Mastering Roof Inspections: Accessing the Roof, Part 5

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.

Climbing an Extension Ladder

Following these rules for climbing extension ladders will help you stay safe.

  • Face the ladder.  Always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
  • Grasp the rungs.  When climbing an extension ladder, grasp the rungs. If you slip, you’ll stand a much better chance of catching yourself if you’re gripping the rungs than if you’re gripping the rails.
  • Maintain a three-point connection.  Always maintain a three-point connection with the ladder. This means that you take only one hand or foot off the ladder at a time.
  • 3 feet above the roof:  The ladder should extend at least 3 feet above the edge of the roof.
  • Stay off the top rungs.  Do not step on the top three rungs. You need to be low enough on the ladder to grasp the rungs safely.
  • Keep your weight below the roof line.  Do not step on any rung which is above the roof. Loading the portion of the ladder above the roof will make the ladder less stable and increase the chances that the ladder base will slide.
  • Maintain stability.  To avoid over-reaching to one side, a good rule of thumb is to keep your belt buckle positioned between the rails.
  • Keep others off.  Don’t allow others to climb your ladder.  You can’t be sure of their ability, and if they’re injured while using your ladder, you may be liable.
  • Adjust from the ground.  Adjust the height only while you’re standing on the ground. Do not try to extend the ladder from the roof. If it becomes unstable, you may have to climb down with the ladder already in an adjusted condition.
  • Move from the ground.  Move the ladder only while you’re standing on the ground. Do not move the ladder while you’re on the roof.  The reasons you shouldn't extend it while you're on the roof are the same as the reasons you shouldn't adjust the ladder while you're on the roof.

Extension Ladder Maintenance

You should maintain your ladders and accessories in good condition. Each time before climbing your extension ladder, look it over to make sure that it’s in good condition and hasn’t been damaged since the last time you used it.

  1. Locks and flippers should operate smoothly and correctly. Using only one lock will overload the rail.
  1. The rails should be free of cracks and other damage.
  1. Rungs should fit tightly.
  1. Ropes on extension ladders should be in good condition. If they become frayed or badly worn, replace them.
  1. Keep ladders clean.
  1. Never use a metal or fiberglass ladder which has been exposed to fire or strong chemicals.  It should be destroyed and discarded. Ladders are expensive. If you don’t destroy it, someone will be tempted to salvage it and use it.
  1. Store fiberglass ladders where they won’t be exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet light sources.
  1. Make sure that ladders are properly supported and secured while you’re in transit. Strong vibration and bumping against other objects can damage them.
  1. Store ladders on racks when you’re not using them. Poor support long-term can damage them.


Step-ladders should be used as they were designed:  open. This means that they’re not a good choice for those needing to access roofs. Some other safety rules for step-ladders include:

  1. Never use a step-ladder over 20 feet long.
  2. Always open step-ladders completely, and make sure the spreader is locked open before using it.
  3. The spreaders and top cap are both crucial to a step-ladder's stability. Never substitute makeshift devices, such as wire or rope, for step-ladder spreaders. Some manufacturers will send you replacement parts for free.
  4. Do not stand higher than on the second step from the top of a step-ladder.  Don’t stand on the top cap, the pail shelf, or on the backside of a step-ladder.
  5. Don’t straddle the front and back of a step-ladder.
  6. Don’t leave tools or materials on top of ladders. If they fall on you, you can be hurt. If they fall on someone else, they can be hurt, and you can be sued.


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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