I absolutely dread the hands and knees crawl through our attic. It's a long, hot, cramped, filthy, head banging slog from the garage hatch. The kitchen remodel is going to require a bunch of attic work. Luckily, this gable vent is right above the west kitchen wall. The idea to turn it into a hatch came to me when I was patching a varmint hole ten feet to the south. If a critter could chew through the wall and access the attic, I certainly could certainly do it too,... with power tools.
Step 1: Demolition of the existing vent
I use a pocket-sized, mini-crowbar for gentle demolition work. Mine is a 10 Inch Molding Bar with a wide, flat blade on one end and a "cats paw" nail puller on the other. I used it to work my way around the edge of the vent, popping the trim pieces off, trying my best not to damage the wall.
The vent itself was a galvanized metal thing with paint layers dating back to the early Middle Ages. It was still in decent enough shape to reuse, as long as I didn't tear it down like a rabid gorilla. I gently pulled the nails with the cat's paw and slide the unit out.
Ughhh... Attic work. This is going to suck when I eventually need to get up in there to rewire the lighting and add a couple circuits. The new hatch is going to be handy. I just hope progress and finances let me get to the attic phase of the remodel before it gets hot next spring.
Step 2: Build 2 Frames
The project needs two frames, one to mount to the house, one to mount to the vent. They'd get hinged together. When closed, it should look like one piece.
I sliced up some 1 x 4 pine on the miter saw and drilled some pocket holes with the Kreg R3 Jr Pocket Hole System. It's so stinking easy to use; I glued and screwed two simple, square frames together in a matter of minutes.
I laid a couple hinges from the hardware store in place and traced the locations. If I simply screwed them in place, the two hinge plates would cause a gap between the two frames big enough to let all manner of creepy crawlies into the attic. No thanks. I'd recess them into the frame.
I used my router with a straight cutting bit to carve a recessed pocket for the hinge. It takes a good bit of measurement and setup to get the right depth and set the edge guide. This project isn't fine cabinetry or anything so it's ok to be a little off. I made the horizontal cuts freehand and let the edge guide steer the vertical.
I cut the vertical slice a pinch long so I wouldn't have to chisel out the corners left by the round bit. With the edges cut, it took seconds to clean out the rest of the void so the hing lays nice and comfy in its little bed.
I predrilled holes for the hinge screws and for the old vent. It got screwed onto the face frame from behind. It's a bit weathered on the back side, but still in serviceable shape. There's no reason to buy a new one.
Step 3: Install the frame
I popped the hinge pins out and lugged the back frame up to the opening. With it leveled out and clamped into place, I screwed it in with some SPAX #8 1 1/4" self-drilling screws and and my trusty impact driver.
Tool Update: This is my last campaign with my beloved 18 volt DeWalt impact driver. My devoted readers have watched it kicking old house ass around here for years.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, or its tough-as-nails buddies in my cordless collection. I just had an opportunity I couldn't refuse and sold the lot in a horse-trading deal to convert my cordless arsonal from the legacy NiCad battery tools to the modern Lithium Ion, brushless wonders, lighter, more powerful, full-featured, pro-grade wonders. You'll see these beauties take the stage in future posts. I can't wait.
Shed no tears friends. My old 18 volt kit has plenty of service left in it. It's headed off to construction sites in the hands of an electrician's apprentice, just starting the trade. Godspeed, old friends.
The face frame wouldn't quite clear the roof facia board, so I trimmed off the corner and screwed and glued it to the back frame. You'll never notice from the ground unless you're looking for it, or have 20/10 Chuck Yaeger eyes I guess.
It hit facia again on the other side of its swing too, but would still open up plenty large enough for me to climb in. If I ever have to lug big stuff up there, or cannot overcome my current pace of cheeseburger consumption and can no longer fit, it's easy enough to pop the hinge pins out.
The final bit of hardware was a hasp for a lock. I had to custom bend it a little to make it fit, but it would do the trick. I pre-drilled and used the included screws.
A round lock would secure it pretty good from the average idiot. I know that if someone really wants to break in, they can lug an ladder over the fence, pound the hinge pins out and tear the door off. Then they can crawl a mile through the filthy attic, get to the hatch, and drop 9 feet to the concrete to gain entry to our palace of untold riches. Of course, they could also lob a brick through a window and save all that ladder lugging, crawling, and dropping. I'll just install a door sensor up here for the home automation / security system and call it good. Perhaps after the kitchen renovation, I'll nail this thing shut permanently. Who knows?
Step 4: Finish
I still don't want to advertise the hatch (other than publishing it, in every intimate detail, on a world-wide, public blog of course), so I started blending the fresh wood back into the house. It started with a healthy dose of paintable, acrylic latex caulk with silicone. I worked it into the little voids caused by the planks of the siding.
This is the side of the house that faces the unspeakable horror of the afternoon sun of a Phoenix summer. You think icy wintertime climates put a hurt on exterior wood? You should see how quickly the dry demon of the desert rips into it.
I gave the frame a good coat of Kilz Premium Indoor / Outdoor Primer to seal it up and add a layer of protection.
I've been dipping into this same gallon can for years.
I had the Grand Paint Wizard of Home Depot run a piece of scrap through his color matching computer and whip up a gallon to match the existing, sun-faded finish.
Perfect Paint Match
That's it; now I have quick and easy access to the attic for all sorts of shenanigans. I can't tell you how much easier it's going to be when I forget a tool and have to come back down. No more crawling a mile and a half in the dark, through itchy insulation while bashing my head.