Wes Kelley,Certified Inspector
7 Oaks Home Inspection, LLC
Why do home inspectors have to look in the attic? What can you see up there?
Good question. A professional home inspector will always include the attic inspection as part of the complete inspection because attics “tell” the history of the home. Attic inspections include the structural members, chimney chase, vents, ventilation, insulation, vapor barrier and the exhaust venting. The attic is also examined for water penetration or condensation and the electrical system is checked out.
The inspection of structural members such as trusses or rafters can reveal both past, present and future problems. I have found trusses that were sawn in half to accommodate a whole house fan, or a vent pipe. Over a period of time, this condition will cause the roof to sag and eventually leak. I’ve seen shoddy rafter repair work after “undisclosed” fire damage. The home-made repair involved nailing 2×6’s onto the charred rafters. This compromised the attic area strength and the rafters ability to carry the weight of the roof. Proper repair should have included complete removal and replacement of affected rafters. Rafters cannot be seen except in the attic.
The chimney chase is observed for any signs of leaking at the point of roof penetration. A masonry chimney must be checked for missing or cracked mortar that could allow carbon monoxide gasses to escape into the living spaces. Metal chimneys need a two inch clearance from the wood components of the house to provide a heat barrier and prevent fires. Many home owners assume their home was built “to code.” The truth is, many homes were built years ago, before “codes” and “inspections” were the norm.
Today’s homes have many different ways to ventilate the attic area. These vents must be located, identified and examined for adequacy. The inspection should reveal if there are any signs of high moisture or condensation because of lack of ventilation. Also, plumbing vents are inspected to determine proper penetration through the roof and to confirm the flashing doesn’t’t leak. If there is a leak, proper remedy should not include pots and buckets to catch the rain. One time I even found a little blue “kiddy pool” sitting in the attic. If the attic hadn’t’t been inspected, no one would have known the roof leaked.
The type of insulation is determined and the average thickness is estimated. Insulation is checked for dampness to determine if there is any leakage, and the vapor barrier if there is any, is located. The vapor barrier should always be against the warm side of the house.
The attic area may contain the heating and cooling units. Many times I find duct work that has been stepped on or crushed which leads to improper heating and cooling of the upper floors. Electrical components are also checked for sizing and safety hazards.
Your question was good one. There are many surprises that can await you in that dark, hard to get to place called the attic. Free loaders like mice, squirrels and raccoons can cause a lot of havoc. One time I found a dead squirrel in the attic. He had electrocuted himself by getting into an open junction box. Bad for him. Real bad for the family living with a potential fire hazard. Homes have great stories to tell when you look and listen. What is your attic saying?