How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes

Where is the attic?

Monday, April 20, 2020

The building code requires an attic access opening to be in a “hallway or other readily accessible location”. So the first place to look is the hall ceiling. Other likely locations are the garage, carport or master bedroom closet. We have also seen them in the ceiling of ourdoor porches. 

    Still haven’t found it? Here’s our list of six possible reasons why it’s eluding you:

1) Attics that are small (less than 30 square feet of area) or under a low-slope roof that does not have a minimum of 30 inches of clear opening height between the top and bottom structural members are not required to have an attic hatch by the building code.

2) The attic access opening may have been removed during a remodeling. This is not a good sign. If you find this situation in a house you are considering buying, do not proceed until the seller provides an attic access for examination by you and your home inspector.

3) If the residence is a condominium in a building with multiple units under one large attic, the access hatch may be in an adjacent unit. This is common in older buildings that have been converted from rental apartments to condominium ownership and do not have firewalls between units. Be aware that if you decide to add an attic access hatch or fold-down ladder it should be lockable. Otherwise, you have provided easy access for theft through the attic access openings of any adjacent units.

4) If the house is mid-century modern style with a flat or shed roof, there may be no attic. The ceiling is attached to the bottom of the roof rafters in most of these homes.

5) The access opening may be there, but not in a place that you would expect to find it. Older houses sometimes have a ridiculously small (18”x18”) attic hatch in the corner of a bedroom closet. Stored items on the top shelf of the closet may be concealing it. 

6) Also, the access may a small door the wall of an upper-story room or high in the wall between the garage and house. Some very old homes have attic access only through a removable vent panel at a gable end wall of the roof.

    Although a minimum of one attic access opening is required by the building code for homes that meet that minimum requirement mentioned earlier, one access may not be enough for large homes, especially ones with a center cathedral ceiling that becomes an obstacle separating the two sides of the attic. So you might find that one side of your house does not have attic access, and should consider having a second access hatch installed to make it easier to keep tabs on its condition. 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •  

  To learn more about attic access, click on the links to these other blog posts:

Why is there no attic access hatch in the house?

Why are most pull-down attic ladders not approved by building code for installation in a garage?  

 Is a house required to have an attic?

Should I buy a house with no attic access hatch? 

Does the code require a barrier/well around the attic access hatch for blown insulation?

• When is a house not required to have an attic access hatch? 

Does a mobile home have an attic? 

What is the minimum size for attic access opening?

• When does code require an attic pull-down ladder to be installed? 

 Are attic pull-down ladders required to be code-approved?

Can the attic access opening be outside the house according to the building code?

• Where should attic access be placed by code? 

What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

     Visit our ROOF AND ATTIC page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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