How to properly inspect your attic

While Grey Squirrels and Flying Squirrels rarely leave any doubt that they’re having a grand ole time overhead, Rats and Mice can be in the attic 24/7 for a very long time and you’d never hear them. So just because you’re not hearing anything in your attic doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.

I think it’s in the attic…

If you’re certain that the noises are coming from the attic, you can refer to our What Animal is It? cheat sheet to try and get a better idea of the animal you are dealing with.

First, grab a bright flashlight and let’s head to the attic.

Ideally not your phone flashlight, please. Most attics will have some floored areas but typically not much. For a proper look, you’ll need to step off the flooring and onto the rafters. Keep in mind it is very easy to fall through the attic ceiling, so please remember to always maintain 3 points of contact (i.e., 2 feet on rafters and 1 hand on a stable support) at all times.

Before we venture further into the attic, let’s look around from relative safety.

Let’s start this inspection from the stable comfortable platform and talk about what you are looking for:

  • Are there any black or maybe brown droppings in varying size or shape? It not, great. But you are not out of the woods just yet.
  • Now, scan across your insulation. Most homes have blown in insulation that is bright pink, white or even yellow and some with gray cellulose. You are not looking for droppings here. What you are looking for is trails in the insulation. If you have rats, mice or even flying squirrels, you will have zig-zagging intersections trails or indentations throughout your insulation. If you see the trails, this is a tell that you are dealing with one of the three species and unfortunately, they have been there a while already. You may have all batt (rolled) insulation in your attic. If you have batt insulation, when you scan across the top of it with your flashlight, it’s typically easy to see droppings or nuts shells scattered across the top. Both Grey and Flying Squirrels like to strip the batt insulation, especially on vertical walls, down to the paper backing. They’ll take it in chunks and shove it into the soffit box in one or multiple areas for a nest. These are normally found fairly close to or right at their entry point.
  • Did you see any holes in the insulation? Holes in the insulation could range anywhere from ping pong ball to tennis ball size. However, the holes are generally an indicator of the same three species but MAYBE they have not been there as long. Grey and Flying Squirrels often leave small holes throughout the insulation where they bury nuts, etc.
Now that the insulation in the immediate area of the attic entry was checked, where now?

Now we need to check the outer edge of your attic. This is where those 3 points of contact are important as you make your way around your attic.

  • See any flattened-out areas? The flattened-out area would be in or on the outer edge of the insulation.
  • How big is the flattened-out area? Seeing flattening between 6-18 inches wide along the edge could be an indicator of Grey and/or Flying Squirrels.
  • What about wide paths in the insulation? You may see deep weaving trails as wide as at least 6 inches in the insulation. This is a sign of a bigger animal like a raccoon or possum.
So now you know that something’s living in the attic, where did they get in?

It’s time to move further into the attic. Be careful on your rafters and maintain 3 points of contact (also a headlamp will be very useful). Move deeper into the attic and from this vantage point you can also usually find where entry into the attic.

This next part will likely require you to turn off the attic lights.

From a stable and secure position, shut off all the lights in attic including your flashlight. Simply look around for daylight coming into the attic. Do keep in mind that soffit and roof vents will let light in so don’t let that distract you. The main thing you’ll commonly see is daylight coming from where your roof decking comes down to where it should join your fascia. That is where the guttered roofline construction gap can be found and is the single most common point of entry.

Didn’t see any daylight pouring in from anywhere in the attic?

Don’t get too excited just yet. Turn your flashlight back on and point it in the same area described above. If you see a black stripe between the wood-colored roof decking and the fascia board (is typically white) then you are seeing the back side of your shingles or roofing underlayment. If you see any gaps here that is a problem because with only a 1/2 inch or greater gap, those Rats, Mice, or Flying squirrels can enter wherever they please. Remember, a gap is a gap so whether you see daylight or not doesn’t matter as if you see the “black stripe” along your eaves, that’s still easily accessible. Grey Squirrels commonly chew the gap open to a baseball size hole so those are fairly apparent. If you feel comfortable, walk across your rafters and get closer to your gable vents (large opening in the attic wall with wood slats) to see if you have any holes chewed or torn into the light duty window screen.

Outside the attic, anything else to check?

Depending on the style/architecture of your home, you may see gaps, daylight, or holes where your roof returns are. Keep in mind that we’ve only covered the most common entry areas and you may see or miss other areas of concern.

If you want to set traps in the attic, hopefully these pointers help you be successful.

Depending on what you found during your inspection will impact your trap choice. Rats, Mice, and Flying Squirrels can be caught on a standard large snap style trap (smaller ones for mice if your 100% sure it’s just mice but the large ones will still work) that you can find at a local hardware store. The key here is setting a lot of traps and spreading them out. Just setting traps where you have flooring MAY result in a catch or two but it will not resolve the full infestation.

If you determined that you have Grey Squirrels, Raccoons or Opossum, you can still visit the local hardware store but this time, you’ll need cage traps. Obviously, Raccoon and Opossum will need the large ones. While you won’t need the same quantity of cage traps as compared to the snap style traps (and it’s gets pricy!), placement is key. You need to place them as close to where they’re entering as possible to increase your success rate.

I hope you found this useful but if you still have not found what you are looking for, jump back to our blogs and check out the posts on inspecting the rest of your house. If this made you realize that your time would be better used elsewhere and/or may not be in your comfort zone, we’re here to help!

If you are in the North Georgia area, click here to request a free inspection. Thank you for your time!

Written by Brad Peeler

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