How Home Inspectors Examine Roofs – Methods & Safety Concerns


home inspection

As a home inspector, one of the things we are commonly asked is “Do we walk on the roof to check for things like broken shingles, flashings, chimneys, skylights, and gutters?”

So, do all home inspectors walk roofs? Most home inspectors will climb up and walk on the roof surface. Home inspectors are not required to walk on any roof surface according to the NACHI and ASHI National Standards of Practice. However, most home inspectors prefer to climb on roofs provided it is safe. Limitations to getting on the roof often include adverse weather conditions, steep roof pitches, and poor condition of the roof coverings themselves.

In section 3.1. IV of the NACHI Standards of Practice states: ”The Inspector is not required to walk on any roof surface.” 1

In older versions of the ASHI Standards of Practice, it stated in Roofing Section 6.3 that “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, in 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”.  2

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 increases, home inspectors are always looking for ways to stand out. One of the ways some home inspectors will differentiate themselves from other home inspectors is through a willingness to walk on the roof surfaces.

For most homes, a home inspector needs to climb onto a roof to inspect the roof coverings properly. Most home inspectors want to walk on the roof because it provides the best method of inspecting the overall condition of the roof. 

Flat roofs and pitched roofs of 3/12 or less should be walked on. These roof surfaces are difficult (and in some cases impossible) to accurately inspect from the ground level or from a ladder at the eaves.

Walking on the roof allows the home inspector to see the true condition of the roof coverings and to 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 a Home Inspector Won’t Walk a Roof?

As we explore why a home inspector won’t wall corner roof we need to look at this objectively. Often times 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.

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 up to insurance and legal issues if the inspector has employees or allows the client to accompany the inspector onto the roof.

If the inspector, an employee, or the client were to get 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 oftentimes look at the condition of the roof coverings and make a determination of the overall roof condition without ever stepping foot on the roof. 

For instance, if the roof coverings are severely deteriorated and in obvious need of replacement, there is little to gain by walking on the roof surface. Oftentimes a home inspector seeing the condition of the roof coverings 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 in the near future. Examination for replacement by a licensed roofing contractor is needed.” And I include several photos to support my conclusion. 

Steep Roof Pitch

Some homes have very 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 easily 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 from 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 it difficult (not impossible) to walk on the roof. 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 upwards 25-30 feet in the air. 

The standards of practice allow for a home inspector to use their own discretion where safety is a concern. A fall from the 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 roof, they are still good methods that can provide a lot of great info 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 why a home inspector will not walk on a roof has to do with bad weather conditions. A wet roof can be very dangerous to walk on. Even with shoes designed for roofs, a wet roof can be very slippery. This goes back to the statement regarding the home inspectors’ discretion of safety. 

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 of time. Often times we do not have the discretion of waiting until the roof is dry and free of snow to do the home inspection. Due diligence periods only allow for a certain number of days (usually 7-10 days) to have a home inspection completed.

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

Binoculars have come a long way over the past few years. A good quality pair of binoculars can allow you to zero in on the fine details of the roof coverings. However, binoculars have a limitation and that it prohibits you from being able to take photographs of the defects you observe. Binoculars would be my least favorite option for doing a roof inspection when I cannot walk on the roof.

High-Quality Camera with Zoom Lens

One of the tools I use when trying to take good quality photographs from the ground of 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 builtin cropping features allowing you the 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 the 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 be sure to ask to see a copy of their license and certification.

Telescopic Pole with Camera

One of my favorite tools for performing roof inspections, particularly roofs that are more than 25 feet in the air, is a telescopic pole with a mounted camera. This tool allows me the ability to take video footage of the roof from the ground level using a telescopic lightweight pole. The video footage can then be examined and screenshots were taken of roof defects that are found. 

Final Thoughts

I think you’ll find when searching for a home inspector most are willing and able to walk on the roof to provide you with a thorough home inspection provided the home inspector can do so safely.

Home inspectors want to do a good 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 in a safe and professional manner.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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