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Roof And Attic

Photographs of findings in the roof and attic during home inspections.

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Viewed From

Attics are better viewed by moving around in the space, yet due to safety concerns, you might find that an inspector may just view the space from the attic opening. Be aware that a statement of how the attic is viewed can give you a clue to how complete the inspection was. If I state “walking it”, I mean that I moved around the space. If I state from the opening, then I only viewed it from the attic entrance. I prefer not to view an attic only from the entrance, because I know that this does not always give a complete picture; however, there are times when safety concerns do not permit a complete walking around.


Approximate Average Depth of Insulation:

attic structure 2

Going into the attic, you will want to check for insulation. The homeowner discovered that there was no insulation in much of the attic (just around the entrance), so he put these batts of insulation up there.
If you notice, they have a plastic sheathing which makes them easier to work with. On the left, you can see some white/grey staining on one of the beams. This is where you can see past leaks, but if the sheathing does not have a stain, then you are probably looking at an older stain that has been repaired. On the right, you can see some
cables coming down from the ridge holding the duct work for the air conditioning system. Ducts should not rest on the insulation, and they should allow air to flow freely to the vents in the rooms.

insulation against attic sheathingInsulation against the sheathing causes problems with moisture and ventilation. There should be a one inch air space, which can be achieved with a baffle.

recessed lightUnless stated that the fixture is designed to have insulation on it, recessed lighting should not have insulation over it or within three inches. In this case, the insulation was pulled back so far that an energy efficiency issue was created. A new idea which is not fully accepted is to create an insulated box over these fixtures. Parts of the box will be kept the required distance away from the fixture, but then this can be sealed and insulation placed over the box, which would be better for energy efficiency.

uninsulated atticMany new home designs have attics at multiple levels. Sometimes there will be access to these lower level attics, but in this case there was none. This photograph is to demonstrate that when inspecting, you have to go all over a space. Looking down to this attic, I find that there is no blown insulation. The builder states that there is a rolled batt insulation. That is hard to determine from this angle, but if there are insulation batts, they do not cover the framing, which will allow for thermal bridging (heat transferring from the attic to the room below through the framing).

under roof sheathing insulationOne school of thought has the idea that the attic space should be inside the building envelope. This means that the insulation should be under the roof sheathing. In the photograph, we see insulation installed under the roof sheathing by the use of chicken wire and hangers (the hanger ha a plate on the end to help hold everything in place, which can be seen in the top left of the photo). This method creates the air space by letting the batt insulation hang well below the sheathing (six inches for this home). This allows air flow from the soffit vent to go to the ridge vent between the sheathing and insulation. The idea is sound, but there is a problem. When I saw a larger AC compressor on the house, I thought that they might have an issue with cooling during the summer. This insulation is only three inches thick. I am guessing that the R-value (the resistance to transfer of heat) may be around an R-13. The current standard among builders in Houston is R-32. I suggest to my clients something closer to R-36 or R-38, but to be really efficient, I would go with R-42. The homeowner could have kept the utility bill low while resolving his problem by adding more insulation for probably the same price as the new air conditioning system.

debris on insulationOne problem we face with insulation is how do we get the best R value (or resistance to heat transfer if you will). The debris on the insulation in this photo is not so bad, but any item on the insulation begins to compress the insulation, which reduces the R value over time. One reason to use this photo is the other problem seen: the brace has broken off in the middle of the picture. I do not advise storing objects in the attic, since this can be material for a fire, but also the items can compress the insulation.

duct in insulationOne of the items that could be compressing the insulation is an air conditioning duct. In this case though, the duct is buried in the insulation. In some parts of the country, this might be a good idea. This is not the case in Houston. The problem has to do with condensation of moisture on the exterior surface of the duct due to the temperature differences in the attic and air moving in the duct.

Approximate Average Thickness of Vertical Insulation:

uninsulated vertical shaftLet us start with an unusual case. In the photograph, we see a shaft going through the living space from the attic. In the shaft is a duct for the air conditioning system. The walls in this shaft are not insulated. That means that the heat from the attic will transfer to the living space all along this shaft. In winter, the reverse happens. In either case, your energy bill will be higher. Most of these shafts were intended to have a batt insulation over them, then blow insulation over that batt. If the batt falls into the shaft, then you have no protection. I have not seen a builder or homeowner do this yet, but the solution to me seems simple: add framing pieces to hold the batt in place, then add the blow insulation, therefore there would be no need for vertical insulation in this space.

no vertical insulationRelated to the shaft problem above is wall placement in homes, and where the insulation goes. This home had a second story with a bit of an unusual layout. The rear of the left side was an attic space, but it had been finished so a room could be added later. The front of the second story on the left side had a grand stair case that had a wall which aligned with elements on the first floor. The builder had built a wall that ran from the wall in the unfinished attic, but also built a wall for the staircase, which was about eighteen inches in from the attic wall. Insulation was added to the attic wall framing, but not to the staircase wall framing. This would be alright if the gap between the two in the attic had been covered with insulation as suggested for the shaft above.

gap in thermoplyWith our concern about creating more energy efficient homes, we are now looking at ways to prevent heat transfer between attic and living spaces. Vertical insulation poses two problems for most homeowners. First, the insulation can fall off over time, depending on how it is installed. In some older homes, a paper backing strip was nailed to the framing, but this would wear away over time. Another method was simply stuffing batt insulation into the wall cavity, but this may fall out for different reasons (wall cavity to big, or pests can be causes). Some vertical insulation had some extra protection with some type of means to hold it into place (more framing or wiring). This was better, but sometimes this would fail. Secondly, as with horizontal insulation, the framing members (studs) were exposed to the attic, which allowed heat transfer. One soluti0n is to cover the framing with batt insulation. Another is to add a sheet of some type of material that could resist the heat transfer. The benefit of the sheet is that a sheet could also hold the insulation in place. Problems that you can find is the sheet is damaged, so the insulation falls off, or the sheet was not installed properly. Seen in this photo, we find a gap between sheets exposing the framing, so heat transfer can occur.

missing vertical insulationHere is an example of the insulation coming out of the stud cavity. One problem is that you might not see this happening. This was located on the back side of an attic where it would not have been visible from the entrance.

Attic Entry:

ladder insulationYou can enter an attic any number of ways. The ceiling could have a panel in it. You could have a door leading into an attic space. You could have a panel in a wall leading to an attic space. Most homes might have the ladder in the ceiling as pictured here. All attic entries face a similar problem though: the entry is a break in the thermal envelope of the home, so the heat can transfer through this opening. In my climate, I have to be concerned about summer heat radiating through this opening, causing higher utility bills to condition the air in my home. All attic entry should sit in their opening so that there are no gaps. Weatherstripping around the entry is helpful (with panels this is harder to do, but on this ladder there should be a thin weatherstripping along the edge). The covering of the opening should be insulated or have some higher R-value. With the pictured opening, the best solution would be foam board underneath the steps. Batt insulation moves out of place when people walk on the steps, and blown insulation would just fall off. If you have a door, the door should be an exterior type door (I have seen interior doors used, which do not prevent heat transfer as well as an exterior door).

screws in ladder supportThe most common problem with the attic ladders may be the insulation, but another common finding is the screws seen in this photograph. This is the frame for the ladder, which is attached to the framing of the attic opening. Builders know to use an appropriate fastener, but the worker doing the install could be in a hurry, or he may have been doing other types of installation that used screws, so he uses his drill and screws to do a fast install. Most appropriate installations of the ladder use a nail that is of the right size. Screws are a problem because of their strength when a perpendicular force is applied (they snap). A screw is meant to pull two objects together, so the screw has strength going along its axis, but when pressure is applied perpendicular to the screw, we find that it can easily break. If your are going up the ladder, with a box of ornaments, the screws could handle that weight (weight causing the perpendicular pressure); however, if a worker is going up with a new furnace for the heating system, the screws could break.

space for equipmentThis is the walkway from where the equipment is located leading back to the opening/entrance for the attic. There is enough space for a technician to move through to the equipment, but what about new equipment? In the space next to the path there should be enough room, but the walkway does not due to roof design, the use of trusses, and the location of the opening and equipment.

attic lightMost people do not think much about lighting in their attic. There are rules about attic lighting. Mainly they have to do with proximity to the mechanical equipment in the attic. However, builders realize that homeowners want to see around the attic opening (mostly to store items in this space). There is no problem in this photograph in regards to the attic light. The light is placed near the entrance of the attic. The picture was taken from the vantage point of the equipment, and it is close enough to provide light there.

Any visible evidence of moisture penetration:

moisture on sheathingFinding signs of leaks is not always easy in the attic. Some “roof leaks” may be from the air conditioning equipment. Some leaks may be coming down the vents, so you do not see stains on the sheathing. If a leak is new, you may not see much of a stain too. In the case of the photograph, there was a leak occurring from the chimney for some time, leaving the sheathing stained. The water dripped down when it hit another roof opening spot, which caused repairs to be made to the wrong area of the roof surface. Another problem to consider is stains on the rafters with no stains on the sheathing might mean a past leak that was repaired with a new roof. Also, stains on the sheathing may be a past leak if the proper area on the roof covering was repaired. In any case, the sheathing should be tested for current moisture or damage.

leak sign on the water heaterLeaks from vents can be difficult to find. Look at the vent piping to check for water marks. If you see them on the vent you have to check where the vent goes through the roof, and where the water might fall off the vent for more possible leak signs. Water heaters in the attic, like this one, pose an additional problem: is this a leak from the vent or the water line? In this case water marks were found on the vent pipe; a gap was seen at the roof penetration point; and finally we have the water stains on the top of this heater.  Check the plumbing connections and pipes anyway, because you may find that a leak may be happening there as well.

Type of Ventilation:

soffit vent
another soffit vent
attic vent
First, your attic needs air flowing through it to prevent problems with moisture and heat. Here are two types of soffit vents and one gable vent. Gable end vents act both as an intake and an egress for air; they also happen to be a great access point for birds, bats, and rodents. Looking for chew marks on the soffit vent on the left for evidence of rodents.

attic vent 2
ridge vent
The air has to have a means to escape, so vents like these are installed. These two types do not use any power, which I like since they save on energy, and they are easier to repair. The one on the left relies on wind to propel the fins to help create air flow, called a whirlygig style vent. The most common
problems that I have seen with them is either rust causing it not to turn or damage to the unit which dents it preventing rotation. Still since it is placed near the top of the roof, the hot air will continue to rise through it. The picture on the right is a ridge vent. You can see that there is a thick shadow line under the shingles at the top of the roof (the ridge). A plastic piece with many vent holes is placed over a gap of the sheathing for the roof. The hot air rises through it.

Description and/or Condition:

The roof covering section goes over these topics, but first we will deal with a few items on the exterior, which can effect the interior.

tree brushing up against a roof
trash in gutter
The most common problem on the roof has to do with debris. In the photo on the right, the tree branches are rubbing against the shingles causing damage, but the leaves help keep moisture and insects on
those shingles to help further damage. I have found so many different things in gutters that I have stopped wondering how they get there. This gutter was so full that it no longer functioned. Having a way to move water away from the building is important, so clean gutter are vital.

damage behind the gutter
If you do not clean them, this can happen. Water spilled down the back of the gutter, causing the wood of the fascia to rot out.

pipe not properly attached
Here is the vent pipe for a water heater. You can see this by the fact that it sits higher from the roof, and has its own spark arrester. Most other tubes coming through the roof are from vents for the plumbing system, and they can sit lower to the home. In the case of this vent, the foundation work on the home lifted the pipes, so now it is not sitting properly on the roof.

exposed nails in shingles
flashing under window
The next most common problem on a roof has to do with nails. On the left, the homeowner resolved a leak by nailing into the shingles. On the right, nail heads holding flashing in place are starting to rust. When these nails rust, they allow water to seep into the building. The solution is to caulk the heads with roofing caulk.

exposed bolts in shingles
This was on the roof of the house next door to the one that I was on, and this may be hard to see in the picture, but this is a common problem with dish installations. Bolts are used to hold the support frame on
to the roof, and they are not caulked. These can also leak water into the home like nails. On another home I saw the cable running down the roof to the interior, and its nails should have been caulked too.

The following is what will be discussed on the home inspection report when dealing with the Roof Structure and Attic.

crack in stud
Not all cracks are severe, but they do indicate that this stud has been under a great deal of stress. Other studs were put in place near this one to relieve it.

 a bent stud under weight
From the same house as the previous photo, the weight of the roof caused this stud to bend.

improper bracing
The homeowner created his own bracing methods in this house to deal with the roof. This brace will not suffice.

support beamHere a contractor added a large beam to the attic structure over the attic entrance. I used my gymnastic skills to enter this space. I am not sure about the thinking behind this addition. The attic had space for extra rooms, but there also appeared to be a problem with the support for the roof. My concern is was this the proper way to deal with this situation. When faced with the need of new roof support and adding several rooms in an attic, you may want to consult with a structural engineer. The weight from the new framing can cause other issues in the home.

attic framingThis is a picture from the same home as above. The darker brown wood is the original framing. You are looking up at the framing under the roof. Rafters run under this sheathing then there is a brace attaching the rafters from the rear and front roof. The lighter brown beams running right to left in the photo have been added to provide more support to the rafters. Again, this may be too much. On interior and exterior walls of the home, I noticed cracks happening near these supports.

weathered roof trussThis is a roof truss. We often see framing for an attic which involves joists, rafter, and purlins. A roof truss is engineered to distribute the weight along its length to the wall framing. A roof truss can create more space below. What is the problem with this truss? It has been sitting out in the rain and sun long that it is quite weathered. The integrity of the truss may be compromised.

sheating gap

I am not sure why some people do not notice this problem. There was a spot on the roof where there were no shingles or underlayment. In the attic, I could see the light coming through a gap in the sheathing. The Realtor did not understand this to be a problem. Homeowners sometimes fail to understand that light through the sheathing means that there is a problem.

attic workspaceWorkspace can be a problem in attics. You need enough room to work; sufficient light; and a path to move to the equipment. In this case the builder added a room in the attic, which left no space for this unit. You have to work on it with the door open. The evaporator coil is behind the wall.


roof framing for wood shinglesDuring remodels roof framing can become an issue. These boards going between the rafters were for the old wood shingle. The sheathing has been placed over these boards for composite shingles. This is not necessarily bad, but in this home, the new addition roof is framed by nailing into the sheathing and these old nailers for the wood shingles, instead of the original rafters.


asbestos insulationThis picture has a few problems, but I want to focus on two issues. In the foreground, you see electrical wires that are attached with electrical tape. This connection should be protected by being in a junction box, and the connection should use wiring nuts. The other issue is that we may have asbestos. The dark colored insulation contains white flecks. These flecks are vermiculite. The problem is that this vermiculite possibly is contaminated with asbestos. We are not looking at asbestos insulation, but we should treat this insulation in the same way. To confirm if the insulation does have asbestos, you have to have it tested.

undersized framingThis may not be obvious, but you should be aware of one fact before looking at the picture: this home was built in 1924. The original framing used a different framing method, and different quality of lumber. When damage occurred, a repair was made using newer lumber of the same size as the older lumber. The problem is that the newer lumber is not of the same quality, and a newer framing method was not used to compensate for the weaker lumber.


vent pipe installation atticThis problem may be listed in a few places. If there is a moisture problem, you will see it listed in the moisture section of the Roof and Attic part of the report. If there are multiple problems with the equipment’s vent installation (this is a vent for a water heater), I might mention this under that piece of equipment’s section. More often you will find the problem listed here under the condition of the attic space. The flashing, which is meant to hold the vent in place as it goes through the sheathing is coming loose. No leak yet, but this could begin to happen.


radiant barrier on sheathingA new basic step for energy efficiency is to have radiant barriers in place. I like to mention the presence of radiant barriers in my reports. The most common type to see is the barrier installed on the under side of the roof sheathing. What does this barrier accomplish? The UV light which heats are attic is reduced by bouncing it back out when the light hits this barrier. Attics with radiant barriers can be twenty degrees cooler in a climate such as Houston’s. When installing a radiant barrier that comes in a roll, you will want to attach it to the underside of the rafters in Houston. The reason has to do with moisture. Radiant barriers laying on top of the insulation, trap moisture below the barrier. This can effect the insulation and framing. However, as a side note, when I have inspected homes with radiant barriers laying on top of the insulation in a Houston attic, I have not found moisture issues. My own attic has the radiant barrier on top of the insulation, and I have not had an issue yet (I installed it this way after a manufacturer had suggested this application, but energy efficiency experts disagree with this installation method).


Whole house fanThis is something of interest to some: a whole house fan. You can find these in homes built before the 1960s in the Houston area, and some people want to bring them back. Before our current forced air systems for air conditioning, the whole house fan was a way to make the house comfortable. Like our the forced air system, this fan helped deal with moisture too. This fan is still in the attic, but it is not installed. These would be sitting flat, usually over a shaft that had vent openings on each level of the home. The idea was that air from the home would be pulled through the house, causing air flow, which would make the occupants feel more comfortable (like sitting in a breeze). The fan was meant to pull air through the walls and floors as well as from the rooms. This air flow would dry out the walls and floors to expel the moisture through the roof. The idea is not to have insulation in your wall cavities or under you floors, so this system cannot really be operated with the modern forced air system, which needs that insulation.


© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States
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