Roof Inspections of a property has always been a topic of concern for Home Inspectors and for their clients. Indeed it is known that a large number of complaints about Home Inspections come from the inspection of a roof.
Viewing from the ground
Many Home Inspectors choose to view the roof from the ground, using Binoculars or Cameras with Telescopic lenses. This is all well and good, but restrictions such as chimneys and other roof penetration may obscure the view from the ground. In addition, many close built properties do not offer the angle to see onto a roof from within the property and thus make it impossible to view the roof at all from the ground.
Viewing the roof from ground level has other disadvantages too. It is impossible to see into the eaves-troughs (gutters) to inspect for clogging and damage that may only be visible from above.
Using a Ladder
So the next option for the Home Inspector is to view the roof, from the eaves or the roof itself. This requires a ladder and some climbing. Here’s where the first issue with the law comes in, and it’s a law enacted to protect the safety and well being of the worker, in this case, the Home Inspector.
The law involved here is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), and in particular the OSHA Clause 25(2)(h) “Taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstance for the protection of a worker.” so what is the circumstance? In a home inspection, the circumstance is that the client is led to expect that an inspector will inspect the roof and notify them of any deficiencies. This is actually a viewpoint that is propagated by some Realtors and Reality TV show stars who are either not aware of or choose for their own purposes to forget, the fact that a Home Inspectors first duty is to their own safety and only after that the safety of their clients and others.
Best practices require that the worker (in this case the Home Inspector) ask a series of questions before utilising a ladder:
- Does a ladder provide the safest means of access and egress for the work location and type of work?
- Is the type of ladder available most suitable considering the workplace restrictions and conditions?
- Is the height of a roof below a height that allows for safe one-man access?
- Is there sufficient space to prop the ladder?
- Is there a safe distance from power lines?
- Is the top support safe and would the ladder damage the property?
- Is the footing support level, safe and a non-slip surface?
- Is the surface of the roof safe to climb onto?
If the inspector is in doubt about answering ANY of these questions in the affirmative, then utilising a ladder to access the roof can be considered a breach of the law. While the Inspector may choose to ignore this, and use a ladder anyway, if an accident occurred it is likely that the inspector would be charged under the provincial offences act and would also be unlikely to claim from any personal injury insurance.
In Ontario, it is likely that for 4 months of the year cold weather conditions would stop the Inspector from accessing the roof due to ice and snow. For two months of the year it is likely that stepping on the roof would cause damage to the roof because of the high-heats of the summer. During rainy conditions that roofs and top support areas would be wet and slippery so would make placing the ladder dangerous, and in many intersections either the ground is not firm enough, and not level enough to safely place a ladder and climb to or onto a roof.
Using a drone
A number of inspectors are investigating the use of Radio or WiFi controlled drones with cameras attached. While this would at first seem to be a very simple solution to being able to visually inspect a roof at close quarters without endangering the inspector there are a number of laws that come into play here too, which without prior knowledge and training could land the Inspector in a court of law.
Again, the first thought of the inspector needs to go to safety. A series of Rules in the Canadian Aviation Regulations need to be applied when considering to fly a drone for commercial purposes. In addition, there are regulations under the Criminal Code, as well as Provincial and Municipal laws that need to be adhered to, as well as laws relating to Privacy and Trespass.
Transport Canada has a series of guidelines upon when it is legal and illegal to fly a drone, and under what circumstances and for what reasons. The information can be found in detail here, but here are a few pointers that affect the use of a drone for Home Inspections.
- You cannot use a drone that has first-person view capability, without having a visual observer, who is in constant and immediate contact with the operator, who can perform the detect and avoid functions with respect to conflicting aircraft and other hazards. In other words, any drone regardless of class, size or weight cannot have a mounted camera that sends a live feed to a monitor that can be seen by the operator of the drone. (That benefit I’m afraid is restricted to the military.)
- You cannot let the drone out of your sight once it’s left the ground. (no, not even behind a chimney if you can’t see it)
- You cannot have had ANY alcohol within 12 hours of flying or be under the influence of alcohol, medication or any physical or mental condition that may affect your ability to fly the drone safely. (i.e. Zero blood alcohol limit, no dopey drugs and you cannot be homicidal or suicidal!)
- You need the permission of the owner of a property you are launching the drone from or landing it on. (Launching it from your vehicle in the street requires the permission of the local authority, good luck with getting that!)
- You cannot let the drone fly over any property other than the one you are inspecting. (If it flies over a neighbours property you can be charged with trespass!)
- You need to be aware of relevant aeronautical information that is appropriate for the flight before flying! (Wind speed, weather conditions etc.)
- You have to have insurance liability cover of at least $100,000 for the operation of the flying beasty!
- You have to have access to, and be able to produce at any time during the use or public possession of the drone a copy of the exemption found on the Transport Canada website here, proof of your liability coverage, proof of your name, address and telephone number and a copy of the drones operating limitations. (I recommend that if a police officer asks you for these documents while you are flying, you politely ask that you are able to land the aircraft before searching for them)
- You must not fly the drone over 300 feet above ground level.
- You can only fly in Class G airspace. (That’s airspace that not been restricted as Class A through F the current definitions of which can be found here. Classes A, B and E are areas above exemption altitude of 300 feet. Class C and D are the restrictions applicable to flying within a radius of the centre of large and small airfields respectively. [Airports include heliports!] and class F is restricted airspace…….don’t go there!)
- You need to ensure that the link cannot be interfered with when the drone is in flight. (In a sub-division with WiFi routers, phones and tablets all-around good luck finding a defence from that one if you lose control!)
- If you lose the link to the drone, don’t run away and pretend it’s not yours. You need to follow the manufacturers lost link procedures, and if there are none, develop your own, have them written down and on you, and follow them (and that doesn’t mean write down “Run away and pretend it’s not mine”).
Some drones have a lost link recovery protocol where they return to the point of launch if the remote control link is lost. While it would seem to be good protection for flat batteries, unexpected frequency interruption or the like, once the drone goes into this automated return mode, you are breaking the law! Any exemption does not apply to Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or your automatically returning drone in this case. It’s stupid, but it’s the law!
- You need to be appropriately trained on how to fly the drone. (In other words, don’t go out and buy one and the first time you fly it is on an inspection!)
- If you are NOT a Canadian citizen, you MUST NOT fly a drone over Canadian soil. (You don’t want to get shot as a terrorist or a spy do you?)
If you think that adhering to all of this (and more) is worthwhile just to get a better shot of a roof, then go for it.
You might impress your clients…you might not.
Use a pole-mounted camera.
Pole mounted cameras may be the way to go. This allows you to mount a camera on the top of a pole, and send a live feed to your phone or tablet via WiFi so that you can control the shutter or video control from the ground while seeing what the camera sees up top.
Pole cameras require a fair bit of skill and strength to handle one and keep steady to not have to have multiple pictures before you get one that is not blurred. They can be particularly difficult to use in windy conditions.
Here are some tips on selecting a pole camera.
- Look for a pole camera that will, when it’s fully extended, take the weight of your chosen camera without bending.
- Get a pole that has a swivel mount at the top so you can adjust the camera position easily.
Get a pole that is easy to extend and contract with cold hands.
There are a number of things you need to be aware of with these too.
- If your pole is made of metal, don’t put it anywhere near a power line!
- If you have a live feed from your camera to your viewing device, don’t get caught pointing it into bedroom windows!
- If you have a pole camera to allow you to view a roof, don’t get caught climbing up a ladder to see the roof, you break the #1 regulation for ladder safety.
It’s still a visual inspection
Remember, that the Home Inspection is still a visual inspection! You are not taking samples of the roof shingles, you are not lifting them up to peer underneath (nor should you ever!) You are making a judgement call as to whether they are performing as a water-repelling surface (not waterproof!) and what your recommendation is regarding that condition. Regardless of the method you use to inspect the roof, you do not have a crystal ball. you cannot tell your client that the roof will not leak in all conditions, you cannot tell your client that the roof will last 1, 2….10 years or more. (Well you can, but expect to get sued when it doesn’t)
Educate your clients (and any Realtor who pushes you for a life expectancy) that not all shingles and roof covering are made equal. They are subject to rain, hail, snow, wind, debris from trees, squirrels, poor installation and faulty workmanship. Giving a guarantee of a roofs water resistance is as dangerous as giving a guarantee of being able to cross a 400 series road, in the dark blindfolded and getting to the other side safely. you can only inform them of what you see is wrong, you cannot tell them what will be OK in the future.
At the end of the day, if you don’t fall foul of the law, you may still face the ire of a client who thinks you should have detected a leak that happens 3 or 4 months from the inspection date. If it’s due to flashing you inspected that was faulty and you missed, so be it, but if you have taken the proper training, adhered to the standards of practice, complied with the laws and reported everything correctly you have done your job to the best of your ability and any claim to the contrary is invalid.