unfinished attic

Is Your Unfinished Attic Safe? 10 Ways to Test it Out

When it comes to home improvement, 70% of Americans prefer to do the work themselves.

With all the home renovation websites and television series out there, it’s no wonder the DIY approach is the preferred method of choice. But some DIY projects, such as an unfinished attic, require a little more precaution than others.

If you’re renovating your home and need to access your attic, there are certain safety precautions you need to consider. Before you head up there, you should know everything from what safety gear to wear to how to walk in the attic without falling through.

But there’s more to know than that. In this guide, we’ll explore the top 10 tips you need to keep in mind.

How To Test An Unfinished Attic

The number of safety hazards in an attic are plenty. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, these hazards include:

  • Poor ventilation and fine particulate dust that affects breathing 
  • Low-clearance rafters that affect the safety of your head
  • Exposed insulation
  • Asbestos insulation
  • Mechanical hazards including whole house fans and attic ventilators
  • Slip, trip, and fall hazards (i.e. wiring)
  • Electrical hazards including wiring and electrical boxes
  • Pest-related hazards such as animal nests with urine and feces
  • Heat stress

To avoid these potential hazards, you need to know how to get around in your attic while keeping yourself protected. But you also need to perform some regular maintenance that ensures its ongoing safety. In these 10 tips, we’ll share a little bit of both. 

Check the stairs

If you have stairs leading up to your attic, especially the pull-down type, you’ll want to check them before use. These stairs are often the last thought in terms of home maintenance, and you can’t always trust their structural integrity. 

Check if there’s a floor

There’s a big difference between an actual floor and the ceiling of the room below your attic. Stepping on drywall or plaster that makes up the roof below could at best cause damage and at worst cause a serious fall to the floor below.

A floor that you can walk on will have floorboards and floor joists. If you’re not sure, it’s best to call a professional before putting any weight on it. Even storing boxes up there could cause costly damage.

If there is no floor, be careful on the joists

If you don’t have a floor, you’ll have to walk on the joists. When doing so, be careful not to place all your weight on one joist. Not only is this a fall hazard, but it can also cause the joist to bow and crack the drywall below.

This also means you don’t want to sit, stand, or kneel on one joist for too long. So when you need to work in your attic for a long period of time, bring a piece of plywood to better distribute your weight across the rafters. Something thicker than 1/4″ can be placed across two ceiling joists so you stay comfortable and safe.

Protective clothing and gear

A huge part of any kind of DIY project is safety clothing and gear. Your attic is no different.

Be sure that you’re protecting your skin from insulation and dust. Wear long sleeves and pants and don’t leave your skin exposed.

While a hard hat might actually get in your way in an attack, you can protect your head from dust and insulation with a knitted cap or a hooded sweatshirt. You should also opt for treaded sneakers over large, clunky boots.

And of course, you’ll want to protect your respiratory system from any fine particulates that make it difficult to breathe. For this, you’ll need an N95 mask.

Stay clean and organized

To minimize the number of times you have to move around or go up and down from the attic, plan out what tools you’re going to need before heading up. Place them in a toolbelt so they’re organized and don’t present a tripping hazard.

You should also keep your workspace and the attic clean. As you’re moving around, you might knock dust and insulation loose. Spread a sheet under the stairs to catch those particulates.

But cleanliness is also an annual job. You have to regularly maintain your attic vents and fans to ensure that your unfinished attic is safe.

The soffit vents are there for ventilating your attic space and maintaining steady air flow. You can clean these from below using an air compressor. At the same time, clean your attic fan blades.

Work with light

An important part of working safely is proper lighting. When using a work light, make sure that the cord is well out of where you’re walking to avoid tripping. You should also bring a flashlight for extra lighting in hard-to-see corners.

And while it may be tempting to use the light of day to work in an unfinished attic, remember that attics can get dangerously hot during the day. And your long sleeves and pants won’t help with that matter. To avoid heat stress, check the weather forecast before picking your day of work and start work early in the day.

Be careful how you walk

When walking around on joists, spread your weight out. Only put one foot on one joist at a time. Then, have two other points of contact to keep your balance, even if it’s a rafter above your head.

You should also minimize any other tripping hazards such as loose cables and wires, low hanging beams, exposed nails, and building scraps.

Check the insulation

Insulation from the 1970s or 1980s may be hazardous to your health. In these decades, they used vermiculite insulation. This stuff is well-known for containing asbestos.

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and can also cause a lung disease called asbestosis. If you see warning signs such as mold, blackened spots, or disintegrating areas, call a professional for removal right away.

Wiring

Unless you’re an experienced electrician, an inspection of your wiring should be left to the professionals. They can replace any damaged wire that might cause fire hazards in an unfinished attic—especially when close to insulation.

Look for signs of pests

Attics are a favorite nesting spot for wasps and bees. But small animals like raccoons can also get int your attic and make it home.

If you see any signs of pests in your attic, call an exterminator to rid of the problem before beginning any work.

More Attic Work And Safety

An unfinished attic is a hotspot for accidents. Knowing how to walk around, what to check for, and how to maintain it is key to staying safe while you’re working up there.

But jobs such as electrical work, insulation removal, and pest control, even the most experienced DIYer should leave to the professionals. For a full list of how we can help, check out our list of services.