Garage Attic Electric Hoist

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About: I retired from the USAF in 2005 and now work for a local government as a project manager. I live in a fantastic neighborhood that enjoys getting together to celebrate whatever event happens to be on the ca...

If you’re like me, you have a lot of seasonal items for various holidays taking up space around your house and they only get pulled out for a brief time each year. You may also, like me, use the attic space above your garage to store these items and retrieve them when necessary. Finally, like me, you hate the thought of dragging these odd shaped or heavy items up and down a ladder through a tiny opening in your garage ceiling.

Here is probably where the difference between us exists; I don’t carry anything up or down ladders any more since I built an electric hoist up to my garage attic. I have been using this system in my house since 2006 and am now building one with my neighbor for his garage, so the pictures you see are a mixture of mine and his.

With all the material in hand this is a weekend project at best, and for a minimal investment you can enjoy the safety from potential ladder falls while hefting loads up and down. Having said that, this project involves overhead lifting by mechanical means and the inherent dangers involved with that operation. Always be sure you use the proper precautions while working around overhead loads and ceiling openings.

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Step 1: Material and Tools

Material:

Electric hoist – I am using an 880lb capacity model from Harbor Freight found here. This is a 110v, 8 amp model so you may need to run a separate circuit for power which will not be covered in this Instructable. Fairly easy to do is you have the experience, otherwise please consult an electrician.

  • 1-1/2” galvanized steel pipe cut and threaded into the following pieces (may vary depending on the layout of your roof trusses) (many home improvement or hardware stores will cut and thread for free):
    • 4 pieces at 9-1/2”
    • 1 piece at 36”
  • 2 ea – 1-1/2” tee
  • 4 ea – 1-1/2” floor flange
  • 4 ea – 2"x4"x96" studs
  • 1 ea – 22”x45”x3/4” plywood (varies depending on the size of the hole you want)
  • 1 ea – 24”x48”x1/4” plywood (varies depending on the size of the hole you want)
  • 4 ea – 3/8” eye bolts (the kind with nuts and washers, not lag bolts)
  • 4 ea – 48” lengths of 3/8” chain (hardware stores will cut this also)
  • 8 ea – 3/8” quick links
  • 2 ea – 7/16" quick links
  • 12 ea – 3/8”x2-1/2” bolts w/nuts and washers
  • various interior screws

Tools:

  • Hammer
  • drill with bits
  • screwdriver
  • pipe wrench
  • jig saw
  • chop or miter saw
  • various wrenches

Step 2: Take Some Measurements

The first thing to do, even before getting your material, is to measure your garage roof trusses and floor joists. Typical modern construction in the U.S. should put your trusses at 24” on center, or a clear opening of 22-1/2”, which is what all my measurements are based on; be sure to adjust if your openings are different. The 36” bar should be good for most roofs but may need to be a bit longer for a flatter roof. You also need to locate a suitable spot where the roof peaks to mount the pipe and subsequently where the opening will be under it. This will allow for even pressure to be put on the truss on either side of the roof near the peak where it is the strongest.

Step 3: Building and Installing the "H" Frame

Once you have your opening measurements you can get your pipe cut. The measurements given worked for me but there are variables in the fittings as to how far in the threads will screw before getting tight (pipe threads are slightly tapered) so do a little testing at the store and adjust if necessary. Now you can assemble the “H” frame and test fit in the truss.

Since the floor flange is likely larger than the wood in the truss, rotate it so at least 3 of the mounting holes are covered by the wood. Here is where you want some help because this assembly is heavy and you need to make sure it is perfectly level before you bolt it in place. Have an assistant hold the “H” frame in place while you adjust for level, then drill the first hole in one of the flanges and insert a bolt. Do the same for the other 3 flanges so you have one bolt in each and recheck for level. Now drill the remaining 2 holes in each flange, install and tighten all the 3/8” bolts.

Step 4: Install the Motor and Cut the Opening

At this point you can install the electric hoist on to the “H” frame, trying to keep it as centered as possible.

Once installed and plugged in, play out the cable until the hook just touches the top of the ceiling below and mark this point on the attic side of the ceiling. This is the center of the opening which you will need to cut out. I chose to make the opening 46” long to minimize waste of the ¼” plywood skin on the platform as I wanted 1” of overlap of the skin around the ends. From the center mark, measure out 23” on either side and install a 22-1/2” cross beam to frame the opening, then cut the sheet rock ceiling out right against the truss and cross beam with a handsaw from the top. Watch for falling debris!

Step 5: The Platform

There were several options on the platform I considered but went with a simple series of chains to make the connection to the hoist cable. This basically consists of a series of 2x4s covered with a piece of ¾” plywood. The three cross members at the bottom allow room for the eye bolts to fasten and bring the top of the platform level to the bottom of the floor joist in the attic. The ¼” plywood skin is also attached to them and it provides a better seal to keep bugs out as well as a nice finished edge when looking at the platform from below when it is in the stowed position.

The platform is 45”x22” to allow it to fit in the opening with a little room to spare. Begin by cutting the ¾” plywood to this size then 6 each of the 2x4s to 45” long. Screw one of the 2x4s to each long edge of the plywood then evenly space the remaining four 2x4s in between. Don’t spare the screws in this step.

Next flip the platform over and install 3 each 2x4s, that have been cut to 22”, perpendicular to the first 6. Move the end ones in a couple of inches to allow room for the eye bolt nut. Now drill a hole in each corner through the plywood and first 2x4 for the eye bolt but make sure the eye bolt, when installed, doesn’t hang over the edge of the platform or it will hit the opening when you raise the platform. All that is left is installing the eye bolts.

Finally, center the ¼” plywood over the bottom side of the platform and install with screws. Since this is thin plywood, you might consider using fender washers to make it more durable.

Step 6: Hooking It All Up

With the platform sitting eye bolts up, attached one chain to each eye bolt with a 3/8" quick-link, then take the two chains on each end of the platform and connect a 3/8" quick link to the ends of these, finally connect those quick links with a 7/16" quick link and clip each of those two quick links over the hoist hook. I know that seems like a lot of quick links but it was necessary due to the gap in the chain link and the thickness of the hook.

That is it!! You are ready for a test run. The nice thing about this hoist is the control unit is located at the unit so you have to be in the attic to operate it. This ensures you can guide the platform into the opening when you are stowing it after use. Be aware that the hoist has a lot of power so use quick, small control adjustments when you get close to the ceiling. If it catches the edge of the opening it could jolt the truss around pretty good.

Check out the video to see it in action.

Step 7: Finished

I will tell you that what used to take 2 hours of up and down a ladder to take Christmas decorations and other assorted crap (sorry Honey) up or down for the holidays is now over in less than 10 minutes with one person in the attic and one person in the garage. We even load and unload a 9’ artificial tree in a storage bag by unhooking the platform and using the hoist hook directly on the storage bag handle. This device is a lifesaver!!!

I apologize for the verbose Instructable but without as many pictures of the construction as I would like, I wanted to make sure you had good, clear directions. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or provide feedback and I certainly wouldn’t mind a vote if you are so inclined….wait, this isn’t a ramp Instructable.

Thank you!!

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    36 Discussions

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    mrh4276

    Question 4 months ago

    Being a single line hoist, doe you have problems with rotation as it lifts? I was thinking of doing something like this for my attic but I am considering a two line hoist.

    1 answer
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    IamGuttermrh4276

    Answer 4 months ago

    Rotation is not a big problem, although there is usually some as the platform rises. I would say not more than 30 degrees by the time it gets to the top, but the chains come through the opening first so it isn't a problem to straighten out the platform before it gets to the opening. Great question!!

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    bgreen3

    4 months ago

    very nice.

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    PaulM717

    11 months ago

    The manual of the Hoist says that, I believe, there should be 16 guage wire. Should I have an electrician install an outlet that has that type of wire to the electrical panal?

    1 reply
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    db3568PaulM717

    Reply 5 months ago

    Your house should be wired at least 2/12 w/ ground so you should be good to use same for your lift.

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    HowardL33

    Question 7 months ago on Step 5

    Thank you for your tutorial!

    My platform (a train layout) is rectangular in shape. My winch will need to be installed just off-centre from the horizontal (i.e. the longer one) line of my platform - about two inches. I believe I should place the eye screws off-centre (at least on one side of the platform) as well from the horizontal line by the same distance.

    My question is as follows: If my winch is closer to the right hand side of my platform, should my eye screws on the platform be closer to the right hand side of the platform, or further away from the right hand side of my platform, than the other side?

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    GregH184

    1 year ago on Step 7

    Saw a lot of tutorials on Youtube but this was the best! Clear concise!! Didn't like the aspect of having to be up in the attic to guide the platform though but overall very good!!!

    1 reply
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    IamGutterGregH184

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks for the comment Greg! I know what your saying about having to be in the attic, but I guess someone has to be up there to load and unload the platform regardless. I have thought about modifying the chains to include a guide into the hole in the ceiling but it would have to work perfectly, every time. The winch is powerful enough that if it catches an edge it will lift the joist up a bit. It happened to me once!

    Thanks again!

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    Valster

    3 years ago

    We just bought a new house that has attic space instead of a basement. My son suggested a (won't mention the brand name) lift and I almost had a heart attack when I saw the price!

    Next stop - Instructables.

    Thanks for posting this. My sons and I will probably knock this out in a weekend at about a quarter of the "brand name" unit cost

    2 replies
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    GregH184Valster

    Reply 1 year ago

    A quarter? Probably 1/10 of the cost!!

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    IamGutterValster

    Reply 3 years ago

    Congrats on the new house! Love to see some pictures of your hoist when it is complete, and thanks for checking out this Instructable!

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    MikeK58

    1 year ago

    I want to build something just like this. Does anyone know about safety stops in case the winch fails? I love this I will try to post images of mine when I get to it.

    2 replies
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    IamGutterMikeK58

    Reply 1 year ago

    The winch I used (Harbor Fright) is supposed to have a safety wedge that locks the spool in a freefall, but fortunately I have not had to test it's function. Other than that, I don't have a good answer for you.

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    MikeK58IamGutter

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi IamGutter,

    That is exactly what I was thinking about! 

    Thank you for the information!

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    LorraineS39

    Question 1 year ago on Introduction

    I am making a loft as I'm disabled I need the electric hoist I have bought to be controlled from
    Two levels is there an extension you can buy or an extra up and down wired switch that can be installed on the wall downstairs please

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    pierow

    2 years ago

    Brilliant! I have been thinking of a very similar system and thought I would look to see if anyone had done anything similar. Great job!

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    rlent00

    2 years ago

    To answer the question of capacity. The unit itself is not 880 lbs. That is the capacity.