Many of us don’t often give our attics much thought. The cavity between the roof and ceiling of the house’s highest floor tends to go unnoticed. Sure, we know it’s there, but when was the last time you ventured into your attic — if ever? It’s probably been a while unless you live in a house with a high-ceilinged bonus level.
The fact is the attic is a critical piece of your home. It’s a vital part of keeping your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. For instance, if your attic isn’t insulated well enough, you can lose a considerable portion of your home’s heat when the weather turns cold. It goes without saying. Your attic has a tremendous impact on your energy bill.
An attic inspection will help uncover issues that influence comfort and energy efficiency. Finding these issues and getting them fixed will help improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce your energy bill.
Not all attics are created equal. They come in many shapes, sizes, and types.
Most older houses, and some newer places, have fully accessible attics, large enough to convert into living and sleeping spaces. This type of attic is typical of a raftered roof. Rafters are large beams cut and assembled on the building site to form the roof of a house.
Some attics are simply crawlspaces that may have adequate room to store some small boxes, but not much else. You’ll see this type of attic most often with trussed roofs. Trusses are prefabricated roof beam assemblies installed as whole pieces. Trusses typically have a web of beams on the interior frame of each.
Larger attics are ideal for finishing and converting into extra living, sleeping, or office space. If you have a large, unfinished attic with easy access, you may want to consider converting it. A finished attic can add substantial resale value to your home.
The floors to most unfinished attics consist of evenly-spaced beams, with no structure to easily stand or walk. When you visit an attic with an open joist structure, you need to be careful to only step on the beams. One wrong step can damage the ceiling on the level below.
Despite the style of roof or attic you have, they all share two essential elements.
The attic is your home’s first line of defense against extreme temperatures. Good insulation helps keep your attic, and the rest of your house, at a comfortable temperature.
It’s important to have good airflow through the attic. Good ventilation helps keep moisture from building up, which can cause issues down the road. Many houses contain soffit vents to help with ventilation.
What is an attic inspection, and why do you need it?
The attic isn’t just an empty space in your house. A lot is going on up there, and it all has a big impact on the rest of your home. Apart from the energy implications, an unattended attic can be home to bats, insects, or any number of critters you wouldn’t want crawling around in any part of your home.
The attic is part of the initial home inspection when you’re buying a house. As long as the inspector has access to the attic, they’ll thoroughly examine it. The initial inspection helps catch any issues before you finalize the purchase. Even after you’ve moved in, it’s important to get your attic inspected periodically.
An attic inspection gives you a slew of information about your home. You can use this info as ammunition to combat several potential issues before they blow up into full-fledged problems.
If you have a professional inspect your attic, they should inform you of the condition of the following components:
- Leaks. The attic is the first place where roof leaks will present themselves. If left alone, one small drop can be the source of bigger issues later on. Mold, water spots, and wood rot are clear indicators of a leak somewhere in the attic. If your roof is leaking, it’s important to fix it as quickly as possible.
- Insulation. A drafty attic is a sure sign of insufficient insulation. All gaps and cavities in the attic should be liberally stuffed with good insulation. A well-insulated attic makes for dramatically smaller energy bills because your furnace and AC won’t have to work as hard to keep you comfortable.
- Ventilation. We can’t stress enough the importance of good attic airflow. Good ventilation helps evaporate ambient moisture and regulates the attic’s temperature. Some signs of poor ventilation include window condensation and mold.
- Exhaust ports. Many internal systems relying on airflow will expel through vents that extend through the attic and exit through a port in the roof. Obstructed exhaust ports can cause moisture build-up issues that can affect the rest of your house. Some affected systems include clothes dryers, furnaces, and septic plumbing.
How Much Will an Attic Inspection Cost Me?
If you have it done professionally, an attic inspection will cost around $350. Once an inspector has finished examining your attic, they should present you with a report.
Attic Inspection Checklist
Put together a handy attic inspection checklist and keep your eyes open for these issues to make sure your attic is in good health:
- Condensation or moisture under the roof — this could be a sign of a leak.
- Dampness or condensation around ductwork — this often means air is escaping, and your AC could be costing you more to run than it should.
- Dark, moist spots on the floor — if these coincide with moisture under the roof, there’s a strong likelihood of a leak.
- Mold — usually presents itself as a cluster of dark spots. On a smooth surface, the mold will have a slight texture to it.
- Small holes and tiny bits of sawdust on the floor — these two things together often indicate termites.
- Proper seals around windows — another significant impact on your energy bills.
- Deterioration of the chimney casing — if your chimney isn’t intact, it could mean a carbon monoxide risk for the whole home.
- Frayed wire insulation — some rodents love the taste of wire insulation. Make sure there aren’t any nibble marks.
- Animal droppings — these are a good sign of unwelcome guests, such as rats, bats, or even a raccoon.
If you run across any issues on the checklist, contact a specialist in your area to take care of them as soon as possible.
Can I Do an Attic Inspection Myself?
Many people do their own attic inspections, but this is not a replacement for an inspection from a certified professional. That said, it’s good to visit your attic at least once a year and give it a thorough DIY exam. You just need to know what to look for and how to address any issues you come across.
Before you begin, make sure you have everything you need and you’re geared for safety. Have the following items ready to go, so you’ll be adequately prepared:
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants
- Have an N-95 mask handy in case of any mold or spores.
- A flashlight to get a good look at the nooks and crannies.
- A camera with a flash. A digital camera or phone works well for zooming in on pictures of any cracks or discolorations that may cause you concern.
- If your attic has hatch access, have someone hold the ladder while you climb in.
- Antibiotic ointment and adhesive bandages, just in case of any hard-to-notice, exposed nails or screws.
Once you enter your attic, inhale deeply through your nose to catch any odors of mold, smoke, or animal waste. If you notice any whiff of mold, put on the N-95 mask for your safety.
The attic is the capstone to your home. You’re doing yourself and everyone who lives there a big favor by taking care of issues as soon as you find them. A regular inspection is your best bet at keeping your attic healthy and the rest of your home in good shape.