How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured 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.
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