Real Estate and Self-deception – Attics

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In Georgia, they are hot in the summer. I guess that might be true in Alaska, but I know Georgia best.

As a new agent, I wanted to learn all I could and I found home inspectors to be willing and knowledgeable (in most cases) as teachers. We’ll get to the home inspectors that weren’t so great in the chapter on them. For now, let’s focus on attics.

Things have changed in the last few years. Heat takes its toll and has to be managed. That’s actually a theme of home ownership. Many things we call problems really can’t be solved. If a ‘problem’ can’t be solved once and for all (within a reasonable budget) then I’d call it a ‘tension’ to be managed.

Attics that don’t carry the heat away or don’t keep the heat out of the main house cost money. Money to cool, money to maintain, stress on HVAC equipment that gets installed up there and it’s a haven for rodents like flying squirrels. Lot’s to think about. As I followed my home inspector/teachers around those first few years, I learned a lot.

Lessons I learned

  • Ridge vents are fantastic – these are maybe the best way to get the heat out. Installed at the highest point in the roof, heat rises and escapes more quickly. We see them on most new houses built and they get installed on older ones when a new roof is needed. I have been told it won’t work on all homes but that is a question to bring to the experts. I’d suggest giving me a call for a referral to a roofer and not just going with the random guy or gal who knocks on the door saying they are ‘in the area’ and will do a free inspection. That might mess up your insurance and they could be scammers.
  • Fans break or quit working – in our first house in Georgia, we had ‘turtle back’ vents and a powered ventilator fan. I noticed the fan was not working one time when I was in the attic changing a furnace filter and I called my handyman to fix it. The thermal sensor had failed and kept the fan off even though the temperature was hot. Once it started running as it should, my cooling bill dropped about $100 a month. A month. It pays to check on things once in a while to ensure they’re working.
  • Rodents love attics – from mice to flying squirrels, these guys can be a pain to have to deal with. Bats are especially tough because they are protected too. It’s best to try and prevent them from getting in by trimming trees, keeping shrubs, vines, etc trimmed back from the house but once they get in it can be tough to get rid of them. Some companies charge a high fee to do a complete exclusion (they put screen material completely around the roof line at the gutters) but if you have recently installed a new roof you’ll likely have drip edge flashing and that takes care of that problem. Make sure you seal up any other openings and you can trap the current occupants and evict them.
  • Builders make mistakes – I’ve seen broken trusses, supports, and other issues that the builder should have resolved but did not. Home inspectors are good for resale homes but I’d suggest having them come check out any new construction too.
  • Built-in stairs are nice but dangerous sometimes – most homes have folding stairs that fold down to access the attic. It’s a cost-effective solution but they need maintenance and you have to ensure they are installed correctly. In my first house down here, it was installed backward so you could not get access to the HVAC units. Once in a while, you need to make sure they are secure and the fasteners are tight and safe.
  • Scuttles are not nice, ever – no folding ladder, then you probably have a scuttle hole somewhere. I’ve climbed in more of those openings than I care to remember but I seem to always strain a muscle or get something out of place that requires my chiropractor to fix. I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t get up the attics anymore unless the home inspector says “you gotta see this”.
  • Reflective coatings and foam insulation are awesome – I’ve been in a few new construction homes and some high-end homes that spent the money on this sort of insulation. In these attics, there is no blown-in insulation or bats of fiberglass. The attics are clean, cool, and dry. The insulation is sprayed between the rafters and the roof sheeting has a reflective coating on the inside to make the heat bounce back from the roof. I still wouldn’t store my candle collection or fine Swiss chocolate in the attic but it certainly is cooler than most and saves on heating and cooling bills.

I’m sitting here trying to remember if I have any horror stories about attics. Maybe I’ve suppressed them so I’m going to end for now but we’ll marinate on it with an adult beverage.

Time passes…

That worked. Insulation, drop light, real dark is the story I remembered.

It was before I got into real estate by a lot. I was about 23, had bought a house from my father-in-law for $1 and it needed everything.  It was built in 1906 and while we hired some of the more complex stuff, the grunt work was left to me.

We were getting close to moving in but it was January in Indiana and it’s cold up there. Like 20 below zero cold. We had insulated all the walls, and the floor, and all that was left was some of the attic space over the kitchen that had been added on years ago.

There was a scuttle. I hate scuttles but I was up there with bags and bats of insulation at about 10 pm. It was dark. I mean really dark. It was in the country, it was cloudy and all I had for a light source was a drop light. Basically, that’s an extension cord with a light bulb at the end. I’d been working for a couple of hours and was just about done. All I had to do was crawl back on the 2×8 ceiling joists to the scuttle and crawl down.

This attic was low so I’m on my hands and knees, carefully making my way without falling between the joists. I didn’t want to come crashing down through the drywall we’d put up and then I did something really bad. I banged the light on the next joist and broke the filament in the bulb. It was completely dark except for the little bit of light that came from downstairs and lit up the scuttle hole on the other side of the house.

It took about 30 minutes to make my way out but I finally made it. Covered in insulation, tired and grateful for not falling through, I was done for the night. I’ll probably write more about that house because I learned a lot in that project.

My biggest lesson was to NEVER do that again.

Thanks for listening,