Roof – the safest way to inspect it would be … to hire a licensed roofing contractor (from the ground of course), and sometimes, it will be the only possible way without using some special equipment or a combination of ladders. Don’t attempt to access its surface if it is too steep (you have to determine that yourself), covered with snow, ice, frost, moss, looks uneven, or any other abnormalities!
1. Any type of pitched roof should be first observed from the ground (you can use binoculars). Look for sagging, wavy sections, check the ridge line (the very top of the roof) – it should be straight / leveled. You want to get the overall feel of the roof from a lower perspective.
2. If you determined that you can safely access it, but observed from the distance that a roof section has sagged, try to examine this area from the attic first – make sure that roof structure is intact – no broken / cracked / deformed / rotten framing or decking.
3. Determine the number of layers – more than 2 is not permitted because it might compromise the roof structure, especially during the winter, with several inches of heavy snow on top – this might become an issue when selling your property.
4. Any damaged / missing shingles should be replaced. If you have large, decomposed areas with missing granules / exposed fibers, curling, buckled, brittle – it might qualify the roof for replacement. Roof valleys are critical and deteriorate much faster then the rest of the roof (if metal or rubber – check for corrosion, tears, cracks) – so check the attic in areas corresponding to damaged surfaces.
5. If you see nails backed out or nail heads penetrating a shingle’s surface – pull them out if possible without damaging the shingle and re-nail it. Do it on a hot day when shingles are flexible and easy to work with – lift the edge of a top shingle and put the new nail underneath (make sure that is long enough – the nail tip should penetrate decking surface and be visible in the attic – too long will cause condensation during the winter, too short will come out), patch the hole on the top shingle. If many nail heads are visible penetrating or lifting up shingles (especially on double layer roofs), used roofing nails were most likely too short. A roof like this may be dangerous to walk on because a section of top shingles might just slide out from underneath of your feet!
6. Look for blisters on the shingles’ surfaces or any abnormalities, hail damage – sometimes it might be a defect covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, or home insurance.
7. Check flashing and counter-flashing along the house-roof seam if it was properly installed / secured. Also check flashing around any roof penetrations – vents (any type), chimney, skylights – the general idea is to have a top part of the flashing under the shingle and bottom exposed – no roofing cement on it, rubber flanges on plumbing stack should not be cracked or displaced, and roof / attic vent covers should not be smashed, cracked or missing.
8. Extensive repairs with roofing cement should be just a temporary / emergency fix, not a permanent one.
9. Skylights – roofing cement is not a proper installation tool. A dedicated type of flashing should be installed. So look for cracks, moisture between the glass (plastic), separating frame corners, and condensation / leaks underneath (attic and interior)
10. Flat roofs – number of layers might be hard to determine but do your best. Check all seams – they should be not separating. Roof edges along the flashing are extremely important; any loose section of the roof sheeting might cause water penetration. A cracked (spider-web like cracks) surface or a surface with exposed fiber-mesh needs service / protective coating application which might get you a few extra years (silver coating does magic – keeps the roof cool and slows deterioration process, but has to be reapplied every few years). Water collecting on the roof surface is bad because it speeds up the deterioration process of the roofing material, but there isn’t much you can easily do about it. It’s a major repair or sometimes requires entire roof replacement in order to slightly change its pitch and direct water towards the gutters or roof drain. Flat roofs require more maintenance than pitched roofs, but both should be cleaned periodically.
11. Many other types of roofs, and any other concerns – let me know, and I’ll explain it.
12. Gutters – they need to be cleaned periodically, and more often if house is surrounded with trees. Even if there are no trees, check areas near the downspouts. Protective screens help a lot but they too need cleaning periodically; plastic ones brittle over time, changing shape, and eventually forming gaps, which allow leafs and debris to fall through. Downspouts should be secured along its length and either connected to the underground drains at the ground level or extended from the foundation as far as possible (far might be only a foot in some cases). Check for leaks on seams along the gutters and separated back seam on downspouts – this happens during the winter if the bottom extension freezes up.
Again – the easiest way is to call the roofer 😉