DEAR BARRY: We bought our house about seven months ago and hired a home inspector to check it out, but he never went on the roof. He said there was no need to walk on the roof because it was only 5 years old and not likely to be worn or damaged.

Well guess what? When the first rains came, we had a major leak. The contractor we hired said the roof was not properly installed. Besides that, there were tar patches that could not be seen from the ground. These revealed a history of past roof leaks and could have been reported by our home inspector, if he had taken the time to look. When we called him about this, he said that he is not required to walk on roofs. If that is so, then what good are home inspectors? –Jay

DEAR BARRY: We bought our house about seven months ago and hired a home inspector to check it out, but he never went on the roof. He said there was no need to walk on the roof because it was only 5 years old and not likely to be worn or damaged.

Well guess what? When the first rains came, we had a major leak. The contractor we hired said the roof was not properly installed. Besides that, there were tar patches that could not be seen from the ground. These revealed a history of past roof leaks and could have been reported by our home inspector, if he had taken the time to look. When we called him about this, he said that he is not required to walk on roofs. If that is so, then what good are home inspectors? –Jay

DEAR JAY: A home inspector who fails to walk on a roof should have a substantial reason, such as rain or snow at the time of the inspection, steepness of the roof, fragile condition of the roof, or unusual height. Barring such conditions, a home inspector who fails to walk on a roof is professionally negligent and arguably incompetent. A roof that is only 5 years old may not be weathered and worn, but physical condition is not the only consideration when a roof is inspected. Problems may also be found in the quality of the installation.

Faulty roof conditions take many forms. There could be exposed nailing, flashing that was omitted, flashing that was not sealed, or flashing that was not correctly lapped. There could be missing shingles, damaged shingles, or lack of adequate slope in some areas. There could be poor workmanship, poor-quality materials, or repairs that indicate past leakage. The only way a home inspector can know for sure is to take a walk on the roof. If conditions prevent a roof walk, there are alternative methods of inspection.

A ladder can be placed against the edges of a roof at various locations, enabling inspection from a reasonable perspective. If the roof edges are too high for a ladder, a close-up view can be attained with high-powered binoculars. If the roof cannot be inspected with a ladder or with binoculars, then the inspector should recommend further evaluation by a roofing contractor prior to the close of escrow. But the last thing an inspector should do is declare a roof to be OK when he hasn’t even looked.

It may be technically true that home inspectors are not required to walk on roofs, but who wants an inspector whose standard is the bare minimum? Home inspectors who are competent professionals, who take pride in the quality of their work and who have a modicum of concern for the interests of their customers make every effort to evaluate the condition of a roof, regardless of whether they are required to do so. Home inspectors who sign off on a bad roof without making an effort to check it out should find another line of work. By overlooking roof defects, they cause financial damage to the people who hire them, while denigrating the general reputation of home inspectors who truly represent the interests of their customers.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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