Be wary of attic walkways!

A given week provides opportunities for me to enter anywhere from 5, 10, sometimes as many as 15 attics. Some attics have no lighting (a deficiency we home inspectors are supposed to write up), others don't have adequate ventilation and hit temperatures close to or exceeding 130 degrees. Some attics look like a field of snow (blown-in insulation), while others with spray foam are eerily quiet, cool, and resemble an otherworldly landscape.

Over garages, we usually see plywood laid over ceiling joists to create a deck for storage. A thorough home inspection should include a look beyond the decked-over garage however, so long as the inspector can safely move around the attic without harming themselves or the area they are inspecting. Sometimes the clearance from overhead roof structure is too low, other times the joists are well concealed by deep fluffy layers of insulation, and yet other times the temperature is hot, the ceiling is moving with each knee you set down, and my only goal is to find the safest path back to the access hatch.


Which brings us to attic walkways. Obvious risks associated with moving from joist to joist include missing a step, plunging all or part of the way through the ceiling, and inflicting costly damage to the home and possibly personal injury. I found myself the other day gravitating toward a walkway in an attic, thoughtfully constructed by some former homeowner or repairman for the purpose of easier movement through the attic. Or so I thought. Two steps on, no problem. Three? We're good. Four? Not so good anymore. What I failed to realize about the walkway was that the overlapping pieces of plywood were not resting on joists as one would assume. As I stepped down, the piece of planking behind me shot upward, and the piece in front of me shifted down. Quickly and nimbly (at least nimbly in my mind) stepping forward, I again missed a joist and it became a series of steps that must've looked like I was walking from see-saw to see-saw. This could've resulted in injury and same to the ceiling and should serve as a cautionary tale to take every step lightly, and do your due diligence before trusting that everything is at it seems. A simple lifting of the first piece of planking would've showed me that it was neither secure nor laid evenly across the joists. I'm thankful that I did not damage the property or hurt myself, but even more grateful to pass along this experience to all those who enter and traverse attics, be it several times a day or just once a year to get the Christmas stuff down.