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Avoid DIY Attic Insulation Accidents

How To Avoid Common Attic Insulation DIY Project Injuries

One of the most popular Do-It-Yourself energy efficiency projects for homeowners is adding insulation in the attics of their homes. But it can often lead to injuries when the proper precautions are not taken to ensure a safe project. Cellulose insulation is one of the best options for attics and, although CIMA recommends hiring a professional insulation contractor to ensure the highest performance, it can be done as a DIY project. Whether using a professional or doing it yourself, preparing an attic prior to installing insulation is a critical first step that many homeowners can do. However, going into the attic requires some basic knowledge of the potential hazards to ensure a safe outcome.

Attic Access

Typical Attic Access Hatch Photo CIMA
The first consideration is the attic access. This can vary from a simple hatch opening, typically trimmed out with a piece of the ceiling material cut to fit, to a full set of folding stairs. For hatches, a ladder is required to access the attic. Many accidents start here. As with any project where a ladder is required, be sure to fully secure it before entering the attic.

Attic Access Folding Attic Stairs Diagram CIMA
Folding attic stairs offer more convenience but can also be hazardous. These are typically deployed by pulling down on a cord. First look at the latch. If the cover appears to be hanging on the catch this could indicate worn or broken springs. Always pull down on the cord carefully and try to stand a bit off axis. Worn springs can break sending metal flying or the stairs can break free and come down very quickly. Once the stairs are down, always check the springs, arms and section hinges to make sure these are in good condition. Rusted or warn parts should be repaired if possible or the stairs replaced.

Regardless of the access, it is important to ensure there is solid wood framing all the way around the opening into the attic scuttle. If the opening has not been full framed out stepping on an unsupported area can cause it to collapse sending the homeowner down with it.

Moving Around An Attic

Attic Hatch Framing Photos CIMA
There are many potential hazards once in the attic. First consideration is lighting. Attics are typically very dark places even during daylight hours. If there are no lights, or insufficient lighting throughout the attic, the best option is a head mounted flashlight. Both hands are needed to safely move around in most attics and both are needed for the work required to prep and install the insulation.

Next is knowing where to walk. Feet and weight should only be on the ceiling joists or truss chords. If there is already insulation in areas, it may be above the rafters making it hard to tell where to step (insulation settled below the rafters is a sure sign more insulation is needed.) There may also be pieces of plywood laid out for walkways. Often these are not secured with nails and the pieces can slide. Be sure to use very light testing steps before committing full weight with any unsure step. The most common costly damage, and serious injuries, are when homeowners step through the ceiling. Back to plywood, it is good to have some pieces of plywood cut that can be used to help make walkways. Just take care when using these as noted.

Overhead Hazards

Attic Overhead Clearance Hazards Photo CIMA
The most common roof pitch is 6/12, which allows for a modest amount of head room in an attic. Many homes often have shallower pitched roofs with even less overhead space. So overhead clearance can often be an issue. There are a variety of dangerous elements overhead and care must be taken to avoid these. Bumping the head into truss members below the sheathing can cause head injury. The points of nails can often protrude through the underside of the sheathing causing puncture woods to the head, hands and arms.

Other Attic Elements

There are typically a variety of cables running through most attics. These include electrical, telephone, cable and other connectivity wires. They can be very visible and also hard to see either due to limited visibility or when run just across the top of joists. There is usually duct work and often plumbing pipes and vents. All of these create trip and fall obstacles to avoid when moving around an attic. Many homes also have recessed ceiling lights that protrude up into the attic. These are trip hazards as well as potential points for electrical shock. Also, watch for spiders like brown recluses which often living in dark attics.

Temperature

Summers are often when homeowners have more downtime for DIY projects. This is also when attics in even more northern regions can reach temperatures approaching 130 degrees. Heat stroke is a very sneaky condition and best advice is to tackle the attic during cooler months or plan to work early in the morning before the temperature rises. Take a thermometer from the kitchen into the attic to monitor the heat.

Unsafe Insulation

In older houses and even those built before 1990, a potential risks is working in an attic were insulation containing asbestos is present. This creates a serious health hazard. Typically, older vermiculite insulation is the most common type containing asbestos. Learn more about it here and contact a professional insulation contractor if vermiculite or other potential asbestos product is suspected in the attic.

Knowing these and other potential risks and how to avoid them is the best way to ensure a safe and successful DIY attic insulation project. Find CIMA Producer Members by states to contact for information on where to find quality cellulose insulation products or referrals for professional insulation contractors.

CIMA - USGBC Member CIMA - Canada CIMA - ICC CIMA - ECIA