By Mitch Kuffa
It’s time to look in your ATTIC to see what condition it is in.
The first thing that will probably come to your mind is, “What on earth am I going to look for up there?” and “How do I get up there?”
In most cases, you will probably need a ladder with most attic accesses being located in a crowded closet ceiling. Some homes have convenient “pull-down” stairs, but these are somewhat rare. When you get to the top of your ladder, you need to gently push up on the access cover because often they are covered with insulation, etc..
Once the area becomes visible, take a good look with a flashlight. You do not want to walk or crawl around unless you know what you’re doing. Take the flashlight and look for evidence of leaking which most often occurs around roof penetrations (vents, chimney, plumbing stacks, etc.). It is quite common to see minor water stains around roof vents, but the stairs should not be excessive. Also, there should not be any dripping wet areas or places that show large areas of darkened or deteriorated wood. Look out for water stains running along the rafters or trusses. Keep in mind that many roof leaks are difficult to find because the roof surface is slanted and water runs downhill.
If your attic has an electric light, keep it off temporarily. Initially, I like to look into this space in the dark to see if there are any unexplained “pinholes” of light. If there is light, there can also be water. These “pinholes” most often show up around chimney penetrations. It is very common for the chimney flashing to separate or fail and allow water to slowly infiltrate.
Secondly, let’s see what condition your attic insulation is in. Is it equally spread throughout? If your attic has loose or blown insulation then the wind, squirrels, or someone working up in your attic could have pushed it around. Always remember that approximately 70% of all heat loss is up through the roof. 6” of blanket insulation was a standard for years but today we have standards that recommend much more.
Next, see if there is any evidence of condensation. This is different than a leak. Condensation occurs inside your attic quite often and the most common reason is due to the fact that attic insulation has been added without adding additional vents. Very often, the soffit overhang vents become plugged up with insulation which then minimizes air movement. The more insulation you have, the more venting you need. The reason for this is that the new insulation added now blocks heat loss from the house and the attic becomes cooler. The previous heat loss acted as a drying agent. A good trick I learned through the years is to look at the nail points sticking through the roof sheathing from the shingle application. If they are rusty then there has been past condensation. If they are rusty and the wood around them are stained the past condensation problem has occurred regularly. If the nail points look like the day they were driven then condensation is minimal and you basically have a dry attic.
Also, look for dark stains on the bottom edge of the roof sheathing where it meets the overhang of the roof. Typically moist air is heavier, settles in the low areas and then if this is a regular condition will stain the wood with a black mold type stain. If you see these, you can purchase do-it-yourself test kits to determine whether or not you have mold. I have actually seen the condensation condition so severe in attics that it was “raining” drops of water from all the nail tips into the insulation below.
Do you see any evidence of structural failure? Are there any sags, cracks or unexplained separation?
Is there any evidence of squirrels, raccoons, bats, etc? This is more common than you think. Their presence can not only make noise but also become very messy. They can breed, move insulation around and smell. If this condition is excessive you may need a professional exterminator to discourage them from returning or even to get them out.
What about insects? I think we both agree that they belong outside. They have sprays which discourage their presence. If you have any holes in your overhangs they should be plugged with urethane foam or similar (many foams have an insect repellent included).
If there are any heating or cold air ducts running through the attic they should be insulated. Be sure there are no holes or separation in the pipes. I have seen where a heat pipe separated and the owner had the humidifier on the furnace set on high and the attic had icicles growing in the winter due to this condition.
Finally, make sure that all bath and kitchen fan vents are connected and are discharging to the exterior or close to a vent and not dumping the moisture-laden air into the attic. These discharge pipes often need to be insulated because in the winter when the attic becomes cold the warm air discharge can condensate inside the pipe and drip back down into the house.
Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he was worked as a construction superintendent, general superintendent and construction manager for several large developers in the state of Michigan.
He has been a licensed Michigan residential builder since 1977, was an incorporated general contractor for 11 years and has built and/or run the construction of approx. 3,500 residential houses, apartments, commercial structures and/or light industrial buildings.
In 1981 he started the first private home inspection agency in Michigan and to date has personally performed approx. 16,000 inspections for a fee.
Since 1981, Mr. Kuffa, inspects properties and acts as a construction consultant for the Michigan Department of Mental Health (group homes), UAW Legal Services, numerous lenders, several non-profit organizations and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Kuffa is a federal housing fee inspector and FHA 203K mortgage loan consultant, works with several attorney’s as an “expert witness”, has been appointed by the Michigan circuit court system to act as a Receiver in several cases concerning construction litigation and teaches a series of construction classes (for misc. school districts, community colleges. Michigan state housing authority, etc.).
Mr. Kuffa has been a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, in good standing, since 1983.
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