What Home inspectors Need to Know About Venting Attic Spaces

Closeup of the top of a house.

Gable vents help regulate the temperature in attics.

Proper ventilation in the attic is critical to a home’s structure. You may not see the damage right away from inadequate ventilation, but rest assured it will become apparent at some point.

Without good ventilation, homes may suffer problems such as condensation buildup, mold, and rot. Further, ventilation is important in temperature regulation. Without vents, the attic may get too hot in the summer, which could have an adverse effect on the homeowners’ energy budget.

Bad Ventilation and Ice Dams

One of the biggest problems that stem from inadequate ventilation is the potential for ice damming (this is only possible in snowy climates).

What happens in the winter without venting is that the attic grows unusually warm because heat from the house rises into the space above, even with proper insulation.

The warmth of the attic heats the underside of the roof, causing any snow atop it to begin to melt, sliding down toward the gutters. If the snow slid off all at once, it would cause fewer problems. But more often, it creeps down the roof a few inches at a time.

When night falls, the snow refreezes, filling the gutters and forming an ice dam at the edge of the roof. The next day, when the roof heats up again, the melting snow can’t get past the ice dam. It backs up and eventually can leak into the attic.

Even if it didn’t go so far as to leak, the saturated roof is likely to begin to grow mold and to rot prematurely.

Roof top with shingles and a vent.

Roof vents help pull stale air out of the attic.

What Kinds of Vents Will You See as a Home Inspector?

Attics can have several types of vents.

Gable vents are usually a triangle or oblong shape and are located on either side of the house. It’s important to check these types of vents, as they are a favorite for nesting birds. Not only does a nest block ventilation, but it may also tear the screen behind the vent, giving other critters easier access to the space.

On older homes — especially brick — gable vents may be small, rectangular spaces left in between bricks and covered with screening.

Soffit vents are located under the eaves. These vents often work in tandem with roof vents, which look a bit like tiny chimneys. Ridge vents are installed all along the peak of the roof, and also usually work together with soffit vents.

Some homes are also equipped with attic exhaust fans, which use electricity to help remove hot air in the summer. These can be set to kick on when the space reaches a particular temperature.

What to Look for with Attic Vents

When you’re inspecting a home, be sure that the gables and/or roof are equipped with some type of ventilation, and that it is in good working order. Note if vents need repair, or if attic ventilation is inadequate or nonexistent.

At the same time, check the underside of the roof, especially near the eaves, for signs of rotting, possibly due to ice dams.

If the roof is still in good shape, the addition, repair, or upgrade of vents can help ensure that the potential home buyers get many more years of use from it.

Inspection training with ICA School can prepare you for all facets of home inspection, including roofs, gables, and vents. To learn more about our inspection training courses, get a demo.

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