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Painted Attic


Steven Hockstein
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Yesterday I saw something in an attic that confused me. I am eager for input on this issue.

The house was built in the early 1970's. The 2 x 6 rafters are overspanned, and substantially sagged. I am going to report this as a structural problem that needs correction.

The part that confuses me is that in the attic, the rafters and sheathing are all painted white. I sometimes see this when there has been a fire and it is part of the repair work but the owner stated that there has never been a fire and I did not see any other signs of a past fire. The owner told me that someone sold him this paint job because they convinced him that if the framing was painted white in the attic it would reflect the heat and reduce build-up. It sounds like a crock of sh** to me. My guess is that there is/was mildew and/or mold that has been concealed with paint. Some of the plywood is slightly sagged between the rafters, but the roof is really sagged at the rafters due to their size and span.

The roof was replaced two years ago. Gable vents and a thermostatically controlled power vent were installed. The real estate agent stated that the roofer assured the homeowner that the roof structure was sound. I did not believe her and questioned what are the roofer's qualififications to determine the soundness of a roof, especially when the first roof layer was not even removed to examine the sheathing. She could not answer me.

Any comments?

How would you suggest I report this?

Thanks

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Hi Steven,

It might be pigmented shellac. That is used around here sometimes to cover stubborn stains or mildew. They may be attempting to cover a mildew issue.

Then again, the owner might be telling the truth. A few years ago, some snake oil salesmen were going around selling paint that has microscopically sized ceramic beads in the emulsion that is supposed to slow down heat transfer through the roof plane, thus reducing solar gain in the day and heat loss at night.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I inspected an attic last year where the homeowner had painted the underside of attic and roof framing with a radiant barrier paint. He purchased the product on line and gave me the link. The paint he used is described at http://www.hytechsales.com/prod85.html. From the limited research I've done, most of the information on radiant barriers is all hyp provided by radiant barrier sales people. If the attic was not properly ventilated prior to re-roofing it is likely the paint does cover mildew and stains.

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Steven,

It does sound funny to paint the attic doesn't it?

By the way, when I find structural problems I may offer opinions about what might fix it, but always remind the client that a licensed designer can best prescribe structural remedies.

As a licensed designer, what would you suggest to "correct" the sagged rafters?

As a former carpenter I know that wood, once it has "taken shape" as a sagged rafter does, can't really be straightened. About all that can be done, IMHO, is to "kick" the rafters off with purlins braced to something stout. If there's two layers of shingles now the rafters could still be going south.

The roofer's assessment of soundness was probably determined by whether his feet felt much bounce or softness as he worked. Shame on him anyway for doing a "layover" job.

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Originally posted by Jim Baird

Steven,

It does sound funny to paint the attic doesn't it?

By the way, when I find structural problems I may offer opinions about what might fix it, but always remind the client that a licensed designer can best prescribe structural remedies.

As a licensed designer, what would you suggest to "correct" the sagged rafters?

As a former carpenter I know that wood, once it has "taken shape" as a sagged rafter does, can't really be straightened. About all that can be done, IMHO, is to "kick" the rafters off with purlins braced to something stout. If there's two layers of shingles now the rafters could still be going south.

The roofer's assessment of soundness was probably determined by whether his feet felt much bounce or softness as he worked. Shame on him anyway for doing a "layover" job.

Jim,

I specifically exclude architectural work from my home inspection work and offer an "Architectural Inspection" for an additional fee. I am very careful not to give architectural opinions in my home inspection work because I expose myself to added liability. My clients sign an agreement that explains the difference between the two types of inspections that I offer. Obviously the architectural inspection is a lot more money and requires much more time.

In response to your question, there is no single answer, but the sags are usually caused by inadequate collar ties and/or undersized rafters. If the shingles are in decent shape and unless the sags are substantial I would recommend stablilizing the roof structure to prevent further movement. This can be accomplished through the addition of collar ties, knee walls (if the ceilings can support the load), or girders (purlins) under the rafters to reduce the span (properly sized and posted down to appropriate bearing points). When the next roof layer is needed, I would address the sags and consider structure replacement as part of the shingle replacement. This is a similar approach to the way we handled the FRT plywood sheating problems.

If the sags are really bad, I would recommend to strip and replace the roof structure.

Steve

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  • 2 months later...

Steven,

Dont know if you are still following this post or not, but here is my two cents.

As far as the paint goes. If there was a mold issue that was professionally remediated in the past, after the mold was remediated, they would seal the entire area with a type of primer to prevent it from comming back (it only takes a few spores to get some moisture to come back). I have seen this done on a few houses that I have been called back to verify the work was done and the ventillation issues were corrected.

This would also explain the power vent. The cause of the mold was probably a lack of ventillation.

Attached is a photo of an attic that had the mold professionally remediated.

I would recommend that the buyer request the documentation on the remediation or if the seller insisted that it was the paint to reduce heat (I have heard of it but never seen it, thought it was silver). Eitherway at least they know. If it was mold and there is documentation with air sampling after the remediation they are fine.

(sorry for the first photo that was the outside of the house)

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I never did get a documented response from the seller. I feel that I did my job in finding the problem, reporting the conditions including possible reasons for the paint, and recommended that my client obtain any available documents.

More recently, in one of my trade magazines there was an article about radiant paint barriers for attics and the results of studies that showed energy savings.Maybe the seller was actually telling the truth!

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