Attic Inspection

Attic Inspection photos: P 125-P 137, P 212-P 214

Most houses will have an attic space that you must inspect if there's access to it due to the potential problems you can find. Just like crawl spaces, don't get lazy and just assume everything's OK in the attic area. Some houses won't have any accessible attic areas, so just do the best you can.

Sometimes the attic area has been finished and there are knee wall openings to the attic. These are small openings in the wall areas of the upper level that allow you to view a small portion of the attic and use it for storage. The access panels to most attics are located in the ceiling of the upper level hallway. Sometimes the access panel will be located in a bedroom closet. Ask the owner about this and don't assume there's no access panel because you didn't see one. It could be hidden.

Older houses sometimes have stairways leading to the attic area. Newer homes will have a pull-down stairway to provide access to the attic area. If there's no pull-down stairway, you should recommend that one be installed for convenience. Check the condition of the pull-down stairway to make sure it's sturdy and that it has handrails on the sides of the steps.

I always recommend that a handrail be installed inside the attic area surrounding the access opening.This will help prevent anyone in the attic area from falling through the access opening.

I always recommend that a handrail be installed inside the attic area surrounding the access opening.This will help prevent anyone in the attic area from falling through the access opening.

Real Estate Advice Education House Inspection Appraisal Home Improvement Renovation I always recommend that a handrail be installed inside the attic area surrounding the access opening. This will help prevent anyone walking in the attic area from falling through the access opening. I have no idea why, but I haven't seen any building codes that require this handrail in new construction. What will happen is somebody is going to fall through the access panel and get killed someday. After that, then the local building codes will add this safety precaution. Don't wait for that to happen, recommend they install a handrail now!

Usually you'll find most attics will have some wood board covering over the floor joists so the attic can be used to store lightweight items. If you see any very heavy objects, tell the client it's not recommended due to the excessive weight on the ceiling below. You have to be careful when you're in the attic area and not walk between any of the floor joists. If you do, then your foot will go right through the ceiling below!

Check the condition of the roof ridge beam, roof rafters and the roof sheathing while in the attic area. Use a screwdriver or an awl to probe these wood boards for sturdiness. The roof ridge beam is the main girder type beam at the top of the crest of the roof. The roof rafters are the floor joist type beams leading from the attic floor up to the roof ridge beam. The roof sheathing is the sub flooring type wood that the roof shingles rest upon. The sheathing is made of plywood in newer construction and smaller wood boards in older houses.

If the roof originally had a cedar wood shingle roof installed, then you'll see wooden slats, also called laths, for the roof sheathing. Wooden slats are one inch by two inch boards that run perpendicular to the roof rafters and are spaced about one foot apart. The purpose of the wooden slats is to allow air to get to the attic side of the shingles. This way the back of the shingles can "breathe" and expand and contract with the temperature and weather changes. If the house has wooden slats, then the next time it's reroofed these slats may have to be removed and plywood sheathing will need to be installed. This can be expensive so tell the client to get estimates.

In condominiums and modular homes you'll probably find roof truss construction in the attic. Roof truss construction refers to the wood roof framing that has metal ties to hold the boards together. This type of framing is preassembled in a factory like modular homes. The benefit of roof truss framing is that it's easier to install for simple roof designs as opposed to standard roof framing. The drawback to roof trusses is that they are hard to install for a complicated roof design since there will be too many angles to deal with. Also, roof trusses will eliminate most of the attic space due to the design of the wood framing.

Look for any water stains that are due to water leaks or abnormal humidity in the attic area. Often there are old water stains from prior roof leaks that have been repaired. Just see if they look moist or recent. Check for any bowing in the wood members of the attic. While looking at the sheathing you may be able to determine the number of layers of roof shingles. If you see many nails in the sheathing, then you can assume there are two or three layers of shingles on the roof. Sometimes you will see clear sap droplets on the roof rafters. This is caused by the greener wood drying out after the original construction of the roof.

Check for the presence of collar beams in the attic. Collar beams are 2 x 4 boards that are located several feet below the ridge beam. The purpose of collar beams is to "tie" both sides of the roof together so that all of the weight of the roof doesn't rest upon the ridge beam. It gives the roof additional support. Older houses may not have collar beams so recommend that they be installed.