Your attic assessment (whether the space is conditioned or not) starts with locating a reasonable means of entry and perusing the area.
Briefly scan the area to spot any obvious features (and their locations) such as gaps, clearance space to work, blocked vents, drafts, areas of peeled, dirty or frayed insulation, exposed electrical wires, heating/cooling equipment, flues and ducts and signs of moisture or mold.
Moisture and mold can gather on insulation and makes it look dirty, or can form dark patches on wood. If you do spot moisture, get a professional involved.
Next, use the worksheet in the link below (print it), as a guide for a more detailed visual evaluation and to plan improvements; even take some pictures to attach to your notes.
Download the Attic Assessment Worksheet
The ultimate goal is to determine how extensive your improvements might need to be, and what portions, if any, you will want to tackle yourself.
This attic assessment is to help you get a feel for what you have now as a starting point, so that you can 1. prioritize your tasks if your budget is limited, 2. track your progress and note the difference in comfort and utility bills, 3.know and judge what a potential contractor is going to propose and gauge the contractor's competence and 4.get the right end result.
Note that SAFETY SHOULD ALWAYS COME FIRST. Take special caution to only step on the joists when walking in an unfinished attic - do not step on the ceiling drywall, it will not support your weight and you risk falling through.
Here are only some issues that would raise red flags and prompt seeking professional help. Note all of these when doing your look-through:
Here are pictures of attic mold, knob and tube wiring and asbestos:
Knob and Tube Wiring
Asbestos in Vermiculite
During your attic assessment, remember that working in an attic can be DANGEROUS, especially when the space is constrained and any existing insulation might be hiding the dangers. Also, working with loose fiberglass batt insulation is a real pain if you are not prepared to handle it.
Fiberglass is itchy, and sticks to skin and clothes persistently (I have gone through a lot of cans of shaving cream to remove it!), so plan beforehand, and wear the right clothes. It is also always advisable to wear a mask, goggles, and latex or rubber gloves.
One other important note - your attic temperature might be too hot (over 130 deg F)during the day for examination or work, so attend to tasks in the early morning or later part of the day when temperatures have subsided. This is why trained and certified building professionals and attic specialists are invaluable in helping identify and remediate issues.
Also, many federal, state and utility programs that offer incentives, rebates and tax credits for insulation will do so only if the homeowner uses a certified building professional or approved home performance contractor for insulation and weatherization. It is never-the-less advisable to perform your own attic assessment and understand the issues - before professionals descend upon you and either confuse you with jargon, or up-sell services.
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