A-Z Guide of Attic Improvements and Ideas
An attic is a part of the home that often goes unnoticed, with not much attention given. An attic in most homes does not have any usable space, commonly filled with HVAC equipment, home insulation and in some cases, small portions of the attic can be used for storage. With an attic offering homeowners no value, curb appeal, tangle asset or another form of resale value. Homeowners are more often leaning towards spending money on renovating a bathroom or other visual upgrade. With the attic of home commonly being overlooked, not inspected or maintained properly, this can lead to mold, premature roof damage, which can lead to many common issues. We cover these issues and ways homeowners can improve the quality of their attic to prevent these issues from developing.
Common Issues with an Attic
Attics are not a functional part of the living quarters of the home but require only a few main components, insulation, and ventilation. Only having a few components to worry about seems simple, but if improperly installed or not existent, can cause issues very quickly with many becoming problems within weeks. Proper ventilation and ensuring airways are not blocked will help keep air moving, and prevent moisture buildup and stagnant air. Moving air and moisture elimination helps prevent mold and mildew buildup.
An attic is the perfect spot for heat to escape from a home. Building codes only require the minimum insulation value and recommended to add additional insulation to save and reduce heating/cooling costs and create a more comfortable home.
Mold, Moisture and Mildew Buildup
One major common issue with attic spaces is mold build up. With many attic spaces being dark, sometimes damp and warm places, this creates a perfect environment for mildew and mold. Mold only needs a couple environments in order to thrive, warmth, moisture and darkness. With these conditions and right geographical location, this can lead to 10’s of thousands of dollars in damage and create a scenario that requires professional remediation specialists to abate and remove the developed mold.
Once mold has developed in an attic, this can lead to costly removal and remediation efforts. Mold remediation can be harmful and dangerous to remove without proper equipment and is best left to a professional, licensed and trained contractor to remove.
Heat & Energy Loss/Lack of Insulation
Heat and warm air has the tendency to rise, by rising this warm are tends to settle into an attic space. With warm are settling into an attic space and weather fluctuations, this air typically comes in contact with cold roof sheathing and condensates creating moisture, rot and mold growth. Many homes in the northern states do not have proper attic insulation, allowing air leakage from a home to leak into the attic space and cause issues.
A way to prevent heat loss and old insulation is to simply install additional insulation. Most home stores will carry bags of loose insulation that can be installed fairly quickly and for more homes, over the course of a weekend. Upgrading the insulation in an attic will help eliminate air leakage and mold issues, but also help reduce energy consumption, heating and cooling costs and help prevent costly damages in the future. The common cost to upgrade attic insulation is relatively inexpensive, compared to the high cost of mold remediation efforts.
Attic insulation is rated at the term R value or Resistance Value. This R value will help determine the resistance your home is to temperate, humidity and weather fluctuations. The higher the insulation value the better, especially with an attic. Energy codes depending on your geographical area will determine how much insulation will be required, this code is a minimum and is recommended that additional insulation be installed to further reduce energy consumption.
While installing roof insulation, it is important to remember to not block any roof ridge or soffit vents. These vents allow airflow to the attic and are a key piece to creating a long lasting and safe attic environment. Especially when blowing in attic insulation, these ventilation holes can quickly become blocked and prevent the needed airflow into your attic. Improper attic air ventilation leads to our next topic and additional issue this may bring.
Ice Dams & the Damage they Cause
Improper ventilation and lack of insulation can not only lead to mold and mildew growth and heat loss but also in colder climates, lead to dangerous ice build up. Ice dams are created by heat leaking from the living space into the attic and becoming trapped by lack of ventilation. With minimal ventilation, this can bring to temperature of the attic high enough to begin melting the snow on the roof. Once the snow begins to melt, it begins to run off of the roof towards the gutters. Once this water reaches the bottom edge of the roof, the water will become cold again and refreeze. After this water has frozen, this creates a small layer of ice, and over time, will begin to build up and potentially create a large solid block of ice that is difficult to remove. Ice build up can be dangerous and damaging to a home, adding additional weight and also prematurely breaking down the roofing material.
Ensuring Roof Ventilation & Preventing Premature Roof Damage
As previously mentioned, roof ventilation is another common area to pay attention to in a home. Many homeowners will install insulation thinking they are helping by blocking off open holes and installing lots of insulation, doing this will block ventilation holes and prevent airflow into an attic. Without airflow in an attic, the air becomes very hot and stagnant. This very hot, stagnant air can cause premature damage to roofing materials as well as in many cases void manufacturers warranties. Manufacturers typically require consistent airflow for attic spaces to keep the backside of the roofing material cool and prevent moisture and condensation buildup on the backside of shingles causing additional issues in the future. This premature roof damage, can lead to roof leaking, creating costly repairs and even in many cases home damage.
To ensure proper roof ventilation and airflow, simply check the eaves and ridge vents of a home to ensure proper airflow is being maintained. These vents are typically installed on the eves of a house as well along the ridge vent of a home. Many home stores or vent manufacturers will have calculated formulas to determine how much airflow is required for each roof and also how many vents will be required, proper spacing to ensure effectiveness etc. Proper installation of roof ventilation can help ensure air movement, prevent stagnant air buildup and mildew/mold concerns.
Pests and other animals love to hangout in attics, they are safe from predators, offer plenty of room, keeps them out of the harsh elements and in many cases, find insulation to be a warm stable material for a blanket and bedding. Pests can find their way into a home through unsealed holes, soffit vents, garage openings, existing can lights and other vents/openings in the exterior of the home.
In many cases, pests only need a small hole in order to find their way into an attic space, some holes smaller than a quarter. Bats and squirrels are both pests that can historically find or even create their own holes in order to find their way into an attic space.
Similar to other portions of the home that require periodic inspections, an attic should become a portion of this inspection to check to ensure pests have not migrated into your home. This inspection should be done on the interior and exterior of the home. From the exterior, be able to inspect and see any holes, openings, or failures in the attic area. It is equally as important to also go into the attic to ensure no pests are present, also potentially install pest deterrents.
During inspection, if you notice or see any unwanted creatures in your attic, it is important to call an exterminator and leave removal of any pests to a professional. These creatures are dangerous, can carry disease and potentially harm you if spooked or disturbed.
Attic Projects for Every Homeowner
Adding Easier Attic Access with a Stair or Ladder
A major complaint homeowners have is that they do not have proper access into their attic space. Most homeowners without access have to have a ladder or dangerously climb into their attic making access a safety concern and also limiting storage possibilities and space. With most attic access locations being in a garage or closet. Luckily for homeowners, there is a solution for this, adding a safe accessible stairway hatch into the attic.
Attic stairways are an inexpensive way to add a safe, and convenient access point to the attic. Some attic stairways are made of wood, which is susceptible to rot and mold. In an attic condition we recommend installing a stairway made of aluminum or other metal that is more durable and rot resistant, especially in an attic where moisture and heat are a common issue. Attic stairs are a common stock item at a local home improvement store and can be purchased for every ceiling height and size. Attic stairs vary in price but can be purchased around $100-$150 and in most scenarios be installed in a single day by a homeowner or a professional contractor.
Installing access stairs in every scenario allow homeowners to begin to utilize their attic and allow for more convenient access into the attic. In many homes, with an attic being more accessible, will help homeowners perform inspections, and predominantly utilize this space as additional storage.
Lack of storage in a home is one of the most common complaints and something many homes lack. An attic is a perfect spot for storage and keeping items out of garages, closets, underneath beds etc. Most attic spaces are not conditioned, so be careful about what is stored in an attic. Heat sensitive, explosive or flammable items cannot be stored in an attic, and can potentially catch fire and cause severe damage to a home. Attics if outfitted as storage can be a great spot for season decorations such as a Christmas tree or other holiday accessories, patio furniture, tools, boxes, totes and other items that are not heat sensitive. An attic can offer a tremendous amount of storage for a home if outfitted properly.
Depending on how your house is constructed, with either roof trusses or using ridge beam construction will depend how open an attic space is, both solutions will offer enough storage for an average household.
In order to best utilize an attic for storage, it is best to install a plywood floor on the top side of the ceiling joists and create a floor to stand on. Most plywood floors for a scenario like this are either 3/4” or 1/2”. Thinner than this in most cases will cause a weak floor and potentially fail if too much weight is applied in one spot. Once flooring is installed, depending on the storage needs, the remaining portion of the space can be outfitted with storage racks, clips or hooks.
Utilizing an attic space as storage can help free up garage space for more items that are used on a daily basis, such as cars, bikes, family shoes/jackets and other items.
Poor lighting is a major item that most spaces lack. With Light Emitting Diode (LED), and wireless technology, adding more light to an attic can be easier than most homeowners think. Adding more light to an attic storage space will allow homeowners to better inspect their attic, make it feel more welcoming and also more connivence when something is needed, not having to carry a flashlight while trying to navigate storage.
In order to install lighting in an attic space, first homeowners must determine if their is power in the attic. Many will have a junction box, garage door power, or maybe even a single light available on a pull string to provide a small source of light. Having power already in an attic makes installing additional lighting a breeze. With today’s LED technology most circuits are able to withstand a few additional lights for an attic. Old incandescent technology, a single common light bulb was 75-100 watts. Newer LED technology has a single bulb down to around 10 watts per bulb! Offering a drastic energy consumption, saving homeowner operations costs, but also flexibility when attempting to add a few additional lighting bulbs.
Homeowners can jump power to additional light fixtures and run wire wherever additional power and light is needed. Adding additional lighting could easily be completed over the series of a weekend. Common Spacing for a standard light bulb in an attic would be approximately every five to eight feet. Evenly spacing the lights throughout the attic will help add a large amount of additional lighting, but also help avoid dark areas and spaces.
With wireless technology, another alternative to hard wiring in a lighting circuit is using a battery and a wireless system. There are many options online that a series of lights can communicate wirelessly via a wireless remote. Layout and spacing will be determined according to the manufactures specifications but typical wireless lighting will require spacing of around five feet. Once all of the wireless lights are installed, simply place the remote control or switch in an area of the attic that is easily seen and simply turn of the lights to your attic.
One downside to battery operated lights is maintaining the batteries, if this area was a basement or closet that had lots of traffic, maintaining batteries could be a cumbersome process. Since the attic space is not commonly used and typically do not see much traffic, means most batteries should last a year if not longer. This is a small price to pay considering the flexibility of wireless battery lights. A great positive about wireless, battery operated lights, is that they can easily be moved, shifted, changed and moved around to different parts of the attic. Allowing for complete customization and flexibility, offering homeowners the ability to add additional lights where needed, in walkways, even inside of cabinets or storage racks! Be sure to test all wireless lights before installing into an attic to ensure all lights are operational and save hassle during installation!
With an attic space being a typical overlooked part of the home, giving an attic a small amount of attention and work can create a functional addition to a home. Routinely performing inspections will help make sure issues are avoided and also help prolong the life of your home. Installing additional insulation in order to help reduce energy consumption and save heating and cooling costs. Lastly, adding lighting can help make the space more inviting and easier to navigate and stop homeowners from using handheld lights trying to get to their storage.