An attic inspection, while not exactly comfortable or glamorous, is a very important part of the home inspection process. In the Summer, attic temperatures can exceed 120 degrees, so don’t be surprised if your inspector descends the ladder looking a little wilted (Note that a clever inspector will conduct that part of the job first thing in the morning, or so Bill Bitz tells us…) The trip up the ladder is necessary because the attic is one of the few places in the home where the framing is exposed to provide insight to the quality of the framing. The roof’s interior can provide evidence of current or past water entry that may not be evident anywhere else in the house, and since it’s a rarely accessed part of the house, occupants may not even be aware of potential problems. Did you know that one of the most common complaints against home inspectors is a failure to identify roof leaks? That is why an exterior as well as an interior inspection of the roof is crucial, and Bill believes that more information about the quality can be found from the inside out.
Home inspection standards require identification of the following:
- Attic access type: Pull down ladder, scuttle holes, stairs, and door access are the typical ways of attic entry.
- Attic inspection type: Some attics can be walked, and others can’t for reasons such as construction type, stored materials, etc. If the attic was inspected from the furnace platform or the top of the ladder, the inspection type as well as the reason for the inspection type needs to be identified in the report.
- Inaccessible areas: If any sections of the attic are inaccessible to the inspector, that needs to be identified in the report as well.
The information gathered during the attic inspection usually falls into five categories: Insulation, ventilation, framing, leaks and pests. Here are things that Bill looks for within each category:
- Insulation: Look for a good depth of insulation, 18-24 inches is a good rule of thumb. Proper insulation will dramatically impact utility bills for heating and cooling.
- Ventilation: Two sources of ventilation are ideal, to prevent accumulation of moisture. The two most common types of sources are ridge ventilation and soffit ventilation.
- Framing: Nearly all roofs are framed using one of two methods: Standard “stick” framing or the newer “truss” framing. Look for cracking as a clear sign of deterioration. The presence of fasteners on the framing is a signifier of solid building practices.
- Leaks: Look for water stains, and conduct a moisture check with a meter that measures within the material rather than the surface, to determine whether a stain is an active leak. Also check flashing around roof penetrations where pipes extend to the outside, since deterioration of flashing around those entry points is a quick way to develop leaks.
- Pests: There are some obvious signs of pests, such as the presence of feces and traps, but two subtler signifiers are piles of hay that suggest nesting, and tunneling in insulation. Unless you're interested in taking on a few additional pets, look carefully.