Walking On Roofs And Other Imprudent Activities

Aug 7, 19 • Safety

One of the prevailing myths, i.e. anecdotal bullshit stories, in my profession is that all inspectors are either required to or at least certainly should walk upon all roof surfaces during inspections. Nothing could be further from the truth. These sorts of stories are perpetuated by real estate salespeople – agents and brokers – and oftentimes by know-nothing inspectors themselves. Let’s look at the facts.

Mounting a roof is a dangerous activity that should never be taken lightly. This sort of activity should only be undertaken when absolutely required, such as in the case of a roofer performing an installation or a roof repair. How dangerous is it? Enough so that OSHA does not allow it without a significant amount of training and the use of very pricey approved personal protective equipment (PPE). Stiff fines are imposed on scofflaws by OSHA.

Municipal building inspection departments strictly prohibit their field inspectors from climbing on roofs. Most, if not all, home builders specifically instruct third-party inspectors to keep off the roofs during their inspections. All of the major home inspector organization clearly state that inspectors must not walk on roofs.

Even most roofing companies do not actually walk on roofs while performing inspections for hail and wind damage. They rely upon satellite imaging in order to protect their employees. The same is true of insurance adjusters.

So, as a layperson looking to have a house inspected, how exactly might you arrive at the conclusion that home inspectors are less important than all of the above mentioned entities? From your real estate agent, or from the Google repository of unsubstantiated “facts” . . . or both? Thought so.

We are living in a fact-free society. One that allows any blather spewed forth from any mouth to pass as the truth. Everyone considers him- or herself to be an expert. Salespersons, much like our politicians, lead this crowd of nonsense distributors. Though they may assume they have become inspectors via osmosis, in reality they know nothing about houses other than how to sell and buy them. Often as not, they fail at that.

With the advent of the Internet, Google, and other search engines an enormous amount of information is available at the push of a button. How much of it can be believed? Think: Cambridge Analytica. If I now have your attention let’s proceed to the truth about walking on roofs.

There are many safe and certain methods for inspecting roof surfaces without risking injury or death by walking on them. Standing on the ground with 8X42 or 10X50 binoculars will reveal the color of a bird’s eyes that is roosting on the ridge. A moderately-priced 50X camera will take a picture of any defects noted with the binoculars. When possible, viewing the roof from a ladder at the edge is also a good way to avoid death by falling. Cameras that mount atop long extension poles are yet another example of equipment that allows me to stay off of roofs and avoid possible injury.

Yes, there are some roofs where these methods will not work. Some houses require a 36′ or 48′ ladder in order to reach the roof’s edge. Some roofs are higher than that. These roofs are unsafe for individual inspectors due to OSHA rules of ladder safety. One man cannot safely use a ladder of this height. Other roofs need not be walked upon due to the type of surface or the weather conditions during an inspection. For these roofs a certified roofer or steeplejack should be employed.

Other roofs, like older deteriorated asphalt, concrete or clay tiles, and slate can be easily damaged by walking on them. Even brand new asphalt shingles should not be installed, much less walked upon, in temperatures below freezing or above 85┬░ lest they be damaged. Some other roof coverings like metal are too slick to safely mount.

Walking on a roof, for other than the actual installation or repair of it, is a foolish thing to do. If you want a fool for an inspector be certain to choose one that claims he will walk on ANY roof no matter what the circumstances.

While I do walk on some lower pitched roofs when I deem it both necessary and safe, I avoid most due to an inherent drive toward self-preservation. In the end it is the expert’s (my) choice, and not yours. Unless, of course, your time spent at Google University and listening to your agent has allowed you to surpass the knowledge I have gained during the last 44 years.

Here are a few examples of what I am talking about here:

Suggested Further Reading for the Doubtful:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Fatal work-related falls to a lower level increased 26 percent from 2011 to 2016

American Society of Home Inspectors Standards of Practice

International Society of Certified Home Inspectors Standards of Practice

Texas Real Estate Commission Standards of Practice for Professional Inspectors

OSHA Ladder Safety

OSHA Roof Fall Protection

Roofing Contractor Magazine Article