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I've spoken with a contractor who proposes cutting a hole in the roof of our circa 1900 house to access the attic for installing insulation. This intuitively seems like a bad idea--that it could damage the shingles and cause future roof leaks. A different contractor proposed cutting an opening via an interior closet with plaster ceiling.

Our house was built around 1900, asphalt shingles. Closet ceiling is plaster, so that introduces its own risks. They said that their technique was to first drill a pilot hole in the roof to ensure that they aren't cutting into the framing.

The insulation is going to be rolled, not blown in. So the hole will have to be big enough for the installer to get into the attic and to get the rolled insulation inside.

First, is this a sensible way to gain access to an otherwise inaccessible attic space? If so, what precautions should be taken to ensure that the roof isn't damaged? If so, how can I verify that the work is being performed properly?

  • DO you have any attic access right now? – longneck Nov 10 '15 at 15:51
  • @longneck not to this section of the attic, only an adjacent, isolated section. – glenviewjeff Nov 10 '15 at 15:52
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Nit picking on terminology the roof (or the closet drywall) will be damaged. That's what cutting a hole is. What you need to concern yourself is will it be repaired properly.

Basically a roof consists of the roof framing, the sheathing and the weatherproof covering.

The framing should not be cut in the roof. It just complicates things too much and isn't necessary. If it accidentally does get cut it can be repaired.

The sheathing depends on when your home was built. Decades ago you may have seen solid wood boards such as 1x6's, later plywood and more recently either plywood or OSB. Plywood and OSB are easier to replace and more people will have experience with it. If it's an older home with solid boards as the decking you may want to avoid messing with it.

The covering, things like asphalt shings are fairly easy to replace. If you have something like a clay tile roof then this would be more difficult but I doubt the contractor would have suggested cutting through the roof if that were the case. I think it would be best to use new shingles when repairing the hole but I'm not a roofer. With new shingles you'll have a patch that looks different than the rest of the roof.

Cutting through walls is similar in that there is framing, drywall then drywall compound over seams and finally paint. Much easier to repair and if something goes wrong with the repair you don't have to worry about a leak.

Going through the interior closet is the safer choice for you, going through the roof probably makes attic access easier for the contractor and could be less messy for you since all the cutting and running of insulation hoses happens outside.

Since your walls are plaster it could make the repair more complicated but the repair can also be made with drywall, shims and maybe a little extra mud to even things out. It may not come out as could than properly repairing the plaster but in a closet I wouldn't mind too much myself. The other option is to cut out a proper sized attic access and install a hatch. To be code compliant the opening is larger than the 16" OC the ceiling framing probably is (I believe minimum is 24"x30" but double check). That would involve adding some framing around the hole to accommodate it. Not that big a deal but might be something to consider if you'd like to have access to that attic area in the future. The larger hole should also make it easier for the contractor to bring up insulation.

I personally would feel more comfortable with cutting a hole in the drywall than the roof. If you like the contractor/equipment/insulation from the guy that wants to go through the roof you can probably tell him you'd rather he go in through an interior wall and not make any holes in your roof. He'd probably agree to it.

  • Our house was built around 1900, asphalt shingles. Closet ceiling is plaster, so that introduces its own risks. They said that their technique was to first drill a pilot hole in the roof to ensure that they aren't cutting into the framing. – glenviewjeff Nov 10 '15 at 15:49
  • The insulation is going to be rolled, not blown in. So the hole will have to be big enough for the installer to get into the attic and to get the rolled insulation inside. – glenviewjeff Nov 10 '15 at 15:50
  • @glenviewjeff updated my answer to reflect plaster walls. I would still personally prefer going through interior for the same reasons I stated.If something goes wrong with the interior repair there's a smaller chance of it being a big headache. – OrganicLawnDIY Nov 10 '15 at 16:15
  • I concur; and I don't remember what the reason the guy gave for wanting to come in from the outside; though I'll ask him again when he returns tomorrow. – glenviewjeff Nov 10 '15 at 16:36
  • My first choice would be through a closet, though that almost certainly will involve framing work. One thing not mentioned: do you have a gable end on the roof you could go through? Or is it a hipped roof? – User95050 Nov 10 '15 at 17:43

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