The author, John Berry, is a home inspector for Boswell Building Surveys in Baltimore
Home buyers do not usually venture into attics, unless it has a stairway for easy access. Attics are often dusty, dirty, difficult to navigate, and are hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Attics are critical to inspect, because they often illuminate other defects. For example, when walking on the roof, the roof may appear fine. From inside the attic, however, subtle water leaks may be visible. The roof sheathing (the wood deck that the shingles are nailed to) may be damaged. The trusses or rafters may be damaged. The insulation may be inadequate or sections of it may be missing entirely. Poor insulation may cause snow to melt, and then refreeze when it runs down to the colder un-insulated edge of the roof. This thawing and freezing may eventually create a dam of ice at the edge of the roof that causes newly-melted snow to back-up and leak through the seams of the shingles and into the attic and eventually damaging the finished ceilings of the living spaces.
Inspecting an attic requires a ladder, flashlight and a dust mask. Gloves are sometimes necessary to protect against splinters. The little hatchways into attics are called scuttles. They are often found in the ceilings of closets, and they are often difficult to pass through, especially if you weigh 275 pounds! Once in the attic, the inspector will walk, waddle or crawl to all parts of the attic. He will be careful to walk only on the truss bottoms and not on the dry wall or plaster, because these ceiling materials will not support much weight. Attics must be ventilated to allow moist air to leave, or mildew will be promoted. The ventilation openings must be screened so our feathered friends can't enter. In many homes, attic fans (controlled by attic thermostats) are used. The inspector adjusts the thermostat so the fan turns on. Most newer homes have ridge vents at the peaks of the roof to let air out. The fresh air enters through vents in the soffits.
wiring is inspected. The trusses or rafters are inspected for broken or
cracked members. Water stains, damaged sheathing, and evidence of damaged
roofing felt are looked-for. Plumbing vents and flues come through the
attic, so they are inspected. Chimneys are inspected. Sometimes one of
these things is broken or leaking, allowing gases into the attic and eventually
the house. Furnaces and air handlers for air conditioners are often in
the attic, so they must be inspected, too.