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Andy Alvarez
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The Inspector Newsletter
July 2015: Roof Inspections
Ask The Inspector

Ask The Inspector

Roof Inspections

Q. What does a roof inspection entail?

A. One of the largest areas of concern to a home buyer is the roof. After all, it covers and protects the home, and replacing it can be a big investment.

First and foremost in a roof inspection is the question of accessibility: Can the inspector physically walk the roof, or will they need to conduct the inspection from the ground with binoculars or by placing a ladder at the eave at various locations? Limitations to consider are the roof’s height and its pitch or steepness. Many home inspectors are not comfortable climbing up on a roof that is taller than two stories, and a 4 to 5/12 pitch (steepness) is about the comfort zone for most inspectors. Weather is also a consideration, as a home inspector should only walk on a roof in dry conditions. And finally, there are certain types of roof materials that an inspector cannot and must not walk on. Regardless, an inspector must disclose in the report how the roof was inspected.

Perform an Overall Roof Inspection

Another big question that comes up during a home inspection is, “How old is the roof?” Sellers are typically the best source, as home owners usually know how old their roof is. If the home owners are unavailable or don’t know the age of the roof, then a home inspector should give a ballpark estimate as to the roof’s age. In general, composite aggregate shingles have more definitions that provide visible indications as to age.

Design life expectancies for roofing materials are determined by the National Home Builders Association (NHBA) and can be used as a guideline for life expectancy. Each type of roof covering system can vary, with most lasting anywhere from 20 to 25 years all the way up to what some manufacturers call “lifetime.”

A home inspector will also report the roof’s overall condition: Are the shingles or materials cracked, curled, cupped or split? Are there any missing shingles? Are any/all penetrations sealed or properly flashed? Penetrations are anything from plumbing vent pipes, furnace and water heater flues, skylights or fireplace chimneys that actually penetrate thorough the roofing system. Any penetration can be a potential leak source for water intrusion. Your home inspector will visually inspect the flashings and penetrations for proper installation and signs of leakage.

Finally, the inspector will check whether the roof system was installed correctly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Describe the Roof Material

Inspectors should report the type of material covering the home’s roof, which can be any of the following:

  • Asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural
  • Stone aggregate composite shingles, which are most common
  • Man-made (synthetic) slate
  • Clay or concrete tile
  • Cedar shingle or shake, which in some states are no longer allowed to be installed, according to state laws and guidelines
  • Metal, which is becoming more popular for residential roofing systems, as well as commercial applications
  • Different types of rubber and PVC membrane systems for flat roof systems

Record the Number of Layers

How many layers are present? In certain jurisdictions, multiple layers of roofing material are only acceptable with asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural, or with stone aggregate composite shingles. Usually, no more than two layers are allowed.

It is an industry-known fact that the life expectancy of this type of roofing system does not meet the normal expected life expectancy when it becomes a layered roof, thus National Property Inspections always recommends that home inspectors check with the local authority having jurisdiction.

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