Why is your Attic Access smiling at you?

Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

People love to install pull down stairs as the means of attic access,  Stairs tend to make the attic space more useful as one is not teetering on a step ladder to get things up and down.

Before I go further in this discussion, I want to state that attics are for insulation–not storage or other purposes even though commonly done.  There are numerous problems with using attic space for things other than insulation and this article is NOT about all of those things.

At this time I only want to discuss the pull down stair attic access.

As you can see by this infrared picture, the pull down stairs is staring right at us and gives away the problem.

I am smiling because of how much I am costing you!


The two beady white eyes are all that shows of the zipper seam of the insulating cover between the poor seal of the lid.  This picture is what the lid looks like without the infrared.

The foam zipper cover made to improve energy efficiency is a whopping R-3.8 at a cost of around $116.00 from the Big Orange Toolbox.  Modern standards require that attic hatches be insulated to the same level as the rest of the attic.  In other words R-38 to R-49.  Some sort of thick foam cover would be necessary.  And, of course with that much insulation in the attic any storage floor system gets quite complicated.

This next picture is what the R-3.8 foam cover looks like with the infrared camera and with the stairs pulled down.  As you can see, it represents little resistance to heat flow from the warm attic.

This greatly increases energy consumption due to heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.

Like I started out at the beginning of this conversation, it is best to leave the attic to insulation–and find a better place for the Christmas decorations and stuff your kids will have to deal with when you are gone.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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  1. Lauren Williams, CPO 06/23/2017 05:51 PM
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Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Almost every buyer asks if there is room for storage in the attic especially if they see a pull down stairs. The problem is we have too much stuff and need places to store it. The extreme heat in attics isn't good for storing items and they will break down and ruin over time.

Jun 12, 2017 04:21 PM #1
William Feela
Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No.

Great illustration.  I hae talked to buyers and sellers about this type of entrance many many times.

Jun 12, 2017 04:23 PM #2
Myrl Jeffcoat
GreatWest Realty - Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent

That attic access door is not only smiling at you, it has an aura about it!

Jun 12, 2017 04:41 PM #3
Lauren Williams, CPO
Casual Uncluttering LLC - Woodinville, WA
Professional Organizer: Puget Sound homes

Charles Buell You speak my language!

Jun 12, 2017 07:54 PM #4
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I had an attic pull-down door yesterday that was 123F.  The metal ladder assembly was really hot!

And plywood was spread all over the attic floor for storage!  So, the insulation was compromised, the door was not insulated, and the upper level not comfy. 

It got up into the 90s yesterday so the thermal images were instructive!

Oh, the ladder door wasn't smiling.  It looked like it was suffering in the heat.

Jun 13, 2017 03:21 AM #5
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Charles. I learned a lot from this. Attics are generally storage areas.

Jun 13, 2017 06:03 AM #6
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667 (MT), 914-419-0270 (NY), Broker in NY with Grand Lux Realty and in MT with (coming soon!) - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

I don't think I've seen an attic (ever) that wasn't used for storage. This is interesting.

And I totally agree with the "stuff your kids will have to deal with" comment. When my dad passed away, I was up in his attic going through boxes of paperwork and other items. It wasn't a fun experience!

Jun 24, 2017 03:57 AM #7
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Charles Buell

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