I am trying to get into the attic space of my new house, but could not find any access door or hatch. I cut a small hole into the ceiling and found a layer of wood planking and then a layer of sawdust, and then another layer of wood planking. I did not cut into that last layer of wood, but could see through the cracks and knot holes that there is a layer of tar paper on top of it. Any suggestions on how to access the attic above?
Dustin ~ Pilot Mound, MB
Dustin, without personally inspecting your home, it is difficult for me to offer a specific plan on accessing your home's attic, but it's worth noting that it would be unusual for an attic not to have some sort of existing access point. If your home's attic access was covered up during a past remodel, or if the original builder simply did not install one, then you are going to have to determine the best interior location for installing a new access hatch. There are several critical issues to be wary of when installing the new access, the first being the framing members of the attic floor and the second being the existing insulation in the attic.
If you can not position a new access point between your home's attic floor joists (or the attic trusses), then it may be necessary to alter the wood framing to create the new opening. If you do not have significant carpentry experience, then you should consult a knowledgeable contractor who can safely do this work for you. You should never cut into any attic truss, joist, or rafter that could compromise the structural integrity of your house. Likewise, you should not install a new access hatch without first knowing what type of attic insulation you are dealing with. If your home's attic insulation contains asbestos, then you will have to hire a professional asbestos mitigation company to safely deal with the insulation. DO NOT cut into your home's attic if there is a chance that you will come in contact with any insulation containing asbestos.
Another option for you might be to access your home's attic from the exterior of your house. Oftentimes a access door can be installed on the gable end of a home, allowing easy access by way of a ladder. Again, if you don't have much carpentry experience then you should probably hire a contractor who can do this work for you.