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MIKE HOLMES: What's hiding in your attic?

Hidden problems can lead to mould, fire

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Checking your attic at least once a year is an important part of home maintenance.

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Checking your attic at least once a year is an important part of home maintenance.

Have you looked in your attic lately? Any idea what's up there? It always surprises me when I meet homeowners who never inspect their attics -- and that is something you need to do regularly.

Recently I even met a couple who didn't know they had an attic, even though from the street you could see a window into the space. Their attic access had been closed off and covered over by previous owners of the home.

That's a huge red flag to me. Why would you close off one of the most important parts of your home? An attic could be hiding any number of serious problems, such as inadequate insulation and ventilation, bad wiring and vermin intrusion. All of those are visible to the naked eye and if left unchecked, can lead to mould, structural damage and fire hazards.

It might sound contradictory when you hear an attic must be well-insulated and properly ventilated, but it's not. You need to have enough insulation between your living area and the attic above it to prevent heat from escaping. That saves money on your energy bills and helps prevent ice dams. If heated air escapes into your attic in the winter, it will melt the snow on your roof, and the snow will refreeze down by the gutters, causing icicles and dams.

One of the biggest sources of heat in the attic is recessed lighting. I don't like it in ceilings that back into a cold zone such as the attic. You'd be amazed at how much heat recessed lights give off. That heat will collect in the attic, melt snow on the roof ...

If you insist on having recessed lights in the attic, install the correct type. The building code requires all recessed lights in an insulated ceiling to be IC (insulation contact). That's a safety issue. Many handymen and DIYers who don't know better and want to save money will use the wrong kind.

But IC isn't necessarily airtight. There will still be hot air escaping from the fixture. Use LED or CFL lights, which give off less heat and minimize the risk of ice dams.

Your attic should be ventilated so there's plenty of air movement. It should be the same temperature and humidity as the exterior air. Too much humidity encourages mould. Also, if the wood sheathing on your roof (under your shingles) doesn't get enough ventilation, it will rot. The shingles won't last as long as they should and you'll be re-roofing often.

Your attic needs to have enough vents -- whether they are soffit, gable or ridge vents, doesn't matter. And they have to be open, not covered over by insulation. Adding extra insulation to your attic is great, but make sure you use Styrofoam baffles to direct air flow from the soffit to the top of the attic and that the vents are able to do their job.

One problem I'm always finding is old, wooden soffits that have been covered with aluminum during an update or renovation. But no holes were made in the original wood soffit under the new layer of aluminum, which means there is no possible venting. It might look good, but it will lead to trouble over time.

Poorly vented bathroom and kitchen fans contribute to humidity in the attic. It's essential to have extraction fans in these rooms, since they're the source of the most moisture in the home. The fans should be vented directly to the exterior to prevent warm, moist air discharging into the attic.

Bad wiring and exposed junction boxes are also common attic problems. Because the attic is an open, unfinished space, it's easy to run new wires for projects. That can be a good thing gone bad when unqualified or amateur electricians leave junction boxes open -- or hidden, for instance, buried under insulation. That's a fire hazard.

Checking your attic at least once a year is an important part of home maintenance. Just because the attic is out of sight, it shouldn't be out of mind.

-- Postmedia News

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes it Right Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 F2

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Updated on Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 1:28 PM CDT: Fixed column tag.

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