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If He Won't Walk The Roof, Is An H.I. Competent?


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By Steven Smith, King of the House Inc., Bellingham, WA

2009226142859_Smith1.jpgIs a home inspector incompetent if he or she does not, as a general rule, traverse roofs?

At one time it would have been safe to say "no, failure to go on the roof does not make an inspector incompetent". However, as client expectations change, and many in the industry strive to improve the credibility of home inspectors, I think that the answer to that question is now bobbing in the surf. As the public and the industry demand better home inspections, that is good for the consumer.

Let's look at some of the changes that are emerging. The old standards, used seemingly forever by the better-known home inspector organizations, were written to make it easy for an inspector to opt out of walking on a roof -- even low-sloped and flat roofs.

NAHI says:

"The inspector will, if possible, inspect the roof surface and components from arms-length or with binoculars from the ground."

NACHI says:

"The inspector is not required to walk on any pitched roof surface."

ASHI says:

"The inspector is not required to walk on the roofing."

So, under those rules, if so inclined, an inspector can pull-up on-site, knowing full well that he or she will not try to walk the roof. Heck, there are no violations of standards, no explanations required, just tell the clients you do not do roofs. Do these people realize they are home inspectors? If an inspector cannot traverse even a simple single-story roof that is flat, or 3/12 slope with three-tab shingles, should that person with that attitude be a home inspector at all? Sure, some people are afraid of roofs and heights, but we hope that does not include those who are working as home inspectors.

2009226141313_Smith2.jpgHere is why I think changes are in the wind. First, I saw an article online from CREIA. CREIA (California Real Estate Inspection Association) flat-out states that any inspector who does not normally walk the roof may not be doing a "competent" job. There is no state inspector licensing in California but CREIA, a non-profit, voluntary association, provides education, training, and support services to the real estate inspection industry and to the public. They state that their Standards of Practice have been recognized by the State of California, and are considered to be the source for Home Inspector Standard of Care by the real estate and legal communities.

Okay, so they have been around more than 30 years and they have credibility. So let us look at what they tell Californians, consumers, who are looking at hiring a home inspector:

"A detailed roof evaluation is a standard part of every competent home inspection. Home inspectors typically inspect a roof by walking on the surface, as this is the best way to observe and evaluate all pertinent conditions. There are some conditions that could keep an inspector off the roof (barring these circumstances, a competent inspector should include a walk on the roof). The conditions they list include: The surface is too high for access with a normal length ladder; The roofing is so deteriorated that foot traffic would cause further damage; Surface conditions such as snow, ice, moisture, or moss make the roof too slippery; The roofing consists of tiles that might break under foot pressure; The sellers have told the inspector to stay off the roof

200922614156_Smith3.jpgThe intent is clear -- the inspector should arrive on-site prepared to walk the roof. Any decision, not to go on the roof, should be based on conditions found at the site, not pre-conceived policies that exclude walking the surface of the roof. Put simply, if one is not walking the roof, that should be the exception and not the rule. I always arrive prepared to traverse the roof, sometimes circumstances are such that I cannot.

This policy, expecting more from home inspectors, does not stop in California. The Washington State Home Inspector Licensing Advisory Board has put even stronger language in the Standards of Practice for this state. These standards become law in September.

Roofs.

The inspector will:

Traverse the roof to inspect it.

There it is. Again, the intent is clear. The licensed home inspector, by law, must be willing to traverse roofs. There are times when an inspector cannot and should not go on the roof. The board is aware of that and there are "outs" in the law, as there must be.

But, if as a general practice, an inspector does not walk roofs, he or she is violating the law as written. There were some members on the board who wanted even stronger language in this regard. It would have mandated full disclosure to clients, when the inspection was booked, that the inspector does not go on roofs.

The bottom line: No inspector can walk every roof and some roofs are plain unsafe or could be damaged. But inspectors who have a policy of not going on roofs at all, or do not have an open-mind about it, are leaving out an important part of the home inspection. Fact is, it can be hard to detect roof and flashing problems even when you are up on the roof, let alone when you are on the ground or trying to stand on an incline to get a look. You have a better chance of inspecting fine details, appurtenances and flashings if you are actually up on the roof.

My view is that, to intentionally and as standard practice, to avoid roofs is a marginal effort on the part of the inspector -- to say the least. The inspector, later, writing into the report some generic mumbo-jumbo language -- called covering your rear -- suggesting that a roofer ought to get up there and check the roof at a later date is a poor substitute for, in the words of CREIA, a competent home inspection in the first place.

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What is a normal length ladder? 16 foot? 40 foot?

When is a roof too high?

When is a roof too steep?

I walk all roofs that I feel that I can walk safely; some may be walked only at the valley and the ridge.

I believe that each one of these questions should be answered by each inspector and and each inspector should do the best for their clients that they can do.

But I know there are people out there that call their self inspectors that are doing the best that they can.

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Walter,

I liked the closing thought better before you edited it.

I didn't walk the roof at my last gig, and my client walked based entirely on my assessment of the roof. It was a steep salt box kinda thing that I could have gotten on if I had to, but it was plainfully obvious the thing was toast. I wouldn't have learned anything by walking it, and wrote exactly that in my report. I don't think I did him a disservice by keeping my feet on the ground.

When I can tell from the ground that the roof cover has reached legal drinking age, what value is there in climbing around on it? When I find that same roof leaking, I see even less need to walk it.

Tom

I'm sure I'll be walking on plenty-o-roofs in this business, but not if I can do an honest job without it.

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Now Walter, don't hate,

I walk 'em all unless the pitch is just to steep for me to get up onto the cover from the eaves or at the valleys. The number of times that roofs looked great from the ground and turned out to have significant issues once I got up onto them is probably better than 50%. That's enough to convince me I need to do it, but that's only me. Walking roofs is a personal decision. Nobody can make it for you and if you gut tells you not to make the climb - don't.

That said, I was about 10 when my father first got myself and my younger brother up onto a roof to learn how to shingle. He was adding a 1-1/2 story garage addition onto the house. The roof was about a 6:12 slope. The first thing he did was make us wear soft-soled shoes and warned us never to wear shoes with hard leather soles (That was easy for us; we were just kids and wore sneakers anyway.) and then he taught us how to place our feet on the roof so there'd always be maximum sole surface area gripping the cover when we were traversing and he taught us where to position our center of gravity. We spent the rest of that weekend helping him shingle that roof.

That was in the days before OSHA. We didn't wear safety harnesses and there weren't any fancy roof jacks, roof ladders or scaffolding - just a couple of cleats nailed to the deck to brace our feet on as we knelt on the surface. The next summer, he put me to work on his construction company building farm silos.

I don't have a fear of heights but I do respect heights. When I was 14, I slipped off of the solo scaffolding on Thanksgiving weekend, fell about 10 feet, landed on the corner of a piece of sheet metal and punched a hole the size of my fist in my back. 21 stainless steel sutures. Dad got me out there working the next weekend.

I didn't fall again for 34 years; then one hot day in 2000 I went off a roof. I think the reason that I fell is that I feinted from the heat but I really don't know because I have no recollection of the incident. While I was on the roof, the realtor and my client were measuring for carpeting inside the house. After a while, a kid walking down the sidewalk saw me lying in the yard, went up to the door, knocked, and then told them about the "bum" sleeping in the yard. By the time they found me, purple foam was coming out of my mouth; five broken ribs, a punctured lung and a pretty good gash in my head that caused a concussion and the memory loss. I spent 11 days in the hospital, was flat on my back for nearly 2 months and then spent another two getting strong enough and steady enough to work again.

I still go up on roofs; however, now my wife Yung, known affectionately as the Korean Konnection, accompanies me on every inspection she can and watches me like a hawk whenever I go up on the roof. It worked out great - she's a phenomenal interior inspector.

There is this tendency in this profession to come up with all sorts of reasons why one doesn't have to do something; don't go on roofs - it's dangerous (Duh, ya think?), don't go into an attic and walk on the lower chords of trusses because you can damage the house (Possible in only the remotest of circumstances, but if you know what you're doing - and you should you're an inspector and supposed to be the expert - it's a pretty poor excuse), don't go into crawlspaces because there might be snakes or spiders that will bite you (Due, ya think?). I've never seen a roofing employee or satellite installer go, "Hey boss, I can't work up there, it's dangerous," or an alarm systems installer refuse to go into an attic or crawlspace because he (or she) is afraid of damaging trusses or getting nibbled on by a spider. There are certain expectations that come with every profession - walking on roofs whenever it is possible is one that comes with this one.

The simple fact that people who are paid a whole lot less than we are go into these places every day of the week and do their jobs just fine without falling, without going through ceilings or otherwise damaging a house, and without getting bitten in crawlspaces is reason enough why home inspectors shouldn't be hiding behind namby-pamby reasons for not doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. These are simply excuses an inspector uses to be a little bit, pardon me if I offend anyone here.......lazy, or to get the job done quicker so they can move onto the next house and rush through it without getting dirty or tearing the knee out of their trousers, etc. My opinion, stated as fact without proof - I admit it.

Have I refused to walk on roofs because I felt they were to dangerous to do so without specialized equipment? Yes, I but still do roofs that a lot of guys in the biz won't - only because I'm comfortable with heights and I have a different experience level than some. The objective is to do the best job for the client that one is capable of, no?

We all have a little voice inside us that tells us when we need to stop - I tend to listen to that voice 'cuz it's saved me from doing some very dumb things over the years. If the voice says, "Nah, ain't worth it," I listen. However, I'll never hear that voice when it comes to doing a flat roof or anything less than a 12:12 pitch, under dry conditions. I wouldn't expect every inspector to be able to do that, but I think that if inspectors aren't getting on flat roofs, or roofs that are up to at least 6:12 they should get out of the business because they are not giving the client the service that that the client expects.

For the record, I wanted one of our rules here to be that we inform the client at the very first contact, whether email or telephone, about the stuff that we won't be doing when we arrive on the site. I felt that it's important that, if a buyer expects the inspector to go up onto and traverse roofs, go into attics and go through them as far as they can, and go into crawlspaces when they can safely do so, that the client should have that opportunity to decide to go with another inspector; not when they show up the day of the inspection and discover the inspector doesn't do it and they've only got a day or so left in the inspection window. I felt that just wasn't fair to the consumer.

The board didn't want that rule; guess some felt that there was too much of a chance they'd lose business if they told folks up front which one of the client's expectations they weren't going to fill that most other inspectors will.

Walter, you do a lot of standard of care work. Wouldn't it be the case that when at least 95% of a profession establishes something as the standard of care in a region, even when that something is dangerous, like going up onto roofs, that, if there's an accusation of negligence, the person who bucks that trend had better be able to convince his/her peers that there was a really, really good reason why that "professional" didn't perform to that standard of care? We did a poll here on TIJ a while back and asked folks whether they ever got up on roofs to inspect them - 95% said that they do get up onto roofs.

Not all inspectors are going up onto the majority of roofs to inspect them; 5% said that they only inspect, by going up onto them, roofs on about 20 to 30% of the houses they've inspected; 15% said that they've inspected, by going up onto them, roofs on 40 to 50% of the houses they've inspected; 25% of them said that they inspect, by going up onto them, roofs of 60 to 70% of the houses they've inspected, 18% said that they inspect, by going up onto them, roofs of 80 to 90% of the houses they've inspected, and the largest percentile - 33% - said that they've inspected, by going up onto them, the roofs of more than 90% of the roofs of houses they inspect.

You and I don't disagree that often but this is one subject that I think we've always disagreed about - that's okay, I don't hate. you still da Man.

For a different perspective from a fellow that used to be strongly opposed to roofs, and the reasons why he's changed his mind, click here.

For anyone that's interested, that poll is here.

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[speaking just for myself, if an HI can make a decent assessment of a roof ... from the attic I say he's doing fine. WJ

I guess you're only speaking for yourself, but how does a H.I. determine the condition of a roof from the attic. We're not talking leakage.

Well at the house in my last post, the water dripping from the skip sheathing three days after the last rain spoke volumes about the condition of the roof cover, not to mention the T-Locs and the cedar shingles under it. If it leaks you need to tell your client to plan on a new roof, no contractor in his right mind is going to fix a leaky roof and give it any more than a "tail light warranty" (warranty lasts as long as you can see his tail lights when he leaves).

I think WJ is talking about looking and/or climbing out of windows in the attic or at dormers. Hell, for that matter he could be talking about looking out the windows from the house next door.

Tom

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Hi Tom,

I completely agree; if you can tell from the ground that a roof is completely shot there's not much point in going up onto it because everything about it, flashings, gutters, everything is going to change as soon as the new roof is installed. In a case like that, I don't go up onto them either.

The roofs that I believe most folks are referring to are those that look fine from the ground, and even when you look at them through binoculars, but then turn out to have lots of stuff wrong that you couldn't see from the ground or with binos. Hell, I've had some where I coudn't actually see the issues until I'd climbed off the ladder, walked up the roof a couple of yards and was staring straight down at whatever it was.

Again, one has to listen to that inner voice; just be aware that if it was simple to look at and couldn't be seen with binos or from the ground or a ladder, and you blew it off 'cuz you don't do roofs or are simply afraid of heights, you could find yourself in a situation where you're facing scrutiny 'cuz someone had accused you of negligence. It doesn't mean they'd win, but you could find yourself in that situation, no?

Seriously though, folks who're afraid of heights shouldn't get into jobs where they're expected to go high, folks who're afraid of close places shouldn't get into jobs where they'll be in small enclosed places, folks who're spooked by certain stuff shouldn't be getting into work where they'll encounter that stuff unless they are willing to conquer those fears and drive on and do the work the way they're expected to do it. You've heard me talk about how I don't like rats - that's not a joke or a funny story - I seriously am more afraid of a rat than death, but have to go into nasty, dirty, dark, close rat-infested spaces all the time in order to do the job the way I'm expected to do it. That's just the way it is.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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The New Jersey standards state the following:

3. Employ reasonable, practicable and safe methods to inspect the roof such as:

i Walking on the roof;

ii Observation from a ladder at roof level; or

iii Visual examination with binoculars from ground level.

Now here's the kicker:

Mandatory tools and equipment

1. A ladder, minimum 11 feet in length.

Guess the guys writing the standards didn't realize a two story house has a roof about 20 feet off the ground.

Hey Neal, wasn't that your old boss who helped write this diaster; oh yeah, that's right...

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OK, if this is a poll..........

I walk roofs. Almost all of them. I see stuff all the time that one could never see, ever from the ground, with binoculars, or standing at the eave.

Backs of chimneys, chimney crowns, IWS @ the eaves(?), smashed vents, and whatever.

The field roofing is hardly ever defective on any house. Hardly ever, or at least, it doesn't usually fail there. It's always about the angles, vertices, chimneys, and flashings, the stuff you can't see from the ground.

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Walter,

I was less trying to toot my horn, which sounds kind of flat, than

trying to write an article, quoting some sources that are known, and

getting some discussion going.

I never bragged or implied that I walk all roofs. I am no gymnast. I do not. I stay off those that I think might lead to getting hurt. I know many inspectors who walk roofs that I would not. Mike O'Handley is one for sure. I do not think anyone should walk all roofs. Some are unsafe or it is bad for the roof. There are outs and must be outs.

There are a few inspectors who have their minds made up, 30 miles from the house, that they will not go on the roof. I assume you probably walk some roofs? If so, then I am probably not even referrng to you. If a roof is unsafe, by all means, stay off it. If a roof is tiles and they might break -- stay off it.

As for my boastful name, my wife gave me that business name years ago. It works well for marketing and most folks find it amusing. I do not think anyone takes it too seriously but it has served me well so far. It was more tied to the old song "King of the Road" than anything else.

The language we put in at the WA State Board does not mandate walking all roofs. There are outs. All it does is try to change the attitude just a bit -- instead of assuming you will not go on the roof ( the inspector should assume that he or she will but, if there are extenuating circmstances, then the inspector notes them in the report and stays on the ground). It is STILL up to the inspector's judgement.

The language is merely a gentle prod, not a swat team.

Steve

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Regarding walking on the roof, the Maryland SOP states,

A home inspector is not required to:

Walk on or access a roof where it could damage the roof or roofing material or be unsafe to the home inspector.

John,

Don't think SOP - think standard of care.

Folks comply with SOPs all the time and still get sued and get judgments against them. Until I'd seen it tested in court, multiple times, and it held up, I wouldn't get too comfortable hiding behind an SOP.

Just about all of those things specifically state that there's nothing prohibiting an inspector from exceeding those standards; and, if most are exceeding the standards, the standard of care might just be the one that judges look at because it does more to protect the consumer than the SOP does.

Could be wrong - have been many times - as Walter will tell you. I generally spout off about all sorts of stuff I have no inkling about.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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The language we put in at the WA State Board does not mandate walking all roofs. There are outs. All it does is try to change the attitude just a bit -- instead of assuming you will not go on the roof ( the inspector should assume that he or she will but, if there are extenuating circmstances, then the inspector notes them in the report and stays on the ground). It is STILL up to the inspector's judgement.

The language is merely a gentle prod, not a swat team.

Steve

I got that. I'd like the idea that going on roofs was the standard of care, and the outs were only employed when necessary.

I agree most guys start every job with the implicit understanding that they aren't going on the roof.

S'funny, all the roof consultants and specialists I know get the biggest grin on their face when they hear about how folks can inspect roofing from the ground.

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The language we put in at the WA State Board does not mandate walking all roofs. There are outs. All it does is try to change the attitude just a bit -- instead of assuming you will not go on the roof ( the inspector should assume that he or she will but, if there are extenuating circmstances, then the inspector notes them in the report and stays on the ground). It is STILL up to the inspector's judgement.

The language is merely a gentle prod, not a swat team.

Steve

I got that. I'd like the idea that going on roofs was the standard of care, and the outs were only employed when necessary.

I agree most guys start every job with the implicit understanding that they aren't going on the roof.

S'funny, all the roof consultants and specialists I know get the biggest grin on their face when they hear about how folks can inspect roofing from the ground.

I'm wit' Kurt.

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There's just no way to legislate this; it's a case-by-case call that has to be made on-site, at the time. I walk every one I can, and like Kurt, I frequently find stuff I could never have seen from the ground. If you can walk it, you should (IMHO).

But we all know there are circumstance where it isn't safe to walk a roof, or isn't necessary. In cases like those, push back the urge to try and do the best you can from the ground and the attic. It ain't worth getting killed.

Brian G.

"Dyin' Ain't Much of a Livin', Boy." (Clint Eastwood, from The Outlaw Josey Wales) [xx(]

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Steve,

I just realized that you forgot the little association that could - the American Institute of Inspectors (A.I.I.)

The Inspector shall:

Observe the roof and report on roof coverings; roof drainage systems; flashings; skylights, chimneys and roof penetrations; visible condition of the exterior of chimneys and flues; the appearance of instability or missing attachment or guying system for antennae or TV dish system; and signs of leaks or abnormal water intrusion into/onto building components. Identify the type of roof covering materials. Report the methods used to observe the roofing; the overall condition of the roofing; and any conditions that are damaging to the roof

The inspector is not required to: Walk on the roofing when walking could damage the property or be unsafe to the inspector. Report on any antennae or Satellite dish system function, operation or its grounding system or on the interior of flues or chimneys that are not readily accessible and/or visible.

Not much different there - more of the same, really - just thought I'd point it out.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I'll be the first to admit that I don't like walking roofs. Believe me, my aversion to heights is something that I thought long and hard about before getting into this. I decided I'd deal with it, and so that's what I do.

I don't know why high roofs give me the willies, because I had an ultralight many years ago - a flimsy, underpowered weight shift ultralight, and I couldn't afford a parachute. Yet I was perfectly comfortable at 2,000 feet with nothing but a plastic kid's swing seat between me and the ground.

Like I said, I deal with it, but sometimes I swear that it gives me optical delusions.

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I think the thing to keep in mind with Steve's post is about intent. If the inspector knows before they even book the inspection that they are not going to be going on the roof the buyer is entitled to know. The industry is changing and buyer expectations are justifiably changing in my opinion. Just be safe doing it. Like Hill Street Blues----"just be careful out there."

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I'd say if he says "I never walk on roofs" (period), he is in the wrong business and should get out or get an associate to work with him who will. I think the person should be 'equipped to do so' with gear that matches his size/weight and the inspector should 'walk on the roof' "if possible and if it is worth the trip". Sometimes, it is not worth the trip. Often, it is. Like a lot of stuff in home inspection "It depends".

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I have about 200GB of photos documenting stuff you can't see from the ground or with binoculars.

This particular photo shows a new roof installed w/o a starter strip. The ice and water shield is almost worn through at the shingle joints.

From the ground the observation would be "newer roof, neatly installed" .

The fact that clients are happy with their reports doesn't necessarily prove that the reports are accurate or sufficient. My old mouse had a ball and a cord. I liked it. My new mouse has a laser and is cordless and it has forward and back buttons under my right thumb. Oddly, they cost the same amount of money. Without using the new mouse it appeared that my old mouse was adequate.

We have a popular radio show host who speaks about home issues. Folks believe that he's the best inspector because of his fame. If they only use him, they'll always be satisfied. If they took the time to find Dave Tontarski, or Jeremy Enders or me... I'm betting they'd drop the other guy like a corded mouse.

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