6 Reasons To Inspect An Attic
Undiscovered horrors could lurk in the attic if home buyers neglect to conduct an attic inspection.
The damage was caused by a family of squirrels that had hopped off an overhanging tree branch and gnawed their evil little way through attic eaves. These fat squirrels enjoyed a royal feast for months and months, devouring foam pipe insulation, and most of the plastic coating on Romex wiring and rubber straps that secured the furnace to the joists.
Nobody heard the sounds of scurrying feet because the home was vacant. But the damage was so extensive that the home had become a health and fire hazard. The exposed wiring could have caused a fire to break out at any moment.
The buyers of this newer home found so little wrong with it during the home inspection. At, Qualityspec Inc., we always inspect attics. If the attic was overlooked by the inspector, and was never inspected, that would almost cost the buyers $5,000, which is how much the seller ultimately paid to fix this problem.
Don’t Miss This Important Home Inspection
Although inspecting attics is rarely foremost on a buyer’s mind, there are a lot of good reasons why buyers need to get into an attic or send their home inspector into the attic before completing a home inspection. Attics should not be overlooked. An attic reflects the history of a home. It can provide clues to serious problems that might not be disclosed or even known by the current occupant of the home.
Supporting Truss or Rafter Damage
Roof inspections won’t necessarily turn up defects in the structural members inside the attic. While the roof might look sound and secure, inside the attic you could find broken trusses or rafters. An inspection would disclose stress cracks that could lead to a loss of integrity and would also give buyers peace of mind that the size of the lumber was correct and up to code.
Previous Fire Damage
If the rafters are any other color than natural wood, that could be a sign that the home was on fire. If the wood is black, scorched and sooty, that’s almost a sure sign it had been burned in the past. However, if the wood is painted white; that could indicate that the smoke and burned damage was covered up because painting wood helps to eliminate the smell.
Attics can be insulated in a number of ways, including blowing in insulation or laying fiberglass batts. Insulation is rated with an R factor, meaning the higher the R number, typically the higher the insulating factor. Ask your home inspector if the batts are facing the right direction (paper up or paper down).
Water flows from the top down and rarely enters a home sideways. Inspectors will look for staining on the wood supports or on the walls which would provide evidence that water had leaked or is leaking through the roof somewhere. Condensation can form around pipes, which can cause wood to rot.
Of course, one cannot inspect the interior of the chimney from the attic, but an inspector can note whether the structure itself is solid within the attic. That portion of the chimney that is not exposed to the elements can also weather and deteriorate, and this especially holds true for older homes. Inspectors will look for cracks in the bricks and whether the mortar has crumbled.
Squirrel, Raccoon and Rodent Damage
The first sign that a critter has been living in the attic is often evidence discovered in the form of tiny pellets. Squirrels, raccoons or rodents often enter attics through the eaves or loose boards and can cause considerable damage.
In the attic photo above, squirrels ate through the insulation around pipes and they chewed through the Romex plastic coating, down to the bare wires. The seller had tossed poison into the attic, then forgot about the situation and did not disclose any of it to the buyer. As a result, the inspector removed three dead squirrels in the bucket photo. On top of the damage and potential for fire from exposed wiring, the insulation now posed a health risk and required replacing. All together, this job was priced at almost $5,000 to fix. And guess who paid it? It wasn’t the buyer, thank goodness!
Tip: *When getting ready to sell your home, one of the best things you can do is to get a complete heating and cooling evaluation by a professional. The ideal scenario is to have records of the history for the heating and cooling system. Being able to provide up to date information about your mechanical system will help to eliminate surprises from this house component and feel more confident about the condition of your home.
How To Assess Your Attic Storage Potential
Attic storage is possible in most houses for stashing away a few boxes and empty suitcases. But what if you’d like to turn your attic into a library, reading room, home office or new bedroom? Each of these options require that you take some time to assess the potential, and the potential problems, your attic may hold in store for you. Here are some major items to consider:
1. Roof Leaks
Roof leaks are a problem no matter what plans you have for attic storage. Even a small one can lead to serious trouble.
Check for stains on the ceilings beneath the attic, which can be a surefire indication of a leak in the roof.
Look for bathroom vent fans that terminate in the attic. This is a frequent mistake made by do-it-yourselfers and shortcut made by sloppy contractors. Vent fans that remove excess moisture should deposit that moisture outside of the house, either through the roof or a wall. Too often, however, the moisture is simply dispersed in the attic.
Look for rot, stains or other signs of water damage on the underside of the roof sheathing.
Check carefully around chimneys, vent pipes and other objects that penetrate the roof.
Look for signs of condensation on the sheathing and framing. This may indicate the need for additional ventilation in the attic rather than a leak.cabinet bases are in reasonably good shape, paint the cabinets and add new premade cabinet doors.
2. Floor Framing
The floor of an attic is the framing for the ceiling beneath it. As long as they are not damaged, these ceiling joists should be strong enough to allow you to move around the attic for an inspection and to provide storage for typical boxed items. But they may not be adequate to support the weight of multiple people, furniture and heavy stored items.
Fortunately, it is usually not difficult to reinforce the framing with additional joists. You can then cover the joists with plywood or an OSB subfloor. You may want to discuss the suitability of your attic framing with a professional contractor.
Before you start moving around the attic, however, think hard about what you will be stepping or crawling on. The joists should support your weight, but the space between them almost certainly will not. The safest way to move around an unfinished attic is to create a catwalk (or walking platform) by attaching some 1×6 or 1×8 boards or strips of 3/4-inch plywood to the joists with screws (avoid hammering nails here as you could disturb the drywall or plaster below).
3. Roof Framing
Traditional stick-framed roofs are composed of rafters running from the ridge to the walls. This framing style provides the most open space in an attic.
Newer truss roofs are made at factories, where lumber is joined in a carefully engineered web. These trusses should not be cut, and with normal trusses your storage options are limited. Some roofs are framed with special “storage trusses” that leave an open, central space suitable for storage.
If you want to use your attic on a regular basis or to store large items, you may need to enlarge the access opening and install folding or drop-down stairs. If the attic has potential to become regular living space, talk with a contractor about adding a fixed stairway.
This is where dreams of adding new living space in an attic are often abandoned. Building codes often require that a finished space have a ceiling height of 7 feet 6 inches over at least half of the available floor space. So if the distance from the ridge to the floor joists isn’t at least 9 feet, you probably won’t be able to meet the code requirement unless you add a dormer.
But you don’t need to worry about building codes for creating simple storage space or a place to sit and read. Either way, you do need to be conscious of the roofing nails that may well be poking through the underside of the sheathing. A hardhat is a handy bit of protection to have when looking around an unfinished attic. If you want to spend some time up there, however, consider adding a finished ceiling.
If your house is insulated, there’s a good chance that the attic is outside of the “thermal boundary,” or insulated space. For regular use or for storing temperature sensitive items, you may want to add insulation to the walls and ceiling.
Good ventilation can also keep an attic from overheating and developing condensation problems. Many houses rely on vents in the ridge, soffit or gable ends to provide ventilation, but a full attic conversion may require windows and skylights to provide fresh air.
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