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Training Day: Judgment Calls About Walking on Roofs

I always knew that my years of sport climbing would prove beneficial for me; however, I never thought that they would assist anyone else. Funny how sometimes you can actually be glad to be proven wrong.

I always knew that my years of sport climbing would prove beneficial for me; however, I never thought that they would assist anyone else. Funny how sometimes you can actually be glad to be proven wrong.

Many years ago, I had a trainee with me doing a trainee ride-along (let’s just call him Keith, partial ID to protect those who have gone on to greater things). The inspection was going along very well. The clients decided to stick with me (I prefer that), and were taking notes as well.

The time came for the roof portion of the inspection.  I prefer to walk every roof that I safely can. I asked Keith if he wanted to follow me onto the roof, and like the gung-ho trainee he was, “Of course!” was the enthusiastic answer. The house had a sun room at the rear with a low sloped roof and the main house roof was at a steeper pitch. Upon successfully scaling the sun-room roof, I did the leapfrog technique and pulled my small folding ladder up to the sun-room roof and used it to access the main roof. I surveyed the main roof and the pitch and asked Keith again if he wanted to follow higher. The response was still positive, but not as ebullient as before. Up we went perhaps against his better judgment. When I reached the ridge, I heard Keith step off the ladder and begin to move towards the ridge also.

This is where time slows for me.  I heard that unmistakable sound from behind me that goes straight to the gut of every person that has ever walked a roof. Sliding.  That low grating sound indicative of uncontrolled movement. You never want that type of movement on a roof. Ever.

I looked down slope to a pair of eyes growing larger with every passing nanosecond as Keith slid towards the gutter.  At this point the climbing experience comes in. I should also mention that at six foot six inches, many consider me very tall. This fact comes into play as well.  Knowing time was not on my side and the old axiom that “Gravity is a cruel mistress," I performed a heel hook (where you strenuously point your toes and use the backside of your heel to gain purchase on a hold), on the ridge line, lay down flat on my back on the roof, perfectly upside down, and by stretching to my limit, was just able to grab Keith’s belt. Disaster averted, I kept hold until he got back to the ladder. Not surprisingly, He decided to remain on the ladder while I completed the rest of the roof inspection.  

My climbing experience has continued to hold me in good stead, but probably never better than that one fateful day.

What can we take away from this? That we need to know and work within our limits. For homeowners, it's knowing when to tackle a roof repair/task on your own, when to call a friend for an assist--and most importantly--when to simply call a professional. For inspectors, it's important to know that sometimes a roof can be walked; sometimes other inspection methods must be utilized. We, as individuals, have to make that judgment call about what is best and what is safest. That decision can be difficult, but remember that safety is first and foremost!