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Up on the Roof: Rules and Safety

Graphical depiction of roof rules and safety

By: Doug Hastings, ACI
Updated: January 29, 2019

Why don’t some home inspectors go on the roof? There are no requirements in the standards of practice of the national associations for home inspectors for climbing on the roof. Those inspectors who do are usually trying to get up close and personal with any issues they believe are affecting the roof. It’s a personal decision, and it’s rare to see any home inspector walk roofs that are steeper than a 6-in-12 slope.

Staying off the Roof Keeps Home Inspectors Safe and Out of Trouble

Walking the roof can involve insurance and legal issues if the inspector has employees or permits the customer or realtor to climb onto the roof. Anyone could get hurt. OSHA (the federal job safety agency) rules clearly state that the home inspector is not to work at more than 6 feet off grade without a proper harness installed by a trained technician. Insurance companies support the criteria of OSHA, so in the event of an accident to a customer or realtor, it would be very unlikely that an insurer would pay a claim.

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If They Don’t Go Up, How Do They Inspect?

Inspection from the ground using binoculars is very effective. The type and condition of the roof surface can largely be seen from the ground. A good pair of binoculars helps inspectors get a close look at details, such as the flashing around chimneys and the use of chimney crickets.

Inspecting the roof from a ladder is another effective way to judge its condition. Gutters, the life expectancy of the roof, number of layers, and condition and location of fasteners can all be seen from a ladder. Number of layers can also be assessed by examining the shingles on the rake edge. One of the newest and increasingly popular methods for inspecting a roof  is by drone.

Home inspectors simply need to make sure their report on the roof is accurate and clear, and they’ll have no need to walk a roof—even if they think the homeowner is expecting it.


If you like the idea of searching out problems to make sure home buyers are aware of what they’re purchasing, consider becoming a home inspector. Even if you have a fear of heights, you can do this. Check out our home inspection education offerings here.