How to Determine if Your Attic is Safe for Storage

There are reasons for and against using your attic for storage. It’s most important to know the reasons why your attic may not be safe for you or your belongings. This way you can decide before the first box goes in if you should have anything up there at all.

Why Do Homes Have An Attic?

The original purpose of attics is to ensure adequate air flow. It keeps your roof from overheating your house during hot summers. A secondary reason in older homes was to leave unfinished space that might someday be used for expansion. There’s a blurry line in between those who intended the attic to be used and those who didn’t. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge about the builder’s intentions can be dangerous to people who try to walk around in their attic or use it for storage.

How Old is the Home

Very old houses may have a more secure attic space than the newest ones. Why? Originally builders used the same lumber throughout the house. This means that the attic trusses are just as thick and sturdy as any others that are meant to sustain the weight of the house. At some point in recent history, builders began cutting corners. They learned that they could use lightweight wood for this purpose. In many homes today, contractors utilized prefabricated trusses that were not made from the same sturdy stuff that is meant to hold the weight of furniture and people.

Who Can You Ask About Your Attic?

If you are just moving in, your home inspector should be able to tell you about your attic’s safety. Too late for that? Check the report that you were given. Hopefully you kept it. Others who may know include your real estate agent or former owner. They may not be 100 percent reliable, but you should try.

One thing’s for sure, if you don’t think the attic is safe, you should just rent a 10 x 10 storage unit. If you do that, you don’t have to worry about the strength of the floor. You don’t have to worry about a leaky roof. You can also get one that is climate controlled to reduce the chances of ruining your favorite keepsakes.

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How Safe is It to Walk In the Attic

You may have professionals who go up into the attic and walk around. Presumably these are inspectors who know where to step without falling through. Still, even they could put a foot wrong in some attics and find themselves with a foot and leg going through the floor into the ceiling below. That’s definitely not what you want for them or yourself.

There are many ways to fall through an unfinished attic floor. A simple misstep can send you through the ceiling. However, there are other dangers as well. It is hard to know which boards are actually capable of holding human weight. If you go beyond your ladder, you may find out the hard way that a board isn’t strong.

One thing to watch out for in attics, according to professionals, is a random board that has been placed between the beams. These boards may not be nailed down. Therefore, they could easily slide when you stepped on them.

Another danger is a piece of particle board that was placed by someone else over the beams. It appears to be a floor but it is old and cannot actually hold your weight. The inspector says that he removes the random boards if they appear dangerous and advises homeowners to do the same if they can do safely.

Environmental Dangers

Your attic may have some threats that cannot be seen at first glance. This includes asbestos insulation. This was supposed to be phased out by the 1990s, but it is worth getting your attic inspected if you suspect that the insulation is asbestos. This needs to be removed by a licensed contractor or it needs to be avoided entirely.

Removal is best, but it is very expensive due to the dangerous nature of asbestos dust. If you can’t afford removing it, it is best to stay out of the attic.

Another possibility is dangerous mold from roof leaks. Black mold can cause illnesses and even death. It isn’t as hard to remove as asbestos, but it does require expert attention. If the leak is still there, you’ll need to get the roof fixed.

In addition to these environmental hazards, there are sometimes nasty things left over from animals invading your space. Bird, squirrel or rat droppings are unhealthy even from a distance. Other things they may leave around include their dirty nests or remnants of their food.

Light-Use Only Attic Storage May Be an Option

Even if they have ladders, many attics are light use only. This means that you don’t climb around up there or add a bunch of heavy boxes. Perhaps lighter boxes of seasonal decorations can be hoisted up there and put just within reach of the ladder. However, you shouldn’t be tempted to put more than, especially heavy things such as a big box of books.

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Best Attics for Storage Are Rare

The best attic for storage is one with a built-in sturdy floor. This type of attic may be as small as a closet or much larger. These are increasingly rare. Still, if you have one, you can feel safe using it. You still need to watch out for environmental danger and keep an eye out for ceiling leaks.

It is still wise not to put furniture or heavy items in this overhead nook. Although the attic has a floor, you don’t want to put much pressure on it. Common sense dictates that you be careful when you are on the fold-down ladder or in the attic.

There’s Little Climate Control in Attic Storage

By very definition, an attic is the opposite of climate controlled. In the summer it is likely to be much hotter than the outdoors. In winter, it will be even colder than the outdoors. In short, your belongings will be subjected to extremes of temperature that they wouldn’t be if they were just in a closet of the home. This can be destructive. Pictures and delicate items will be ruined quickly. Almost everything else will be harmed over time.

If your climate is milder, the attic may be good enough for many items. You can expect some of the regular dangers that come with storage, however. This includes yellowing, disintegration, bad smells and so forth.

There’s also the danger of rodents getting to your items by chewing through cardboard boxes.
You will want to listen out for tell-tale signs of invasion. This includes scratching, scrambling noises coming from overhead, especially at night. It may be worth hiring an exterminator who knows how to seal off all entry points.

What’s the Best Way to Clean Out Your Attic

If your attic is safe, what’s the best time to be up there? You should choose a time with mild temperatures, generally the spring or fall. There should never be more than one person in the attic at the time nor should the folding ladder be expected to hold more than one person.

You need several battery-operated lights to help you see and stay safe. You’ll want to be on the lookout for boxes that look like they have been chewed on. You are also watching for signs of leaks or mold.

Perhaps you can bring everything down and sort through it. You’ll be glad you did this whenever your next move rolls around. Homeowners have a tendency to forget what’s in the attic, and this gives you a chance to identify what could be given away or sold as well as what you want to keep.

What’s the Best Way to Organize an Attic

The best way to organize your attic is to have seasonal items close to the ladder and everything else behind those decorations. That’s because you are most likely to want your Christmas or Halloween decorations and less likely to want the keepsakes you are storing.

What Should Never Be Stored in an Attic

If it can catch fire or spill, causing a biological hazard, it doesn’t belong in the attic. This includes such things as pesticides, cleaning fluids, kerosene, and gasoline.

How to Take a Careful Look Around

Now that you know more, you may want to climb the ladder and inspect your attic with a flashlight. You could take pictures and look for dangers, damage, and so forth. You definitely don’t want to make a mistake that could hurt you and your property.

Many different types of home professionals suggest that individuals should not go into the attic when they are alone. They suggest that having someone in shouting distance is a good idea just in case of an emergency.

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