The Underside of Roofing: Inspecting the Attic

Do you like the idea of conducting your own annual roof inspection, but dread climbing the ladder? Problem solved: inspect the roof from underneath—in your attic!

You can detect leaks and water damage from the attic just as easily (and probably a little easier) with enough light and crawling around. If your attic is finished, that’s great; less crawling! The attic is the first place you will see roof problems, so regular inspection is key.

Checklist for Attic Inspections

You’ll want to follow these guidelines if you’re going to inspect your own attic.

  1. Check air vents. You’ll notice that when you crawl into the attic, you can hear outside noises far more clearly than in your living room. This is due to the vents in the sides of the roof that allow airflow. Make sure these vents are free from debris and in good repair.
  2. If you have ridge vents, you’ll need to inspect the wood sheathing (the wood that frames the vent). Make sure that it is cut back to a distance of at least 3 inches from the vent.
  3. Make sure there are no bird nests or leaves in the roof vents. You probably want to check on this several times a year because this kind of blockage is so common.
  4. Check the wood sheathing on all openings from the attic—windows, air vents, chimneys, skylights, and areas where the roof meets in a valley. You need to make sure that no wood is rotting, which is the telltale sign that you have water damage. In fact, most water damage is discovered through rotted sheathing.
  5. Check insulation. Any time you see a gap in insulation, this means that your heat and air is escaping through the roof, meaning higher utility bills. If the insulation is thinner than 10 inches, you need to add more. And if you see any insulation that is damaged by water, you should repair it as soon as possible.
  6. Inspect the entire attic for mold. Mostly you are going to be focused on the wood sheathing. You want to look for black on the wood, as in this helpful blog post.
  7. Finally, check all wood for bowing and cracks. Cracks can be repaired using epoxy, as in this boat hull repair guide. But usually you will need to replace the cracked wood. If there is bowing, you may simply need to add support so that the wooden beams do not collapse.

How does your attic look?

All you need is a strong flashlight (maybe a work light) and some protective gear like gloves and knee-pads, and off you go. If you suspect mold has begun to grow in your attic, you should wear a facemask before climbing up. But if you keep attic inspection in your yearly rotation, you’ll be able to identify and neutralize leaks that cause damage like mold in no time.

Do you perform yearly inspections of your attic? If you do, is it because you find it easier to inspect the roof from inside, where you don’t have to lean over ladder rungs? We want to hear how your roof inspections are going, so leave us a comment now—and we’ll reply!

Siding buying guide

Siding buying guide

Getting started

New siding is one of the most visible ways to give your home a makeover now and make it easier to sell later. And siding isn’t just decorative: Loose or cracked panels or shingles can allow entry to moisture and insects, leading to expensive structural damage. What’s more, performance can vary significantly between and even within types. Use this guide to find a replacement.

Our tests have found significant differences by type and brand–and even within the same brand. Some siding is far less resistant to cracking from impacts in warm and cold weather, an especially important consideration for active families with children. And some is less likely to stay put in a wind storm, based on our simulated 150-mph winds. We’ve also found that some vinyl siding–still the best-selling kind–is more prone to fading under ultraviolet light, especially important in sunny climates and where trees don’t provide much shade.

The thickest and most expensive vinly siding tended to perform best in our tests, although several thinner and less expensive products did almost as well. While you’ll often pay more for the strongest, longest-lived vinyl, we’ve found some very good products can cost far less yet perform nearly as well. Vinyl, plastic, and other synthetic materials are also getting much more realistic: Thanks to better graining and deeper profiles that cast wider shadows, some vinyl siding looks much more like wood for a small fraction of what you’d pay for the real thing. Check under Types to determine which material–vinyl, plastic, fiber cement, or wood–best suits your taste and budget.

Buy the right amount

An installer will calculate how much siding your home needs, but you can make a rough estimate without climbing a ladder–and avoid overpaying someone you hire. Simply multiply the height times the width of each rectangular section of your house in feet, going by what you can measure from the ground, to determine its area. Multiply the approximate height and width of gables and other triangular surfaces and divide each total by two. Then add all the totals. To allow for waste, don’t subtract for doors, windows, or other areas that won’t be covered. Finally, divide the total square footage by 100 to estimate how many squares of siding you’ll need.

Get it installed right

We recommend having a professional install your siding. If the old siding is sound, new siding can go over it. But rotted wood siding should be replaced and the wall behind it checked for damage–something that could save you tens of thousands of dollars in structural repairs later on. If the old siding is removed, have a moisture barrier installed beneath the new siding, and add flashing around doors and windows. Fasteners should attach to wall studs, not just the sheathing. The installer should center the fasteners in the slots and leave a gap as thick as a dime between the panel and the fastener heads to allow for expansion and contraction.

Make it last

You can extend the useful life of your siding with simple maintenance and repairs. Siding is susceptible to leaks, especially where it meets windows and doors. A $5 tube of caulk could ultimately save you thousands of dollars in structural repairs. If you live in a region with cold winters, check the siding under the eaves for water stains, possibly a sign of ice damming. Adding attic insulation and sealing any gaps around pipes and ducts into the attic may help prevent future damming–and may lower your heating and cooling bills as well.


Weigh the look you like against upkeep and cost. Prices listed are per square (100 square feet). Figure on 20 squares and $1,800 to $4,000 in labor for a typical 2,300-square-foot house. Here are the types of siding to consider.


vinyl sidingLow price and minimal upkeep make vinyl by far the most popular siding material. Vinyl needs no painting. It won’t warp or twist, and it’s impervious to insects and water. But it can rattle, crack, melt, and burn. Some vinyl products may look like wood from a distance, but not up close. Before you settle on vinyl, consider whether your taste or the architecture of your neighborhood makes the added realism and cost of plastic, fiber cement, or even real wood a more appropriate choice.


plastic sidingThese shingles and shakes can closely resemble cedar, even up close. Plastic, like vinyl, requires minimal upkeep. Though less rigid than vinyl, it resists impact better in cold weather.

Fiber cement

fiber cementThis blend of cement, sand, and cellulose looks the most like real wood. Fiber-cement siding is insect-proof, but water can damage it during freezes and thaws. Whether primed or pre-painted, fiber cement must be refinished periodically, though less often than wood.


woodAlthough wood shingles and clapboard offer traditional charm, they’re very expensive. Wood is resistant to impact, but it can warp, twist, and burn. And it’s vulnerable to rot, insects, and woodpeckers. Wood can be finished or left natural, and it’s available primed or painted. If it’s painted or stained, it requires periodic refinishing.

When installing siding, there are some features to consider that can enhance the appearance and durability. Here are the siding features to consider.

Deep profile

On clapboard-style vinyl, a profile that’s raised an inch or more deepens shadow lines, making the siding look more like wood. It’s also likely to be more rigid and less wavy when installed.

Double-hem nailing area

The best vinyl siding has a double-layer mounting hem, which provides stronger attachment and better resistance to high winds than does a single-layer hem.

Extra-long panels

Some vinyl siding comes in 16-foot or longer lengths to reduce the number of seams on long, unbroken walls.


For fiber cement, consider whether the added color choices and cost savings of painting it yourself outweigh the longer durability of a factory finish.

Foam backing

Besides making vinyl siding more rigid, foam backing adds insulation.

Staff Writer (2013 October) Siding buying guide. Retrieved on September 5, 2014 from

Chimney Tips to Keep Your Family Warm—And Safe

Chimney Tips to Keep Your Family Warm—And Safe

Fall chimney maintenance and proper cleaning are key steps to keeping your family safe and warm as the temperatures drop. Neglected chimneys accumulate creosote, a combustible byproduct of charred wood, along their walls. Add to that a high internal flue temperature and you’ve got a potentially dangerous chimney fire on your hands.

The best way to avoid a house fire caused by the fireplace or chimney is to hire a professional chimney sweep to inspect for cracks and loose bricks. He’ll also clean your chimney. Chimney inspections are typically broken down into three categories.


Level 1 is a standard, annual inspection for chimneys that have no major changes to investigate. The chimney inspector will examine the interior and exterior, as well as the chimney connection. The general soundness of the chimney will be examined, and any obstructions will be noted.

Level 2 is an inspection that follows a change in fuel type or changes to the shape or materials in the flue.

Level 3 is rare. These inspections are conducted when a hazard is suspected. Typically, part of the building or chimney is removed to examine the chimney thoroughly.

Once your chimney gets the all-clear, you should follow some basic safety tactics when it comes to your chimney and the vicinity of the fireplace or woodstove:

• Keep the area in front of the fireplace clear of paper and debris. It can be tempting during the holidays to place decorations close to the fireplace, but keep them at a safe distance.
• If your fireplace doesn’t have a glass door, use a wire mesh screen.
• Use seasoned hardwoods that have been split for six months to a year. “Green” wood creates more creosote. Don’t burn your Christmas tree (pine creates more creosote) or be tempted to throw wrapping paper, boxes, or trash into the fireplace.
• Keep the area near the chimney clear. If you have trees that hang over the house near the chimney, make sure branches and leaves are at least 15 feet away.
• Cap your chimney. A top that has wire mesh along the sides will keep out rain and snow, birds, and other critters that might be running around on the roof.
• Think small. If you try to burn too much wood, the chimney can crack and you run the risk of creosote build-up. Burn wood on a grate placed near the back of the fireplace.

Like fire, carbon monoxide can be a deadly threat. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible toxic gas that kills about 400 people per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and sickens many more.

While carbon monoxide poisoning can result from poorly functioning home appliances and heating systems, it can also come from poorly maintained chimneys. The chimney and chimney connector serve as a furnace’s exhaust system. If debris is blocking the chimney, carbon monoxide can accumulate inside the house.

Perhaps the most important rule of all when it comes to fall chimney maintenance is to install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside and outside of bedrooms. Replace the batteries each season and test the detectors regularly. If the detector is more than 10 years old, replace it.

Dawson Michele (2013 October 17) Chimney Tips to Keep Your Family Warm—And Safe. Retrieved on September 5, 2014 from