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."
"The inspector will, if possible, inspect the roof surface and components from arms-length or with binoculars from the ground."
"The inspector is not required to walk on any pitched roof surface."
"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 professionals, who will not even consider walking a roof, realize that 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.
Here 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
The 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.
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.
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspections