I do home inspections in Alaska and have had several people (mostly contractors) tell me that it is an absolute no-no to open the attic access hole in the cold of winter. What is your take on this? My clients have been more relieved and in many cases financially relieved of future expenses because I did go there. Is there any reason why temporarily letting heated interior air into a properly vented attic in the cold of winter would cause any lasting problem?
Patrick 4-6-07 9:25am
I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector and always opened and inspected attics. Frankly, I can not see why anyone would not want to do this. Sure, some times the work we do as inspectors may be considered somewhat intrusive or even impolite by the uninformed. But inspection procedures that result, for example, in letting some heat escape through the attic hatch during a mid-winter inspection or turning on the furnace to test it when it is mid-summer and 100 degrees outside are necessary for the "greater good" of determining the condition of the home.
In a very cold environment like Alaska, roof structural problems are common and many can only be determined through inspection of the structure. These could include cracked trusses or rafters from snow load, rotted roof sheathing from excessive attic condensation, ice dam leaks, etc. Not only is an attic inspection suggested, it is also required by the Standards of Practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
So, don't be shy about doing your job. Here is a little trick of the trade though to make it go more smoothly that I learned the hard way. Never "announce" to the folks present that you are about to open the attic hatch to inspect this area. Just do it. Chances are no one will even notice before the job is all done. When I was a young and inexperienced home inspector doing inspections on hot summer days, I used to politely tell the owners of the home, along with their real estate agents, that I needed to test the furnace. I noticed that this resulted in an immediate and psychosomatic rise in their perceived discomfort in the home. As soon as I said "test the furnace" they got hot, even though I had not touched the thermostat! Hence, I learned to just do the test and by the time it was all over, they never noticed and we got thorough the inspection with everyone comfort intact!
Reaching Tom: If you have a home improvement question or comment on this topic,please post it here. For answers to other home improvement questions, please email Tom at email@example.com so your question can be used in future blog entries, or search Tom's home improvement articles at moneypit.com.