How to Check Your Roof

Inspect your roof and clean your gutters with this guide.

  • If the surface or protective barrier on a roof has been damaged, water can seep into the attic and into the home.
    Photo by AdobeStock/Rokfeler
  • Through step-by-step instructions and helpful schematic diagrams, The Home Owner’s Manual by Dan Ramsey explores hundreds of frequently asked questions.
    Cover courtesy Quirk Books

The Home Owner’s Manual (Quirk Books, 2006) by Dan Ramsey gives advice on inspecting a new home, moving in, redecorating, emergency maintenance, and much more. With plenty of helpful illustrations to guide you along, The Home Owner’s Manual makes household maintenance a breeze. This section explains how to inspect your roof and clean your gutters. 


Checking the Roof for Damage

A roof is the outside top covering of a home or other structure. Home roofs come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and materials. Because they are exposed to the elements through many seasons and conditions, roofs can sustain damage that requires maintenance or repair.

Caution: Accessing a roof typically requires a ladder. For safety, make sure the ladder selected is sufficiently long that you don’t have to use the top three rungs. Also, tip the ladder at least one-fourth of its length. For example, a 12-ft ladder should be tipped at least 3 ft from the perpendicular. Make sure that your shoes are dry and the soles are corrugated for best grip when climbing the rungs.

To inspect roofs for condition twice a year:

  1. From the ground, visually inspect each section of the roof for loose or damaged shingles. Binoculars are useful for this task. If required, use a ladder to inspect shingles more closely and repair or replace as needed. Asphalt shingles, the most common, are installed in sheets of three, called a three-tab, and nailed in place below the lip of the shingles above it using short roofing nails. Seams are staggered. Other roofing materials are installed as individual units or as rolls.
  2.  Visually inspect all roofing for debris, moss, vegetation, or other materials that may lift roofing and allow water to enter the sheathing. If required, use a ladder and a long-handled grass rake to remove leaves or other debris. Use roof treatment chemicals (available at hardware stores) for killing moss or other live vegetation, making sure that the chemicals don’t damage nearby plants.

Checking the Attic for Water Stains

If the surface or protective barrier on a roof has been damaged, water can seep into the attic and into the home. To check the attic for water and other damage:

  1. Find the access to the home’s attic. Most homes have a small lift-out panel or pull-down ladder located in a hallway or bedroom. Others will have an access door from an interior room into an adjoining attic.
  2. Carefully access the attic. Wear a hardhat or helmet to protect the head from nails protruding through the roof. Be careful to walk only on firm flooring or roof joists; a misstep can put a foot through the ceiling below.
  3. With a powerful flashlight or portable lighting device, inspect the underside of the roof sheathing for water stains and other potential problems. In addition, inspect the attic floor for damage caused by water dripping through the attic ceiling.Water runs downhill, so the point where water drips from a slanted attic ceiling may be lower than where it comes through the sheathing. Carefully inspect the bottom of the sheathing and all nearby rafters for other indicators of where the water is entering the attic.
  4. If damage is identified, mark the location with a colored cloth or spray paint for later reference. Measure the distance from the spot to components that can be seen from outside the home (vent pipes, windows, dormers, etc.).
  5. Outside, identify the location of the leak using measurements. Replace damaged shingles or remove vegetation as needed to correct the problem.

Cleaning Gutters

Gutters collect water that runs off the roof and distribute it through downspouts to the ground. Unfortunately, leaves and other vegetation also may fall to the roof surface and be swept into the gutters, clogging them. To clean roof gutters twice a year (depending on proximity to deciduous trees):

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