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Questions on Attic Inspections

Q. The people who are buying my house hired a home inspector. When he was inspecting the attic, I climbed his ladder and watched what he was doing for about 10 minutes. I asked him what he looks for in an attic, and he just said: "The usual stuff." I didn't want to press him, but I sure would like to know what it is that takes so much time when a home inspector looks at an attic. What do you guys look for?

A. There is a long list of things that home inspectors routinely look for in attics, as well as unusual findings: things that inspectors don't look for but that arise as big surprises.

The usual things that are inspected in attics include the condition of the roof framing and decking materials that cover the framing. These are inspected for proper installation, apparent damage, and water stains resulting from roof leakage. Insulation and ventilation are also evaluated. Insulation is needed for energy efficiency of the home, and ventilation is needed to minimize heat gain in summer and to prevent moisture condensation inside the attic.

Aside from the general construction of the roof and attic, there are electrical, plumbing and mechanical components that need to be inspected for function and safety. Faulty wiring is often found in attics, especially when homeowners have made alterations for lighting, ceiling fans or other fixtures. Examples include exposed wire splices that should be installed in junction boxes, or disconnected wires with exposed live ends.

Plumbing problems are also found in attics, such as sewer vents the terminate inside the attic, rather than venting to the outside of the building, or PEX water pipes that are exposed to sunlight at the attic vents.

Fire hazards can also be found in an attic. The most common of these involve flue pipes for gas-burning fixtures and fireplace chimneys. Flues and chimneys have minimum clearance requirements to combustible materials, but home inspectors often find these to be touching the wood framing members. In some cases, the wood is charred from heat exposure.

Forced air heating systems are often installed in attics, and this is one of the most important aspects of a home inspection. Furnaces have to be checked for proper installation and performance, with particular attention to fire safety compliance. When systems include air conditioning, there are additional considerations, especially with regard to drainage of moisture condensation.

Even when the heating and air systems are installed elsewhere in the building, there are likely to be air ducts in the attic, and these can be damaged, separated, or improperly installed, affecting the overall efficiency of the system. There may also be problems with the duct insulation.

Aside from these common issues, there are unusual situations for an observant inspector, such as damaged vent screens that allow birds or bats to nest inside the attic. There are traps or droppings that indicate possible rodent infestation. In some cases, there is evidence of a previous house fire. There may be excessive storage of personal property causing damage to the framing. There may be spots of sunlight shining through the roof, indicating potential roof leaks

For an experienced home inspector, the foregoing is a summary list of the many defects that can and do occur, to one degree or another, in nearly all attics.


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