Open the attic access panel?

One of the biggest sources of contention that we regularly deal with during inspections of newer houses is whether or not a sealed attic access panel should be ‘broken’ to access the attic; more specifically, whether or not should be allowed to break the seal.  If you’re not sure what we are talking about, here’s a photo of an attic access panel. To understand this issue, you need to understand why this panel is here and why it has been sealed.

Attic Access Panel

First, the access panel is here because it is required by the New Jersey International Residential Building Code.  The panel is here for me (or anyone else) to use to get into the attic to inspect it, or to do work.  That’s it, plain and simple.  The New Jersey International Residential Building Code, says

“…an attic access opening shall be provided to attic areas that exceed 30 square feet and have a vertical height of 30 inches or greater.”

This covers just about every attic space.  

If it’s required, why is the panel sealed?  In a new home, the panel only gets incidentally ‘sealed’.  The panel does not get attached to anything; it just gets set down on the opening. When the ceiling finish is applied, which is often spray texture, the seam between the panel and the rest of the ceiling gets covered over.  This is what people are referring to when they say the access has been ‘sealed.’  There is very rarely any caulking or adhesive keeping this panel in place.

The biggest sources of contention come from parties attending the inspection that are under the impression that attic spaces in new homes don’t need to be inspected.  Well, by that logic, new homes wouldn’t need to be inspected at all.  A large portion of the problems I find in new construction homes occur in the attic.

Don’t listen to anyone that tells you new attics don’t need to be inspected, or that attic access panels shouldn’t be opened.  They’re not looking out for your best interest, or they’ve been misinformed.

The bottom line is that attic access panels are there for the attic to be accessed, and this is something that should be done at every home inspection.  If there is any concern over air leaking into the attic, this can be addressed with about ten cents worth of caulk.