Inspect the Attic Before You Buy a Home

Attics can tell you a lot about the history and condition of the home

An overlooked attic inspection can present trouble down the road.
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Attic inspections aren't usually foremost on a homebuyer's mind, but there are a lot of good reasons for them to get up there or send their home inspector to take a look around. An attic reflects the history of a home. It can provide clues to serious problems that might not be disclosed or even known by the current owner.

Supporting Truss or Rafter Damage

Roof inspections won't necessarily turn up defects in the structural members of the attic. The roof may look sound and secure from above, but you may find broken trusses or rafters inside the attic. An inspection may disclose stress cracks that could lead to a loss of integrity.

On the other hand, an inspection can give buyers peace of mind if the size of the lumber is correct and up to code.

Previous Fire Damage

If the rafters are any color than natural wood, it can be a sign that the home was on fire at some point in the past. Black, scorched, and sooty wood is a sure sign the property was burned in the past. However, wood that has been painted white may indicate that any damage from smoke and fire was covered up. Painting wood helps to eliminate the smell.

Inadequate Attic Insulation

Attics can be insulated in a number of ways, including blowing in insulation or laying fiberglass batts. Insulation is rated with an R-value. The higher the R number, the higher the insulating factor typically is, so it's worth checking.

Ask your home inspector if the batts are facing the right direction. Are they paper-up or paper-down? Properly insulated attics can cut down on your heating costs in the winter and cooling expenses in the summer.

Water Damage

Water flows from the top down. It rarely enters a home sideways. Inspectors will look for staining on the wood supports or on the walls that can provide evidence that water had once leaked or is currently leaking through the roof somewhere. Condensation can form around pipes, and this can cause wood to rot.

Sometimes, furnaces are located in the attic space. Check to see that no metal has rusted around the furnace.

Chimney Access

Of course, no one can inspect the interior of a chimney from the attic, but an inspector can note whether the structure itself is solid within the attic space. The portion of the chimney that isn't exposed to the elements can also weather and deteriorate. This is especially the case with older homes.

Inspectors will look for cracks in the bricks and whether the mortar has crumbled. It's not unusual to discover a chimney in the attic with no sign of a fireplace inside the home because it has been walled in.

Wildlife Damage

The telltale evidence of tiny poop pellets is often the first sign that critters have been living in the attic. Squirrels, raccoons, possums, and rodents often enter attics through the eaves or loose boards. This can cause considerable damage.

For example, squirrels can gnaw through the insulation around the pipes and chew through Romex plastic coatings down to the bare electrical wires. The exposed insulation can pose a health risk and would require replacing, not to mention the fire hazards from the exposed wiring.

Ensuring Access

Not all home sellers are aware of the importance of this type of inspection, and some may not readily agree to one. In addition, many inspectors will not include attic spaces if easy and ready access isn't available. This is something that should be negotiated with the seller before you proceed with the transaction. You may not want to close the deal unless a professional has inspected the attic.