December, 2003
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

When Flat Doesn't Equal Safe


Some in my area refer to me as an “experienced inspector.” All this means is that I’ve done my share of stupid things that taught me to never repeat them, ever, unless I like hobbling myself and endangering my ability to function or earn an income.

Reading the article on safety in the October 2003 issue of the Reporter, I noticed many of us are quite willing to walk flat roofs. Why not? What can be dangerous about walking an area with a pitch of only a quarter of an inch per foot?

Many years ago I climbed through an attic access to gain access to the roof hatch that led to a standing seam metal roof on an older Washington, D.C., row house. The metal had a nice uniform silver-painted surface and looked clean and really quite nice.

I pulled myself up through the hatch and stepped onto the roof surface only to find myself sliding, ever so slowly, toward the rear gutter with the 30 foot drop. As I began accelerating, I looked down to see my boots gliding across all that newly applied and still-liquid roofing paint.

I carry a knife on my belt, which I mostly use to probe or to open packages. This time I flipped it open, knelt down and drove it into the metal. It held. I then proceeded to sink it multiple times into the metal as I pulled myself back to the safety of the hatch.

When I got back through the hatch, I looked a complete mess with silver paint on my pants, hands, shirt, and boots. I told the real estate agent and the client what had happened. I also left a note for the owner that I would return to patch the series of six or seven new holes in the 50-year-old roof surface, which I did.

After that lone experience, I now always reach out and touch that safe flat roof surface to assure myself that the paint is not fresh and slick. Fresh roof coatings are just like walking on ice, just much more of a mess if you slip or need to get down and dirty.