Six Reasons to Inspect an Attic

An overlooked attic inspection can present horrors.

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Although attic inspections are rarely foremost on a buyer's mind, there are a lot of good reasons why buyers need to get into an attic or send their home inspector into the attic before completing a home inspection. Attics should not be overlooked. 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 occupant of the home.

Supporting Truss or Rafter Damage

Roof inspections won't necessarily turn up defects in the structural members of the attic. While the roof might look sound and secure, inside the attic you could find broken trusses or rafters. An inspection would disclose stress cracks that could lead to a loss of integrity and would also give buyers peace of mind that the size of the lumber was correct and up to code.

Previous Fire Damage

If the rafters are any other color than natural wood, that could be a sign that the home was on fire. If the wood is black, scorched and sooty, that's almost a sure sign it had been burned in the past. However, if the wood is painted white, that could indicate that the smoke and burned damage was covered up because 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, meaning the higher the R number, typically the higher the insulating factor. Ask your home inspector if the batts are facing the right direction (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 and rarely enters a home sideways. Inspectors will look for staining on the wood supports or on the walls which would provide evidence that water had leaked or is leaking through the roof somewhere. Condensation can form around pipes, which can cause wood to rot. Sometimes furnaces are located in attic space. Check to see that no metal has rusted around the furnace.

Chimney Access

Of course, one cannot inspect the interior of the chimney from the attic, but an inspector can note whether the structure itself is solid within the attic. That portion of the chimney that is not exposed to the elements can also weather and deteriorate, and this especially holds true for 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 but no sign of a fireplace inside the home because it has been walled in.

Wildlife Damage

The first sign that a critter has been living in the attic is often the telltale evidence of tiny poop pellets left behind by the critters. Squirrels, raccoons, possums, rodents often enter attics through the eaves or loose boards and this wildlife can cause considerable damage.

A home inspector on the job in Land Park, a leafy neighborhood in Sacramento, discovered that squirrels in the attic had gnawed through the insulation around the pipes and they chewed through the Romex plastic coating, down to the bare wires. The seller at some point had tossed poison into the attic, then forgot about the situation and did not disclose any of it to the buyer. As a result, the inspector ended up tossing three dead squirrels into a bucket to show the buyer. On top of the damage and potential for fire from exposed wiring, the insulation now posed a health risk and required replacing.

Believe it or not, the listing agent did not think anything of it when presented with the horrible facts and even tried to defend his client's actions. Seller disclosures are a crucial matter in California. Altogether, this job was priced at almost $5,000 to fix. And guess who paid for it? It wasn't the buyer, thank goodness! It was the seller.