Renovation & Design

MIKE HOLMES: Attics serve purpose, so take care of them

CNS/If your roof has a peak, and your interior ceilings are flat, there's got to be an attic.

I'M getting lots of emails from readers lately about roofs and attics. These two really caught my eye because they show me the lack of understanding homeowners have about attics and the important role they play in your house's system.

Sheila wrote to say they just bought a 75-year-old home with a new roof. But the roof has no vents. Their home inspector reported there was no attic access and believed they don't even have an attic. She asks if there's any concern about having no vents, and wonders if there's no attic, then do they have any insulation.

If you have a flat roof, then possibly there isn't an attic -- there may be just an air space. But, let's be logical: if your roof has a peak, and your interior ceilings are flat, there's got to be an attic.

When the house was constructed, there was likely an attic access somewhere. That might still exist -- hidden in a closet, for example -- or it might have been covered over by a renovation. If you have looked everywhere and can't find an attic access, I'd bet it was covered over. It is a code requirement to have attic access. You should create one in an unobtrusive spot. That's the only way to properly check out your attic as you will see the condition of the roof sheathing and the amount of insulation.

Whether there is insulation in there is a good question, and you should definitely investigate.

An older home might have very little insulation, if any at all, so you should have some added.

It's very important to have an attic vented. Even the air space above a flat roof needs to be vented. Attics need to be able to breathe, and should remain the same temperature as the outside air.

If your attic isn't well-ventilated, any moisture or water vapour that is present in the space will lead to problems in time.

In fact, attics must be properly ventilated in order to comply with terms of manufacturer's warranties on asphalt shingles.

Roof vents aren't the only way to vent your attic space. Your home might have gable vents or soffit vents, either of which would do the job. There are many different types of roof vents on the market -- check with your roofer for options that work with your roof style.

Ann from Albany wrote in to say her husband would like to close off all the air vents in their attic and make it a conditioned space, using spray foam insulation. He also wants to remove the collar ties because he hits his head when he goes up there.

My first question is why? Do you want to create a new room up there -- effectively another floor on your house? Or do you want a cathedral ceiling in your upstairs bedroom? Both are big projects with serious challenges and may not be allowed by your local building authority.

An existing attic isn't designed to be a room you can use because there's not enough headroom to stand up. How would you get up into the space -- a ladder? Are you proposing to build stairs? Better make sure you've got headroom because that's a code violation. And if you are cutting structure, you'd better have professional design help and get a building permit. I've seen too many attic renovations go sideways.

Collar ties are there for a structural reason -- they hold the rafters together and strengthen your roof. They aren't optional, even if you do hit your head.

You also need to be very careful about using spray foam insulation on the underside of the roof sheathing -- you may have to double strap the roof to allow for breathing. In many areas, an unventilated attic space is not legal. You have to consult a professional and check with your local building authority on what is permitted in your area.

Ann's attic sounds like a standard space, built to minimum code with R-19 fibreglass batt insulation between the joists, a ridge vent on the roof and eave vents at the ends. It's a great idea to improve the insulation in the space and definitely add to it.

My advice is to leave the attic an unconditioned space and do not close off the vents. Your attic serves the purpose it was built for and I'd suggest you leave it alone.

-- Canwest News Service

Catch Mike in his new series, Holmes Inspection, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information, visit

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