator / disposal switches because they are on a spring – you have to hold them down to make the connection and then it springs back to the off position when you let go.

    The same idea could apply in this situation and the best part is that you could have the wires run to a switch in the loft and run a second switch to the main floor (standard cabling in the wall).

    Spring switches would mean no one switch was ever “stuck” in the ON position impeding the operation of the winch and you’ve got a switch on each floor.

    Sorry for the long ramble – lol.

    Am loving the stories of your Tree House unfolding :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 12:24 PM

      Definitely something worth looking into! Thank you all for your great ideas and suggestions!ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey brook - January 5, 2018 - 12:32 PM

    I love the ladder idea but I’m wondering if you considered adding handrails to the existing ladder. If you google handrail loft ladders there’s some neat diy with pipes or wood!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 12:39 PM

      We are 100% adding low handrails, hopefully sooner than later!ReplyCancel

  • susan - January 5, 2018 - 12:37 PM

    I love the winch!
    If the mounting bracket legs had been a bit longer could the ladder have been pulled up flat, completely parallel to the beams?

    Anyway, looks great. That ladder has so much charm; it’s nice you figured a way to keep it.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 12:42 PM

      If the mounting bracket legs were maybe 2″ higher, yes, the ladder could have been completely flush. We did SO MUCH MATH to figure out that bracket (one leg is slightly longer than the other, since the loft floor is higher than the ceiling beam), but we feel pretty good with how close we got! Ha! If it ever really bothers us, we could potentially add some height with a stack of washers or some metal plates cut down to size… there are a few options should we go that route!ReplyCancel

  • Susie G - January 5, 2018 - 12:43 PM

    That video is really satisfying! I love this solution and it sounds like some other commenters have good ideas about maybe making this system more “built in”. Are you able to make the bathroom door a pocket door? I assume it opens in, but man a pocket door would be nice there.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 3:14 PM

      The bathroom door definitely has the capability to become a pocket door down the road! It would be a great space saving solution, for sure. Right now it does open in, but we also have plans to completely reconfigure the bathroom layout – down the road. Love this suggestion! (And love a good pocket door!)ReplyCancel

  • Heather - January 5, 2018 - 2:13 PM

    Baffle box! Working for a company that builds custom winches for Broadway, my initial thought when watching the video is a baffle box. It’s so loud! However, if you don’t mind the noise, and you like the look – it’s a great solution. Nice work!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 2:18 PM

      Do you have a link to a baffle box? Not sure what that is!ReplyCancel

  • AnnaLynne - January 5, 2018 - 2:48 PM

    I love all of this! 🏡 I do have one, somewhat silly, question– What happens if the ladder gets put up while someone is up in the loft? Is there a way to release it from up above? I can see a mischievous child trapping a sibling/cousin/grownup up there, haha. 😂💛ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 3:11 PM

      Not a silly question – this seems to be everyone’s worry. :) There wouldn’t be a safe way to release it from above, but our whole goal is to nip that problem before it ever begins – essentially, the loft ladder is NOT a toy, which is why we plan on teaching all the little ones in our life ladder safety! Also, no young children will be allowed anywhere near the loft without adults present. Period. Tree House is small enough that any mischief won’t last long before being squashed!ReplyCancel

      • Kelly - January 5, 2018 - 3:57 PM

        I don’t think it’s small children most people are worried about. If it’s an Airbnb, you’re going to get 12 year old boys staying there whose parents go out to dinner and one of them thinks it would be hilarious to trap the other one up there and take a walk. And then the stuck kid would pee his pants waiting for someone to help him or (worse yet) try to jump down from the loft. Yes, that’s bad behavior, but it’s pretty typical older kid stuff, and I think it would be good to provide a solution.ReplyCancel

        • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 4:41 PM

          We appreciate your concern, Kelly, and definitely see the point. No matter what, the scenario you’ve presented could happen whether we kept the ladder on ropes or a winch. Regardless, we’re at least a couple years out before even considering AirBnb, and this is simply where we are at this very early stage. We still have a few safety measures to put into place before we would consider renting the home. Thank you for your input!ReplyCancel

          • Kelly - January 5, 2018 - 5:14 PM

            Makes perfect sense! You guys are always super thorough!

            Also, reading my comment back, I can see that I came off super jerky, and I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention at all. I was trying to be that funny matter-of-fact know-it-all great aunt, but it didn’t land. Please accept my apologies!

          • Kim - January 5, 2018 - 5:19 PM

            Please don’t worry! We value all the feedback from you guys. :)

  • gigi - January 5, 2018 - 4:12 PM

    that’s nice, but could you have used attic stairs that pull down from the ceiling. It stays closed until you need the stairsReplyCancel

  • Laura - January 5, 2018 - 9:32 PM

    I’m so intrigued by your pendant light! Is that just like a nice hook you wrapped the cord around? Genius!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 6, 2018 - 8:49 AM

      Yup! We used a wall hook. I plan on sharing more about our easy off-centered light solution soon!ReplyCancel

  • 'col - January 6, 2018 - 6:21 AM

    Hey, Kim and Scott–I love seeing what you come up with. This is a neat solution! I’m glad you were able to make it so much easier to use.
    Also, can I say–it’s funny/sweet/a bit of a relief to see the beautiful couch and pouf, and then the purple drywall peeking out from behind the primer over in the former stove corner! Making my space into what I want it to be is a slooooooooow process and just that little reminder that no matter how different our circumstances, no one is working with a magic wand, made me feel better about it.
    Thinking about you and your little family lots and sending good wishes!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 6, 2018 - 8:52 AM

      Love this comment. Thank you, ‘col! And opposite the couch is still an open and empty drywalled kitchen and a mudroom waiting to be hooked up to a washer and dryer. Renovation when mixed with DIY is rarely speedy, but we sure are having fun daydreaming about all the possibilities – in due time. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Asya - January 6, 2018 - 6:27 AM

    How do you guys like the article couch? Is it comfortable and seems like it’ll wear well?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 6, 2018 - 8:54 AM

      We love it, and the leather feels like it will wear really well – we actually can’t wait for it to start breaking in and aging! We want to live with it for a couple more months before we write about it, but we’ll definitely dive into those details on the blog once we can give a more thorough review.ReplyCancel

  • RT Boyce - January 10, 2018 - 3:25 PM

    Here’s my suggestion: shift the winch all the way over to the side closest to the spindle where the cable wraps, then attach the hook and loop arrangement to that side of the ladder about mid-way, or as close to mid-way as you can get and a person can still unclip standing on the ground floor. This way the cable will be out of the way while climbing the stairs and could be left attached for quick trips up and down for changing bed linens or a forgotten item. And when you add in a hand rail, you may find that the cable can be left attached always.ReplyCancel

  • KG - January 10, 2018 - 10:19 PM

    Very creative! But surely turning/building the staircase is a better long term solution?ReplyCancel

  • Caitlin - February 13, 2018 - 3:38 PM

    I came across this post from Sarah over at Room For Tuesday and thought it would apply perfectly to your cord problem!

    http://roomfortuesday.com/how-to-hide-light-fixture-cords/ReplyCancel

    • Kim - February 13, 2018 - 3:42 PM

      I saw that! That might be our first course of action, for sure, but the remote is SO big, that’s the only issue!ReplyCancel

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