Piling it On

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Insulation piled high in an attic

A comedy of errors can describe events that from a small misunderstanding snowball into a near catastrophe. Thankfully no gets maimed or killed, but some damage is done. Being a home inspector I view quite a bit of what I would call comedic measures that stem from a misunderstanding and a lack of general knowledge. Often the intention is noble, while the result is far from what had been intended.

Climbing through a scuttle hole to inspect an attic not long ago, I was immediately confronted with a large yellow mound. This hill it turned out was a long ridge of fiberglass insulation batts extending a good ways down the attic. Seeing an air handling unit and duct work, I suspected this heap of insulation was made while the HVAC equipment was installed and then never replaced. It was a good assumption as in my experience out of the way places like attics are often where some contractors leave messes.

I entered the attic and wended my way to the end and back. Along the way I saw several items of interest. The most apparent was the black stains on the roof sheathing. The stains were almost exclusively on the rear sheathing, the front was almost clean. This phenomenon is quite common to see in my experience and there is a very simple explanation.

Black stains on the rear roof sheathing

Another item of interest was on some of the insulation that was still where it should be, undisturbed in the ceiling. The mound was created from a second layer which a past homeowner must have added to save energy. The original insulation, which had at one time been covered, was spotted black. Again this a common sight to see with fiberglass insulation. The black stains are sometimes misidentified as mold when in fact they are nothing more than dirt.

This particular house had been previously inspected prior to sale. Based on that inspection repairs had been made. Some of those repairs were in the attic. I knew this by being shown receipts for the work performed. The "repairs" made were two, one was a mold remediation. Apparently the inspector (I never saw the inspection report, all though it was offered. I opted to not view it) had recommend the "mold" on the roof sheathing be addressed. I saw the very detailed receipt for this work. The pictures in this post are the after. This cost the sellers about $1400

The front roof sheathing is quite cleanThe other "repair was for unblocking the soffit vents. Apparently the second layer of insulation had been cited as blocking air flow from the soffit vents. It must have been surmised this was the cause for the "mold". The repair according to another receipt was to remove the insulation from the soffit areas. So it turns out the heap of insulation was not entirely the result of the HVAC installation. The guy they hired to repair the blocked soffits had simply pulled the insulation away from the soffits and piled it up.

So at the end of day has anything been repaired?


There are several things happening in this attic that no one has correctly identified or as of yet repaired.

First the mold is certainly not a major concern, yes, it is a fungal growth, but it hardly warrants a $1400 dollar suspect remediation. I have said this before, the air in the attic does not, can not communicate with the living space. There are those who will debate otherwise, I'm not in the least convinced. The cause (not a symptom, i.e. the "mold") for the condition is due to several combine factors.

Black stains on the fiber glass insulation are from air by passesFirst the reason for the stains is moisture condensing on the roof sheathing and nails. The moisture comes from conditioned air in the living space escaping into the attic through bypasses and in this instance bathroom fans vented into the attic. The black stains on the insulation are due to air movement through these openings in the ceiling and the over all poor performance of the fiberglass insulation. Next the attic ventilation has been incorrectly installed and was also later blocked at the soffits. What no one apparently knew was the gable vents were causing a short circuit in the air flow from the soffit vents. With a ridge and soffit venting system, gable vents are not to be installed, period. This issue, as I said was not recognized.

The reason for black stains on the back of roof only is orientation of the house. The front of the house faces the sun. The sheathing at the front dries because of the sun beating on the roof. The solution for the attic is to first seal all by passes to prevent conditioned air from leaking into the attic. My advice would also be to get rid of the fiberglass batts, but that is not likely to happen. Next seal off the gable vents, install rafter vents and then replace the insulation. Done.

Sometimes the lack of good information and knowledge can pile on additional problems and costs. 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


I wish you lived here.  I could use someone who knows what they are seeing and provide the correct information to a home owner

Nov 24, 2012 02:27 AM #19
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, What a mess up there and what a waste of money. Are baffles foreign objects ; ) Fixing bath fans for the most part is such an easy job. But in this case I guess not.

Nov 24, 2012 05:30 AM #20
Nan Jester
Exit Real Estate Gallery Jacksonville Beach, FL - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Realtor, Exit Real Estate Gallery

I can so relate to this over-charging for remediation of wood rot. I just got a ridiculous estimate for wood rot repair at my own house. I would up doing most all of it myself and after I examine the rest of it carefully, I may do it, too.

Nov 24, 2012 08:04 AM #21
Myrl Jeffcoat
GreatWest Realty - Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent

I can imagine being a home inspector would bring new adventures and discovery each day!  I recall a transaction, where the home's water heater was strapped with a bungey chord.  We are in Earthquake prone California, that wouldn't quite cut it:-)

Nov 24, 2012 11:48 AM #22
Jayne Anderson
Coldwell Banker Sloane Realty - Ocean Isle Beach, NC

Licensed, insured and experienced home inspectors, who can also write a home inspection report without being an “alarmist”, are worth their weight in gold. Continued success.




Nov 24, 2012 08:31 PM #23
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Sally & David, Yes the word mold has become a scary four letter word due to a massive quantity of misinformation. 

Scott, A mess that didn't have to be.

John, Not sure a lot of this has to do with ethics more than believing strongly in wrong information.

Joe, I bet this kind of condition can become a good deal for you.

Gita, Thanks.

Lori, The problem is first not identifying the cause. Secondly not providing accurate information. 

Lisa, Thanks. This is a common issue here that all to often ends up with "fixes" like in this house. 

Debbie, I think that is what gets me the most angry, people wasting money on non solutions. I think that is something that some inspectors may not consider when making recommendations. Someone will have to pay for their "advice". 

Nov 24, 2012 08:53 PM #24
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Peter, Thanks. I do not recommend experts examine mold for one very simple reason, there really are no experts. Further the mold is a symptom, I look for and explain the cause. That is where I focus my advice.

Lisa, I know! I think it's crazy. I do my best to inform so that everyone, buyer and agent, understand it's really not the mold, it's the water.  

Michael, Yes I think the inspectors report got the this runaway train rolling. 

Nancy, I'm not sure they were conned. Most likely they very willingly had the remediation done due to the common misconceptions about mold. 

Richie, Thanks.

Than, It all begins with good information, thanks.

Charlie, I think if we teach, the knowledge will spread. 

Bryan, Again not sure if they are actually dishonest more than believing in something that is at best controversial. 

Nov 24, 2012 09:04 PM #25
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Clint, Funny how we inspectors all see the same things no matter where we live. Thanks.

Olga, Black stains on fiberglass insulation are almost always present due to air movement. The stuff makes a great filter. Also mold can not grow on fiberglass, it's not an organic substance like wood. As for checking whether it is mold or not, again the focus is on the symptom, the mold, rather than the cause the moisture. 

Evelyn, Thanks!

Don, Actually the fans were vented out, but one hose had fallen off the vent. Duct tape strikes again :) It was apparent they had not always been venting outside. 

Nan, Wood decay usually simply involves replacing the affected wood. Not really rocket science. 

Mryl, You can't make this stuff up! I think I have the best job in the world.

Jayne, Thank you!

Nov 24, 2012 09:16 PM #26
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Great blog and great explanation Jim.  I am also one who does not want to see the other inspection report.  Often I hear that my inspection found even more.

Your explanation of the real fix is excellent, as usual.

Nov 24, 2012 09:36 PM #27
Stephen Gaudet
Gaudet Inspections - Manchester, NH

Hello James,

Great blog.  I spoke to a structural engineer about gable end vents being sealed off if a ridge vent and soffit vents are installed.  To my surprise this though has now been reversed due to snow cover blocking the ridge vent from working.  Gable end vents need to be left open.

I will be calling GAF on MOnday about another roofing issue and I'll get back to you on this.


Nov 24, 2012 11:34 PM #28
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, I figure why muddy my waters with another report. After it was all said and done, it might be fun to see it ;)

Stephen, I have not heard anything regarding reversing the accepted installation of ridge and soffit vents because of snow cover or otherwise.  I would also not take the word of an engineer over any manufacturer. 

This is what air vent has to say:

Do I have to close off my gable vents when I use a ridge vent?
Yes, the gable vents (a type of exhaust vent) should be closed off whenever a ridge vent (which is also a type of exhaust vent) is installed because vents installed at the roof’s edge or in the overhang should supply the intake air needed by the ridge vents. Air should flow in through the intake vents evenly along the roofline and exhaust out the peak. Any vents in place between the ridge vents and the intake vents may interrupt or short-circuit that flow of air along the roofline. The gable vents will end up becoming intake for the ridge vent — an undesirable situation that could lead to weather infiltration through the gable vents and also could prevent the attic from being properly ventilated. The same is true with mixing wind turbines or roof louvers with ridge vents.

Nov 25, 2012 05:50 AM #29
Dagny Eason
Dagny's Real Estate - Wilton, CT
Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo

Great one, Jim.    I agree - so much to do about the wrong things!    See you tomorrow!

Nov 25, 2012 10:32 AM #30
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Jim -- you have done a great job of explaining the underlying problems, and the correct solutions.  Why others just want to point out issues, and not thoroughly explain why is a mystery.

Nov 25, 2012 03:47 PM #31
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Dagny, Thanks. 

Steven, I don't believe the "why not" is so mysterious. There are many reasons, which I have no intenetion of explaining :)

Nov 25, 2012 09:44 PM #32
Pat & Wayne Harriman
Harriman Real Estate, LLC (203) 672-4499 - Wallingford, CT
Broker/Owners, Wallingford CT Real Estate

Very interesting situation, Jim! I bet the sellers were not exactly thrilled to hear they paid $1400 for basically nothing!

Nov 26, 2012 12:37 AM #33
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Wayne, No I don't think they will be. 

Nov 26, 2012 02:23 AM #34
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Why not just make the whole roof face south?  Bam :)

Nov 26, 2012 10:39 AM #35
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Reuben, You're a genius! Problem solved ;)

Nov 26, 2012 08:14 PM #36

This is really a great blog and beautifully explained. I also like the idea of Reuben.

Nov 30, 2012 12:10 PM #37
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Charles, Thank you. Reuben has a lot of ideas :)

Nov 30, 2012 07:56 PM #38
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