Mastering Roof Inspections: Accessing the Roof, Part 3

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. 


Access by Window

Once you’ve decided to walk a roof, you'll have to decide how best to gain access. One way is by climbing out a window.

This can be the safest method, since it eliminates ladder-climbing, but you’ll need to be careful not to damage screens, walls or window trim.

You may also be able to access the roof from a deck or balcony, either by climbing over the rail onto an adjacent roof slope or by setting up a ladder.


The typical method for accessing roofs is by a ladder resting on the ground and leaning against the edge of the roof. Finding a method for stabilizing ladders is highly advisable, since they become more unstable as you climb. One of the most common and serious fall hazards you’ll face is stepping from the roof onto the ladder. Standing your ladder at an inside corner or against a wall will help provide a margin of safety.

Since it’s easy to scratch gutters, it’s a good idea to place your ladder in an inconspicuous location, if possible, such as at the side of the home, rather than at the front or the back.  Your ladder should rest against an eave, and not a rake. If you have to choose between risking a gutter scratch or safety, choose safety.

Choosing a Ladder

In accessing roofs, the most important piece of equipment is your ladder. Most of the time, you’ll be accessing the roof with your ladder, and the emphasis here is on “your” ladder.  Never use a ladder you find on-site. You need to be familiar with the operation of the ladder you use to be sure that it’s in good condition. Never use a damaged ladder.

We’ll look at the different kinds of ladders and the situations in which they’re used, but a few rules are true no matter what ladder you use.

Read the label. You’ll be looking first at the load capacity. Ladders are generally rated as follows:

  • Type I Industrial:  These ladders are heavy-duty, with a load-capacity limit of 250 pounds.

  • Type II Commercial:  These ladders are medium-duty, with a load capacity of not more than 225 pounds.

  • Type III Household:  These ladders are light-duty, with a load-capacity maximum of 200 pounds. These are not appropriate for use during inspection work.

Some companies manufacture ladders rated for more weight than a Type I. Specialty ladders are available that are rated for up to 375 pounds.

As an inspector, your ladders are tools that you’ll use a lot. Low-quality ladders may be less expensive, but they’re not as sturdy, durable and safe as high-quality ladders. Always buy the best ladders you can afford.

You’ll be safer if you use ladders appropriate for each use.

Extension ladders are better for accessing roofs. Step-ladders are better for accessing attic hatches.

Safety Rules for All Ladders

These safety rules apply to all types of ladders:

  • Keep it clean.  Keep your ladders free of grease, oil, and other slip hazards.
  • Don’t overload it.  Never load a ladder beyond its labeled capacity.
  • Beware of electrical dangers.  Never use metal ladders around exposed electrical wiring.
  • Follow correct use.  Use ladders only for their designed purpose. For example, don’t use a ladder as a scaffold plank.
  • Ensure a stable setup.  Make sure the ladder is stable before you climb it.
  • Move it safely.  Don’t try to move a ladder while you’re on it by rocking it or bouncing it.
  • Be healthy.  Never use a ladder when you’re under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, or when you don’t feel well. 
  • If you must dismount unexpectedly, use good judgment and caution.  If you get sick, dizzy or panicky while on a ladder, don’t try to climb down in a hurry. Wait until you feel better, and then climb down slowly and carefully.


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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