As a home inspector, one of the things we commonly ask is, does a home inspector check the roof?
Most home inspectors will climb up and walk on the roof surface. According to the NACHI and ASHI National Standards of Practice, home inspectors are not required to walk on roof surfaces. However, most home inspectors prefer to walk the roof if it is safe.
Limitations to getting on the roof often include adverse weather conditions, steep roof pitches, and poor condition of the roof covering.
Does a Home Inspector Check the Roof – What Standards of Practice Say?
In section 3.1. IV of the NACHI Standards of Practice states:” The Inspector is not required to walk on any roof surface.” 1
Older versions of the ASHI Standards of Practice stated in Roofing Section 6.3, “Inspectors were not required to walk on roof surfaces.”
However, in new revisions, the Roof section was relocated to Section 3. In Section 3, that statement appears to have been removed. It merely states that the inspector must “describe the methods used to inspect the roofing.”
However, Section 13.2 under General Exclusions Part D #1 states, “The inspector is not required to enter areas that will, in the professional judgment of the inspector, likely be dangerous to the inspector or to other persons, or to damage the property or its systems and components.”
In other words, walking on the roof is left solely to the discretion of the home inspector.
Home inspectors are not required to walk on roofs, although many will do so. Some of the reasoning why a home inspector may not walk on the roof includes the type and condition of the roof coverings, the pitch of the roof, and adverse weather conditions.
Why Would a Home Inspector Want to Walk on the Roof?
As client expectations and competition in the marketplace increase, home inspectors are always looking for ways to stand out. Some home inspectors will differentiate themselves from other home inspectors through a willingness to walk on the roof surfaces.
For most homes, a home inspector must climb onto a roof to inspect the roof coverings properly. Most home inspectors want to walk on the roof because it provides the best way to check its overall condition.
Flat roofs and pitched roofs of 3/12 or less should be walked on. These roof surfaces are difficult (sometimes impossible) to inspect accurately from the ground level or a ladder at the eaves.
Walking on the roof allows the home inspector to see the condition of the roof coverings and feel the sturdiness of the roof sheathing under their feet. Other benefits of walking on the roof include hands-on inspection of flashings, roof penetrations, chimneys, skylights, and gutters.
Some of the defects found walking the roof that is often missed by other inspection methods:
- Hail damage to the roof coverings
- Exposed nail heads on ridge shingles, venting, and roof penetrations
- Deteriorated plumbing vent boots
- Soft roof decking
- Loose flashing
However, there are some drawbacks to walking on the roof. Let’s explore what they are and why a home inspector won’t climb on a roof.
Why Won’t a Home Inspector Walk a Roof?
We must objectively examine why a home inspector won’t wall the corner roof. Often this decision is made on a case-by-case basis while on site. The safety of the home inspector is of the utmost importance.
Many home inspectors are sole proprietors who have families to support. Even a minor injury could have long-lasting effects on the home inspector and his family. A severe injury could end a home inspector’s career.
A home inspector may tell you on the phone that they will walk on the roof. However, they may change their minds on-site based on several conditions. Let’s look at those conditions.
Insurance and Legal Issues
Since most home inspectors are self-employed, they pay their own insurance. Some don’t even have health or workers’ compensation insurance. Walking the roof can open the home inspector to insurance and legal issues if the inspector has employees or allows the client to accompany the inspector onto the roof.
If the inspector, a team member, or the client was injured, the home inspector could be sued for damages. Even with good insurance, if a client were to follow you onto a roof and get injured, your insurance would not cover the injury claim.
Poor Roof Conditions
Upon arrival on-site, an experienced home inspector can often look at the roof coverings and decide on the overall condition without ever stepping foot on the roof.
For instance, if the roof coverings severely deteriorate and need replacement, there is little to gain by walking on the roof surface. Often a home inspector seeing the roof covering condition can make an educated determination based on observation only from a ladder at the eaves. Some may still elect to walk the roof on a case-by-case basis.
While every home inspector documents differently, my general statement when I see a roof that has less than two years of useful life remaining (which is the FHA minimum standard), I notify my clients that:
“The roof coverings are near the end of their useful life and replacement should be anticipated shortly. Examination for replacement by a licensed roofing contractor is needed.” and include several photos to support my conclusion.
Steep Roof Pitch
Some homes have steep roof pitches that can not be traversed without specialized roof climbing gear and other equipment. The silver lining of a steeply pitched roof is it can quickly be inspected from the ground with binoculars, from the eave with a ladder, or with a camera drone.
In addition, steeply pitched roofs often have large attic spaces that allow for easy inspection of the roof sheathing inside the attic space. Steeply-pitched roofs also tend to last longer than lower-pitched roofs.
Height Off Ground
The roofs on some two- and three-story homes make walking on the roof difficult (not impossible). Very high roofs require large ladders that some home inspectors cannot transport or do not home. It is not uncommon for a two-story house on a crawlspace to be 25-30 feet in the air.
The standards of practice allow for home inspectors to use their discretion where safety is a concern. A fall from a roof of that height could be deadly. Home inspectors will often weigh risk versus reward when safety is a factor. Most will err to the side of caution.
In recent years, home inspectors have turned to telescopic camera poles or cameras on drones to conduct roof inspections on houses that they do not feel safe to climb onto the roof. While these techniques may not be as good as walking onto the top, they are still suitable methods that can provide excellent information about the roof with high-quality clear photos.
With the advancements and camera technology, home inspectors using a telescopic camera pole or a camera drone can zoom in and collect numerous high-quality photos of roof defects, all safely from the ground level.
Bad Weather Conditions
The most common reason a home inspector will not walk on a roof is bad weather conditions. A wet roof can be hazardous to walk on. A wet roof can be very slippery, even with shoes designed for roofs. This goes back to the statement regarding the home inspectors’ safety discretion.
In some parts of the country, it is not uncommon for Holmes to have several inches of snow on the roof for an extended period. Often we do not have the discretion of waiting until the roof is dry and free of snow to do the home inspection. Home inspection contingency clauses allow 10 to 14 days to complete a home inspection.
Alternative Roof Inspection Methods
We touched on some of these alternative roof inspection methods above. Now let’s dive in a little deeper to show you just how well these alternative methods are at performing roof inspections safely.
Binoculars have come a long way over the past few years. A good pair of binoculars can allow you to zero in on the fine details of the roof coverings. However, binoculars have a limitation that prohibits you from being able to take photographs of the defects you observe. Binoculars would be my least favorite option for inspecting a roof when I cannot walk on the roof surface.
High-Quality Camera with Zoom Lens
One of the tools I use when trying to take good-quality photographs from the ground or the roof is my Canon EOS Rebel T5 camera. This camera has a digital viewfinder and can zoom in to take high-quality photos in HD. The camera has built-in cropping features that pinpoint areas where roof defects exist.
Drone with Camera
Many home inspectors have begun using drones with built-in cameras or GoPros to perform inspections on roofs that they could not walk on. The operation of these drones for commercial purposes such as these does require a specialized license. If your home inspector mentions that he uses a drone to perform roof inspections, ask for a copy of their license and certification.
Telescopic Pole with Camera
A telescopic pole with a mounted camera is one of my favorite tools for performing roof inspections, particularly roofs over 25 feet in the air. This tool allows me to take video footage of the roof from the ground level using a lightweight telescopic pole. The video footage can then be examined, and screenshots of roof defects were taken.
When searching for a home inspector, I think you’ll find that most are willing and able to walk on the roof to provide you with a thorough home inspection, provided the inspector can do so safely.
Home inspectors want to do an excellent job for their clients. Home inspectors are naturally curious and love to examine things. It’s the reason we get into the business. They want to look out for their client’s best interests and provide top-quality service safely and professionally.