How to Thoroughly Inspect Your Attic in 5 Steps

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated December 14, 2021
Big suburban home with front porch and attic
Photo: pics721 / Adobe Stock


  • You should inspect your attic for damage at least once a year

  • Things to look for include rodent infestation, water damage, attic insulation and air movement

  • While up there, you’ll want to inspect the state of your chimney if you have one

  • If you don’t feel comfortable doing a DIY attic inspection, it’s smart to call in a pro

Attics comprise the often forgotten space between your roof and your main living area, serving as a long-term home to random boxes, tools, and an accumulation of memorabilia you prefer to keep out of sight. 

Attics also can harbor nesting animals and are potential early warning locations for problems with the roofing system, meaning that inspecting your attic is a fundamental tenet of safe and solid home maintenance.

How to Inspect Your Attic

An attic inspection is necessary before buying a home, but it’s also a good habit to get into in general. When you inspect an attic, you’re looking for signs of disturbance. 

Piles of sawdust (or piles of anything, really) are signals that you have an active infestation of a living creature that you’ll need to address with pest control measures. But there’s also the matter of moisture or electrical damage that you’ll also need to take care of regularly. 

Here’s how to inspect your attic to ensure it stays free from rodents, water and electrical damage, and more. 

1. Look for the Presence of Rodents

Not only may knowing rodents are living rent-free in your attic nauseate you, but their presence can be a safety risk, as well. Raccoons, mice, and squirrels nest in attics, often eating through the wires for food and bedding and causing severe electrical damage that could even result in fire.

If you spot gnawed wires or shredded paper nests, it’s likely your attic is housing unwanted residents, in which case you’ll want to consult a pest control company ASAP. 

An animal removal company can help you figure out where the attic access entry points are and seal them up, as well as prevent animal infestation in the future. Talk to them about humane animal removal to send these creatures far away from your home without harming them.

It’s also important to evaluate potential damage that rodents may have caused, such as exposed wires, damaged ductwork or insulation. If there’s any evidence of extensive electrical damage, call an electrician immediately.

2. Check for Water Damage

The most important thing to look for during an attic inspection is the presence of water. From the top down, your attic and roof are the first line of defense against expensive water damage, and humid air, rotting wood and obvious moisture are all indicators that there may be water present. 

Moisture should not exist in the upper reaches of your house, so if there is even the slightest indication of water, mold, or staining, you’ll want to take a closer look and identify the problem.

Black marks on the structural joists, from periodic episodes of water intrusion, are easy to identify. Less obvious could be wet insulation or a roof leak around an attic-based air conditioner. Brown stains on the ceiling beneath the attic on the ceiling drywall are sure indications that you have a leak somewhere in your attic. 

Poke around any PVC drain pipes that run from the AC unit across the attic floor and check the seals for anything that exits through the roofing. 

These can include whole house fans, plumbing vents, skylights, and chimneys, but also can be the valleys and joints between dormers or architectural details. Any point or seam that penetrates the seal of the roofing system is a potential failure point you’ll want to inspect. 

3. Inspect Your Attic Insulation

Ceiling insulation of a house attic
Photo: artursfoto / Adobe Stock

Attic insulation varies in style and form, but it will be the first thing you encounter when inspecting your attic. The most common style is blown-in cellulose, but many older homes (if they have insulation at all) are fitted with a fiberglass-based product found in rolls laid out between the ceiling joists. 

The paper backing is a good way to spot problems with infestations or moisture, so if there is a disturbance in the brown paper, you likely have an issue to address.

Proper insulation is also key to keeping you cool in the hot months of summer and warm in the chilly winter evenings. If your attic does not have adequate insulation, you’ll want to call a local attic insulation company to address that before extreme cold or hot weather arrive.

4. Evaluate the Chimney

If a chimney passes through your attic, you’ll want to evaluate its overall condition. If it's a brick-and-mortar chimney, is the mortar falling apart? Are the bricks scaling with white phosphorescence? 

A deteriorating chimney in an attic is a significant fire risk and should be addressed immediately. You can hire a chimney sweep or local masonry contractor if you have concerns that your chimney may be in danger of failing.

5. Gauge Air Movement

Many older homes do not have adequate attic ventilation. Installing a couple roof vents and ensuring that the soffit has openings to allow for the movement of air is critical to ensuring that your attic is properly ventilated over the lifetime of the property. 

During an inspection, take a look and gauge whether you should hire a professional or DIY the free movement of air in the attic. 

DIY Attic Inspection Tips

If you’re inspecting your own attic, you need to exercise the utmost caution and be sure to only step on the rafters, not on top of the drywall or plaster ceiling. Modern homes often place sheet plywood over the exposed rafters, but many older homes rely on a network of wood planks that span the distance between them. 

One small step will place a costly hole in the ceiling of the room below, as well as present a dangerous fall-through hazard. To be safe, hire a pro to inspect your attic.

When to Call an Attic Inspection Pro

If you’re not handy, don’t know your way around an electrical system, or the thought of poking around in the dark hole of an attic sends shivers up your spine, you might want to skip the DIY inspection and go straight for the pros. 

A home inspection professional will be able to set up a site visit in which they will evaluate whether you need to bring in an electrician, plumber, AC company, or carpenter.