Attics – Important But Hazardous

The attic in my grandmother’s turn-of-the-century home was full of wonder for a curious boy. It had a narrow winding staircase, creaking steps, flickering lights, and an enormous antique pool table.   These days however, due to changes in design standards, all space in a home not calculable as “living space” has virtually been eliminated. Now, attics are wedge-shaped spaces little bigger than a toddler’s play house. Yet, the attic remains critical to maintaining your home’s condition, while at the same time possessing many hazards, some life-threatening.

Access to your attic is critical to verify air is properly ventilated, the roof has no leaks, your insulation is functional, no infestations exist, and to repair items such as ductwork, wiring, communication cables, and the chimney. It may seem innocuous to venture into your attic now and then to check on things, or to continue stuffing every belonging you ever acquired up there like a squirrel’s winter nut harvest. But please, please, please, do this home inspector a personal favor that really helps yourself: forego starting your own southern branch of the Smithsonian up there, and never casually enter an attic.

On September 4th a Palm Bay man died of electrocution while working in his attic. Last summer, a colleague of mine confessed to passing out during a home inspection in a 140 degree attic, and my brother fell thru his own dining room ceiling two years ago while running a T.V. cable. In addition to electrical, heat, and falling hazards, attics have fiberglass insulation easily transferred to eyes, skin, and mouth, and older homes may have a form of asbestos-laden insulation.

All attics have exposed and rusty nail tips from the roof, just waiting to pierce your scalp. Nearly all electrical, communication, or security wiring is run on the top of ceiling joists – you know, the same wooden members you walk on to traverse your attic.   Also, don’t ignore the process of getting into and down from your attic while two-handing that 7 foot steel-pointed Christmas tree pole as you balance on a circus stool. Attic acrobatics are not worth the risk of being injured or killed. When you must enter your attic, always have another adult present, and wear gloves and clothes providing full coverage for skin, eyes, mouth, nose and scalp. Also, carry a flashlight and your cell phone. Under no circumstances ever allow a curious child into an attic space.

Greg Bertaux PE, CIEC.
Copyright 2015, PRIME Engineering & Environmental Building Services

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