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All About Home Attic Space

March 03, 2023
Framing and insulation in a home attic space

Unless you’re taking out holiday decorations, pulling out those bulky suitcases for a trip, or searching for that heavy-duty roasting pan you swore you used last year, you probably don’t think about your attic space that often.

Just like any other part of your home, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your attic so you know what is normal and when you have an issue. Let’s explore your home attic space.

Exterior street scene of homes in a Brookfield Residential community in the GTA

What is an attic?

An attic is the space between the roof and the ceiling of the highest floor of your home.

Why do houses have attics?

Attics are vital in controlling temperatures in a home. They’re usually full of insulation and sometimes used to house HVAC equipment. They have a reputation for being awkwardly shaped with hard-to-reach corners, which make them a great storage solution for those “occasional use” items.

It’s important to have an attic that is properly insulated, otherwise you’ll face oven-hot temperatures in the summer, and the loss of paid-for-heat in the winter.

Brookfield Residential homes are built with sustainable materials and designed for the highest levels of performance. Our sustainable living program, myEnergy, ensures our homes are constantly conserving energy, including proper insulation to effectively maintain home temperatures.

Our newest collection of homes at Elyson in Katy, Texas include ridge attic ventilation with Deck-Air® roof deck intake vents to provide continuous airflow balanced with maximum weather protection. The end result is an attic that stays at a comfortable temperature all year long and won’t dramatically affect the temperature of your living spaces.

Pull down ladder leading to an attic

Are there different types of attics?

Your home’s framing will dictate the type of attic you have. Some attics are too small to function as livable space, while others can be converted to a bedroom or office.

1. Scuttle Attic

A scuttle attic, also known as an attic hatch or scuttle hole, is one of the most common types of attics. It is entered through a small hole in the ceiling. The entrance to a scuttle attic is often covered with a moveable drywall section called a hatch. It normally requires a ladder or pull-down stairs to enter the hatch.

The size of a scuttle attic depends on the size of the home. Sometimes, they’re only big enough for a person to crawl in, but in other houses, a person can stand and walk in it. Scuttle attics are mainly used as access points for maintenance and are too small to finish into livable space.

2. Unfinished, Partially Finished, & Fully Finished Attic

These types of attics are accessed through a permanent staircase. An unfinished attic has not been designed to be livable, but has the potential for conversion. Unfinished attics can function as storage rooms.

A partially finished attic is more complete than an unfinished one, but isn’t ready to function as a living space. It is typically more than 20% of the main square footage, but less than 39%. Houses that have a steep slope and long roofs, such as an A-frame, may have issues with headroom clearance, which means the living space is going to be small. These spaces often work well for playrooms or study rooms.

A fully finished attic is 50 to 55% of the house’s ground floor square footage. This type of attic is ready to function as a livable area such as a bedroom or home office. Compared to a partially finished attic, a fully finished attic feels much more comfortable to stay in.

3. Knee Wall Attic or Side Attic

These spaces are located at the point where your roofline meets the uppermost portions of your walls. If your attic space is framed with rafters and is unfinished, it has a triangular shape. At the bottom points of the triangles, the rafters meet the top plates of the exterior walls. They can be used for extra storage space, or ignored altogether.

Man climbing a ladder into an attic wearing a hard hat

How do I check my attic for issues?

You should inspect your attic at least once a year. When you’re up there taking out the holiday decorations, add some time to look around and make sure there aren’t any problems. If possible, try to aim for twice a year when the seasons change. You want to ensure your home will be comfortable as the temperatures rise or drop dramatically.

1. Look for the presence of critters

The idea of having unwelcome critters in your attic may make you squeamish, but it’s better to know and have it handled, than let them stay rent-free. Check for piles of sawdust, nesting materials, and animal residue because there could be a safety risk.

2. Check for water damage

From the top down, your attic and roof are the first line of defense against water damage. Humid air, rotting wood, and obvious moisture are all indicators that water is present so you’ll want to take a closer look and identify the problem if you see any of those. Do your inspection on a rainy day; it’ll make it easier to spot any active leaks.

3. Inspect your attic insulation

Attic insulation varies in style and form, but it will be the first thing you encounter when you’re inspecting your attic. The two most common forms of insulation are blown-in cellulose and fiberglass-based rolls laid out between the ceiling joists.

For fiberglass-based rolls, inspect the paper backing for indications of infestations or moisture. If there is a disturbance in the brown paper, you likely have an issue to address. For blown-in cellulose, check for consistent distribution and any disturbances. Use a tape measure to check insulation levels.

If you spot any potential problem areas, take photos so you can reference them later and share them with a professional if needed.

Man inspecting the attic for issues

How should I maintain my attic and how often?

If you stay on top of your attic inspections, there isn’t much maintenance your attic needs. There are some simple things you can do to prevent bigger problems in the future.

1. Minimize the items you store

While it’s tempting to load up your attic with stuff you aren’t ready to get rid of, it’s a better plan to follow the age-old advice that “less is more.” The fewer items you have in your attic, the fewer nooks and crannies there will be for critters to call home. For the items you do need to keep in your attic, use airtight, nibble-proof boxes to keep unwanted pests out.

2. Clean your attic

Keeping your attic clean and dust-free will help you maintain a better air quality and help you spot any potential issues as soon as they start. Cleaning your attic shouldn’t be a massive undertaking you embark upon every few years. Instead, be proactive and try to tackle it twice a year. This will help you keep the dust under control as well as ensure you’re ready for the change in weather.

3. Keep it organized

Once you have your attic in good shape, keep it that way! Label your containers, don’t block any of your vents, keep boxes stored to the sides so you have a clear path, and stack everything neatly so there aren’t spaces for nesting. Keeping things organized will make future attic maintenance a breeze!

Exterior of the Claremont home at Easton Park by Brookfield Residential in Austin, TX

Taking care of your home takes some dedication and hard work, but doing so can prevent major problems down the road. Knowing more about your attic space and how to maintain it is an important part of your home maintenance checklist.

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