Do home inspectors go on the roof? Do they get in the attic?

Monday, September 17, 2018

We get asked this question often, and the answer is yes...well, most of the time. The Standards of Practice of the home inspector association we belong to, InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors), do not require that the inspector actually walk on the roof. “The inspector shall inspect from ground level or the eaves” is the way it is stated. Also, the standards note that “the inspector is not required to walk on any roof surface.” Other associations, such as ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors), have essentially the same standard.

    The State of Florida has more specific exceptions for an inspector walking a roof that are outlined by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR):

(4) The inspector is not required to walk on the roof surface when, in the opinion of the inspector, the following conditions exist:
(a) Roof slope is excessive to safely walk on;
(b) There is no safe access to the roof;
(c) Climatic conditions render the roof unsafe to walk on;
(d) Condition of the roofing material or roof decking renders the roof unsafe to walk on;
(e) Walking on the roof may cause damage to the roof covering materials; and
(f) Walking will place any liability or danger to the homeowner or other representatives involved in the home inspection process.

    But we walk a roof whenever we can, and most home inspectors in our area do the same. If a roof is too steep, wet, has loose granules or shingles, or is a material like barrel tile that is easily damaged by walking on it, we examine the roof from a ladder at the eaves. It’s a personal decision for each home inspector as to what roofs he or she is comfortable walking on, and which do not feel safe. 

    Sometimes we walk part of a roof, then examine the rest from the edge or the ground. Being able to get on the roof, touch and examine it close-up, always provides valuable insights for an inspector.

    Entering an attic is a more complicated issue. Here again, InterNACHI Standards of Practice state that “the inspector is not required to enter any attic or any unfinished spaces that are not readily accessible, or where entry could cause damage or, in the inspector’s opinion, pose a safety hazard.” 

    Again, the Florida DBPR standards are more specific:

(3) The inspector is not required to enter or traverse any under-floor crawl space or attic, if in the opinion of the inspector:
(a) An unsafe or unsanitary condition exists;
(b) Enter areas in which inadequate clearance exists to allow the inspector safe entry or traversing;
(c) The potential exists to cause damage to insulation, ductwork, other components or stored items.

Like most inspectors, we try to examine as much of an attic as is safely possible, but there are a number of limiting factors:

  • An extremely small attic hatch opening, or an opening in a closet or other location that is obstructed by shelving and stored items, or does not have enough headroom above the hatch opening to safely enter and exit is often a problem in older homes. We end up poking our head in the attic or, sometimes, not even that.

  • Attics are extremely hot in Florida during the summer months, which limits the amount of time an inspector can spend in the attic. Attic temperatures of 130º F or more are typical on a July afternoon.

  • If there are loose electrical wires, mold infestation from roof leakage, or extensive rat fecal matter, we may also choose not to enter. 

  • Large air conditioning ducts limit access to some parts of an attic. Occasionally, a duct running directly over an attic hatch makes attic entry impossible. 

  • Attics in homes with a low roof pitch do not have sufficient height for an inspector to move around. While it might be possible for a slim 20-year-old to wiggle between truss cords and ducts in a low attic, most home inspectors are neither young or trim.

   Binoculars and a camera with a long lens can help when access to an area is limited, and each inspector has personal limits as to what is considered safe and acceptable for entry. 

    Also, see our blog post What makes a house fail the home inspection?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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