If the last time you were up in your attic was to get Christmas decorations last year, it needs a closer look.
Your attic will be the first sign of trouble for a number of possible issues. If neglected, they can turn into major expenses or repairs. With colder weather on the way there’s even more of an incentive - heat loss. One word of caution. An unfinished attic may have some hidden hazards. Experts recommend:
- Wear safety glasses, a dust mask and a hard hat or cap to protect your head from beams and nails.
- Do not walk on exposed ceiling drywall or insulation. You risk falling through the ceiling. Walk on joists or lay a piece of plywood across the rafters to better distribute your weight.
- Do your inspection on a rainy day. This makes it easier to spot any active leaks.
- Wait to turn on lights when you get into the attic. It makes it easier to identify where daylight may be coming in – a possible indicator of leaks or holes.
- Use a tape measure to check insulation levels.
- Take photos, focusing on potential problem areas for future reference.
During an inspection, here’s what to look for:
1) Inadequate insulation - Even if you only use your attic for storage, it still needs to be insulated to protect the rest of your home from heat and moisture damage. The R-value, which measures insulation’s efficiency, can change over time if it is compressed or disturbed. Some older homes were not even sufficiently insulated when built. Without regular upgrading, it can lead to higher heating bills. On average, a properly insulated attic will save a homeowner about 15 per cent. Check to see if your attic has enough. If not, have more installed to make the house more energy efficient.
2) Roof damage – From inside the attic, you will often be able to spot leaks in the roof. Signs include water damage or water stains on the ceiling, mold, dark spots or condensation on the chimney stack, moisture on the floor or condensation around pipes. Any of these signs may be a signal the roof needs repair or even replacement. The insulation in the attic should always be dry.
3) Rafters and trusses – This is what is used to frame your house. Inspect the boards for damage. Keep an eye out for signs of cracking, rotting or excess moisture. If you spot these, they are a serious structural problem that will require the help of a professional.
4) Ventilation - An attic needs proper ventilation to prevent moisture problems. Some signs of poor ventilation include mold spots, rusted nails and screws and condensation. Poor circulation keeps the temperature of the attic hot during warm weather. This can cause wear and tear on the roof. Ventilation will help keep the house cooler because the attic is cooler. Without the right ventilation you will pay higher energy bills.
5) Pests -No one wants unwanted guests in their attic. They can be anything from rodents (mice, squirrels or racoons), bugs, hornets, birds and bats. While you may not see any, there are tell-tale signs. Rodents leave droppings. Check in corners and along creases where the roof meets the walls or floor. Anything from tears in existing insulation to holes in the wood may also be a sign you have a pest problem. If you notice materials such as straw, fabric or paper scraps, they may have been used to make a nest. Finally, if you see a large number of dead flies, hornets or other insects in one area, they’re getting in somehow and more will come in the future.
6) Odours – Follow your nose. Pests and mold will leave behind unpleasant odours. If you notice must or mildew, you’ll want to do a more careful check for droppings, nesting, and mold. Attics that are unused spaces shouldn’t naturally smell bad.
7) Exhaust ducts and vent stacks – Ducts and vent stacks should run seamlessly through the roof to the outside. If they don’t that means moisture is getting into that space, leading to condensation on the roof structures. The result is a constant fungal growth that could spread to the rest of the house and cause health issues. A possible fix would be to install vent hoods in the attic to keep it moisture-free.
8) Electrical hazards – An attic inspection may uncover electrical shortcuts, junction boxes, and uncovered wiring. This poses a major fire hazard. It could also lead to electrical issues throughout your home. If necessary, consult an electrician.
Finally, it’s important to remember that as a homeowner your insurer requires you keep your home well maintained. If you notice a problem in the attic that you can’t handle, it’s worth it to call in the professionals.