Mastering Roof Inspections: Accessing the Roof, Part 1

by Kenton Shepard and Nick Gromicko, CMI®



The purpose of the series “Mastering Roof Inspections” is to teach home inspectors, as well as insurance and roofing professionals, how to recognize proper and improper conditions while inspecting steep-slope, residential roofs. This series covers roof framing, roofing materials, the attic, and the conditions that affect the roofing materials and components, including wind and hail. 

Accessing and walking the roof are the most dangerous parts of the inspection. This article will help you develop the judgment and skills which will allow you to safely mount and walk the roof, once you’ve made an informed decision about whether or not to walk it.


In deciding whether or not to walk a roof, the ability to accurately evaluate it is a skill that can be developed and improved with study and practice. There’s no formula, and a number of things have to be taken into consideration. Materials and conditions will be different on different homes, in different parts of North America, and at different times of the year.

Although these articles will give you the basics on which to build, you should make an effort to learn about materials and conditions you’re likely to encounter in the areas in which you work. Some of the important things to consider when you’re at the home site and have to decide whether or not to walk the roof are your own tolerance for risk, the roof pitch, the exposure, the condition of the roof-covering materials, and the equipment you have. Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Risk Tolerance

Each year, people are injured or killed falling from roofs. In addition to the difficulty of finding a safe place to mount the roof is a fear of heights, which most people have, to some degree. For most people, confidence grows with experience, and they find that their fear of heights begins to fade as they spend more time walking roofs.

Your skills at walking roofs will improve on two different levels.

On one level, you’ll begin to develop a better understanding of what combinations of materials and conditions are safe.

On another level, you’ll have a better idea of the limitations of your own agility, including your sense of balance, your reaction time, and any limitations to your range of movement.

Fear creates tension in your body, and tension interferes with your sense of balance.  Learning to relax while walking the roof will help improve your sense of balance.


All other things being equal, steeper roofs are more dangerous to walk than flatter roofs, but even low-slope roofs can be dangerous.

Damp, moss-covered wood roofs and shingles, and especially metal roofs, can be slippery enough to cause you to slide right off even a low-slope roof.

So, the type of roof-covering material installed should be taken into consideration when looking at the pitch. For example, a roof with a pitch of 6&12 covered with asphalt shingles, on a warm day, might be relatively easy to walk, but a roof of the same pitch covered with smooth, metal roofing would be much more dangerous.

Typical Maximum Pitches Walked

Here are some examples of typical maximum pitches walked by inspectors who are comfortable on roofs:

  • asphalt shingles:  8&12 for single-story homes, and 6&12 for two-story homes;
  • wood roofs:  6&12; and
  • metal roofs:  5&12.

Roof Boots

Special roof-walking boots and shoes with high-traction soles are available.


Learn how to master a roof inspection from beginning to end by reading the entire InterNACHI series: Mastering Roof Inspections.

 Take InterNACHI’s free, online 
Roofing Inspection Course
Mastering Roof Inspections
Roofing Underlayment Types
Inspecting Underlayment on Roofs
Fall-Arrest Systems
Roofing (consumer-targeted)
More inspection articles like this