Unless you've got a finished attic, you probably only climb into your attic to put away holiday decorations or store things you might need for a few years. That little access panel isn't easy to crawl through and even the pull down stairs aren't fun.
The real point here isn't how you access your attic. The important story here is what your attic can tell you about the condition of your home. This article is shared by an experienced home inspector, someone who visits several attics every week. He's going to reveal the secrets you might uncover in your attic, secrets that can save you time and money.
Getting To Know Your Attic
… by Clint McKie, Desert Sun Home Inspections
Too often when finding an attic hatch sealed with paint, a home inspector will immediately sense he's about to enter virgin territory. When later asked about the attic, homeowners may respond with, “Never had any reason to go up there …” or “Didn't think it was safe.”
While the second response may be true for the inexperienced homeowner, we do recommend homeowners become aware and comfortable with what goes on in their attics. Just like so many components of one's house, the attic plays a strategic role in the home's overall condition in terms of structural stability, energy efficiency and fire safety.
The attic will always reveal a great deal about the house. It's usually one of the last places to be repaired or renovated during the life of the home. But quite interestingly, the history of the house, while not obvious at other locations, can frequently be understood when viewing the attic.
Homeowner's Attic Checklist
1. Is my attic adequately insulated?
You can probably tell if your attic is warm when it's cold outside. That's a clue that heat is escaping from the rooms below the attic and you're wasting money heating unused attic space. Warm air in the attic might also cause problems when there's snow on your roof (see Solutions to Prevent Ice Dams).
Your homes geographic location determines how much insulation you need. You can work through what you need starting with Energy Star's Recommended Levels of Insulation or you can get an energy audit which will tell you where your air leaks are and how to fix them. For example, we often find heating/cooling duct work that's come loose and that's not a difficult problem to fix.
2. Is my attic properly ventilated?
Moisture is common in attics and needs to be exhausted to the outside. Too often we find soffit vents blocked preventing fresh air from coming in or walls of boxes blocking the flow of air between gable vents on either side of the attic.
When you don't have adequate ventilation, you're at risk for a whole host of problems ranging from delaminating roof sheathing, water streaks on interior walls and rotting of wood framing. Moisture and attic temperature are related. Generally speaking, your attic temperature should be no more than 10 to 15F degrees higher than the outside air temperature. Your home's location, square footage of the attic and the slope of the roof all dictate the amount of ventilation required.
3. Are there kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans terminating in the attic?
Too often when homes are built, the easy solution to venting bathroom fans is to run the duct work up to the attic. This violates building codes but most homeowners don't know the codes and don't realize why this is a problem. These are unwanted sources of moisture and need to be redirected to leave your house. This problem should be fixed right away.
4. Are there any issues with structural members?
Inspecting your rafters and trusses for cracked, broken and sagging sections should be part of every attic visit. If you see something you think is out of place, take a picture and discuss your concerns with a professional. Once you start inspecting your attic every year, you'll begin to learn what looks right, making it easier to spot changes which might signal a problem.
5. Is the roof decking plywood or OSB? What is its condition?
Is the bottom of your roof warped, water stained, or deteriorated? Does it appear to have been painted over or is it discolored? Many insurance companies will not replace roofs for interior fires, instead authorizing payment only for repainting smoke damaged framing and decking.
These are just a few reminders of what to look for in an attic. We see other problems too – wires chewed by rodents or worse, dead animals that finally explain why there's a strange smell in the house. It pays to inspect your attic annually and more frequently, if you're experiencing severe storms. The best way to learn how to do the job yourself, is to schedule a home inspector and accompany them to learn from a pro.
Clint McKie is the owner of Desert Sun Home Inspections in Carlsbad, New Mexico. His company provides home inspection services throughout south east New Mexico. You can learn more home inspections and how they help homeowners at Clint's website, www.Carlsbad-Home-Inspector.com.
Anita Clark Realtor
Excellent attic checklist and reminder we all need to be checking our own homes periodically to ensure our homes are problem free.
Anita, You’re so right that we all need to check our attics. We’ve now been in our new condo for 5 years so I think it’s time to carry that ladder upstairs & check things out.
Thank you for spreading the news about the importance of inspecting your attic’s.
Many homeowners are not very well informed when it comes to their attic’s.
Best, Clint McKie
Desert Sun Home Inspections, Carlsbad, New Mexico
Clint, Thank you for sharing your story as you’re the expert because I too don’t visit my attic very often but am planning too now that I’ve read your advice.