When the receptionist at Russell Roofing, in Oreland, Pa., contacts homeowners to confirm a sales appointment, she also lets them know that the company’s estimator will need access to the attic and asks that they please remove possible obstructions. Russell Roofing salespeople/estimators include an attic inspection with every sales call.

That inspection is standard operating procedure for some roofing companies, but by no means all. Callen Construction, in Muskego, Wis., has made attic inspections part of its estimating process for 28 years, co-owner Phil Callen says. But, he adds, few if any of his competitors will bother. Most roofers feel that an inspection of the roof surface—from the ground, on the roof, or via satellite services such as EagleView Technologies—provides enough information to prepare an estimate.

Stefan Boyer isn’t one of them. “We let homeowners know up front that we’re going to be looking in the attic,” says the vice president of Weather Guard Metal Roofing, in Birmingham, Ala. Since many of Weather Guard’s metal roofs are installed over one or two layers of existing asphalt shingles, the company has to know if there’s any rotten decking or framing before it installs underlayment. And the best way to do that, Boyer says, is by getting in the attic with a flashlight.

“We don’t know what the underside of that decking looks like,” says Fred Finn, president of Euro-Tech, a Chicago-area home improvement company that does a substantial number of re-roofs. “You could tear the roof off and find that $3,000 worth of plywood needs to be installed.” Not thrilling news to homeowners.

Ventilation Is Key to a Healthy Roof 
If homeowners are often unaware that attic ventilation has anything to do with their roof and how it functions, ice damming will soon disabuse them of their ignorance. “Adding ventilation and insulation is an easy sell, if you show [homeowners] what they’re paying for,” says Andy Lindus, of Lindus Construction, in Baldwin, Wis., across the river from the Twin Cities. “They understand it and you can put dollars to it if you know what you’re doing.”

Lindus Construction made attic inspections part of its standard estimating procedure four years ago, and a good part of estimator training involves learning to asses attic air flows.
Lindus says that he has already been on 50 roofs this year looking at leaks or potential problems because of ice damming situations brought on by a particularly severe winter. Ice damming, he explains, is the logical end result when an attic is improperly vented and lacks sufficient insulation. Nothing stops the heat of the house from rising right up through the roof which, once warmed, melts the snow that then refreezes at the roof line, resulting in stalagmite-size icicles, frozen downspouts, and—in a nightmarish perfect storm of leaks—rain that has no way to get off the roof entering the house through newly disturbed shingles.

Though Philadelphia has seen its share of temperature extremes and moisture this winter—and plenty of ice damming—Ron Hall, general manager of local company Russell Roofing finds that the best way to explain an attic inspection to homeowners is to tie it to manufacturer warranties. “To me, we have to make sure that the attic is ventilated to meet the warranty requirements of shingle manufacturers,” he says. “If shingles fail and the contractor didn’t address ventilation, manufacturers are off the hook,” Hall points out.

Russell Roofing personnel have gained expertise on the science of attic venting from the educational programs of manufacturers such as Air Vent. On every job, company estimators calculate the number of square inches of intake and exhaust to establish a balanced ratio for proper ventilation (see page 7 of the National Association of Home Inspectors’ “Attic Ventilation Calculations Made Easy,” for an explanation of the basic math involved in those calculations.) If the attic isn’t properly ventilated, then installing gable vents, soffit vents, ridge vents, etc., becomes part of the proposal.

Decking and Framing Condition
Other contractors point out that an attic inspection:

  • Allows estimators to gauge the condition of the framing—both for rot and spacing between framing members—to ensure that the roof is structurally sound and can support the weight of new shingle loads.
  • Reveals whether the home’s bathroom or dryer fans vent into the attic, periodically dumping quantities of moist air into the space, which, among other things, significantly reduces the R-value of existing insulation.
  • Ensures that those insulation levels are adequate and meet new code requirements for the region.

Finally, an attic inspection differentiates a roofing company from its competitors. “We’re usually the only ones on the bid who inspect the attic,” Lindus says.