Mastering Roof Inspections: Accessing the Roof, Part 2

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. 


In deciding whether or not to walk a roof, you’ll consider the exposure. The term "exposure," in this context, means the exposure to risk, or the additional danger represented by factors such as the height of the roof above the ground, and what you land on if you fall off the roof. Exposure for a three-story home built into a hillside would be much greater than the exposure for a single-story home.

Exposure for a home surrounded by a pointed, wrought-iron fence waiting to impale anyone falling off the roof would be higher than for one surrounded by a hedge which would help break their fall.

Roof-Covering Materials

When evaluating the safety of a roof, you also have to consider the condition of the roof-covering material. This includes both conditions related to weather, such as rain, snow or ice, and the overall condition of the roofing itself.

Moisture from rain or dew will affect different roof-covering materials to different degrees. Asphalt shingles provide a non-skid surface, even when they’re wet, unless they’re covered with microbial growth.

Bear in mind that moisture can disguise blemishes to the extent that either they can’t be found, or the characteristics become unclear, making the cause difficult to determine.

Wet metal roofing fastened by screws, except on very low-slope roofs, presents a hazardous situation. You’re probably going to slide off the roof and hit every screw head on your way to the edge. If there’s a gutter, when you leave, you may take it with you. You cannot depend on a gutter to keep you from going over the edge of a roof.

In deciding whether to walk the roof, you should also take into consideration the fragility of the roof-covering material. Asphalt shingles are fairly forgiving, unless they’re hot and new.

Tile condition varies with the type, and should not be walked, if it’s avoidable.

Slate should never be walked. Slate can have a powder-like surface that can be slippery even when it’s dry. It’s fragile when it’s old, and expensive to repair.

Wood roofs provide relatively good traction when they‘re dry, but can be very slippery when they’re wet, especially if they’re covered with biological growth.

Alternatives to Walking the Roof

There are roofs that, for one reason or another, you will not walk. Almost any roof can be examined from the rooftop but, sometimes, that examination requires measures that exceed the scope of the general home inspection.

When a roof has special inspection requirements, you may need to make arrangements to meet a roofing contractor at the property. This might be the case with an especially high roof needing a very long ladder. It might require placing ladders to climb especially steep roofs, or it might require fastening sheets of plywood across the surface of especially fragile roof-covering materials.

These measures exceed InterNACHI's Standards of Practice. The Standards specifically exempt inspectors from having to walk roofs at all, but many inspectors walk roofs anyway, both because they’re comfortable doing it and because they feel that it provides their clients with better service. It can also give them a business edge against any of their competition who don’t walk roofs.

The bottom line is:  To perform a home inspection to the Standards of Practice, you are not obligated to walk a roof. You have alternatives.

You can examine the roof through binoculars from various points on the ground, or from the top of a ladder at the roof edge.

Some inspectors don't think they’re giving their client a full inspection unless they walk the roof. The fact is, you’re performing a general home inspection. In most situations, your inspection of the different home systems will not be as complete as a specialist inspection. Just as you won’t be pulling a furnace apart to get a good look at the heat exchanger, you won’t be laying tall ladders across very steep roofs, or suspending plywood across very fragile roofs. That’s a specialist inspection.

If you’re qualified, you can offer specialist inspections as ancillary services, but you should understand where to draw the line between what you provide in a general home inspection and what constitutes an ancillary inspection. If you are using methods and equipment that are usually used by a roofing contractor but not by a home inspector, you’re performing a specialist inspection.

This is one of the more unusual alternatives…

…a remote-controlled video camera mounted on a telescoping tripod.

The tripod extends up to 35 feet.  Some are available that extend up to 70 feet.

When you’re finished, it folds up and rolls away.


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)
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