Assess The Condition And Find Defects Of A Pitched Roof

The key to any type of inspection is to get up close and personal with the object or area of interest.

The roof being a critical element of a residential house, is one of the places where inspectors pay a little more attention to.

But no matter how eager you are to get up there and take a look at the condition of the roof yourself, it is something you have to consider carefully when we are talking about a pitched roof.

It is way more dangerous than a flat roof. And gravity become an adversary instead of a friend.

The general rule of thumb is this – As long as you cannot be 100% certain that you would not fall off the roof, don’t get up there.

Saying that, an adventurous spirit in you might nudge you up there. You have to make a judgment call and decide at your own risk.

A jetpack or hoverboard is the ideal device when inspecting places of great height. But these products are not available in the market yet. So we have to just make do with what we’ve got.

Inspecting a pitched roof

The first look you take on the roof is when making your first initial walk about around the house. Start stepping away from the house far enough until all the exposed sections of the roof is visible.

Walk away till you can reasonably see the roof

Because you will be making a full circle walk around the perimeter of the estate, a picture and idea of the shape and structure of the roof should start to form in your mind.

To substitute the lack of a close-up examination, use a pair of binoculars.

Defects that can be visually identified

A routine like this should allow you to identify certain roofing defects:

  • sagging sections
  • uneven areas
  • damaged spots
  • missing shingles

Sagging sections

Sagging is not a good sign. And in a worst case scenario, it can lead to discovering that a house is suffering from structural problems.

This is because they are often caused by problematic issues concerning the support structure like sagging ridge beams, too much spacing between wooden support, or inadequate spacing.

However these side effects usually continue to stay even after the problem causing it is corrected. So don’t assume that there is an existing problem without asking the owner or seller about it’s recent history.

And if this is a newly discovered condition, you might need to hire a professional roofer or structural engineer to make an evaluation on the stability of the house.

Uneven areas

Uneven sections of a roof is actually a common occurrence and should not trigger any immediate cause for concern.

They are often a result of warped materials of deck. And sometimes the root of the problem comes from poor workmanship when installation of the second layer of shingles is conducted.

Make a note of where these uneven areas are as shingles in these areas will be more vulnerable to damage and prone to water intrusion.

Later when you conduct an inspection of the attic, assess the areas beneath these uneven sections of the roof to look for signs of leakage and any observable causes for the unevenness.

Damaged spots

Roofs don’t suffer from acne. So damaged spots are most often caused by falling items like tree branches. Sometimes even animals or insects.

However, they are often times just cosmetic issues that can be fixed with patching or replacement.

Missing shingles

The roof don’t suffer from bald spots too. So missing shingles should be noted of and replacements quickly arranged.

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out something’s not quite right here

These are like open wounds of a house. And every time it rains, it would be like rubbing salt into the wounds.


Ventilation is something that don’t often come up in the mind of a regular homeowner. But it is nevertheless a critical element of a house.

A particular area of concern is the area directly under the roof deck.

In newer buildings, decks are constructed with plywood panels rather than the traditional groove boards. And for all the benefits of the former, it comes with drawbacks as well.

If moisture is allowed to buildup in this area beneath the roof, it can cause delamination of the the plywood sheathing.

This is a potential problem made worst by homes with cathedral ceilings that have plaster boards attached directly to roof rafters

This is due to there being a layer of insulation between the roof deck and roof rafter. And moisture tends to trap itself in the tight air space between the insulation and deck.

In setups like these, vent openings must be present for this moisture to escape. Otherwise, it starts to rot and the process of delamination commences.

The vent openings should be situated not just around the soffit, but also around the top of each channel. And the top openings of the rafter channel can be in the form of individual vents or a ridge vent.

However, there are exceptions.

When a cathedral ceiling is made of planks or panels exposed, the configuration don’t allow a lot of space for moisture to collect. And this is therefore seldom a problem.

The point is that a house with a cathedral ceiling and without vent openings near the ridge will very likely have moisture problems. And because it’s a pitched roof which walking on is not suggested, a professional is needed to make a more in-depth analysis.

And if you find that the roof is configured as such but not suffering from any moisture problems caused by improper ventilation, don’t celebrate just yet.

It’s only a matter of time. The smart thing to do is to install vents nevertheless so as to avoid problems in the short and long term future.

Shingles on pitched roof

What we often find on pitched roofs are shingles that are partly layered over one another on an angle against the slope of the roof. This method of overlapping does not create a watertight layout orientation.

It is not intended to anyway.

The main purpose of it is to prevent water intrusion from the rain by shedding water.

Some of the popular materials of shingles include:

  • Wood
  • Slate
  • Clay tiles
  • Cement
  • Asphalt

Each coming with their own set of pros and cons.

Sun exposure

It goes without saying that solar rays are the main arsenal that shingles have to withstand constant battering from. Yet not all sections of a roof is created equal in this aspect.

Shingles on slopes on a South-Southwest facing will get maximum exposure bear the full brunt of the sun’s fury. Making them more susceptible to crack, lift, or break.

This also means that shingles in such an orientation will deteriorate much faster to shingles situated at say the Northern face.


As mentioned earlier, the primary function of shingles is to shed water. So every breach of a shingle’s integrity will, in effect, render it redundant as it will no longer be able to serve it’s purpose.

Water that navigates it’s way under the shingles will leak into the interior of the structure. This is why whenever damaged shingles are found on a site, plans should be made to call for maintenance and get them fixed or replaced.

Area of a roof prone to leakage include:

  • Joints between roof and structures
  • Joints between roof and vertical side sidewall
  • Joints where two sloping sections (valley) meet

These minor defects can be rectified with flashing using strip material like copper and sheet metal.

Note that in regions where temperature can drop below freezing, ice dams can form on rooftops. This can also cause leakage into the interior, but without needing shingles to break. In this instance, leaks are not caused by a faulty roof.

A different set of measures will need to be undertaken to alleviate this issue. Like installing eaves flashing, de-icing cables, or maintaining a cold roof.

Water stains

The clearest indication of a leaking roof other than obvious water droplets falling on your head while watching TV during a rainy day is water stains.

Warped segments or stains on the ceiling of rooms below the roof are common. The same can be said of wooden trims near the exterior walls. Leakages can on occasions, even bypass the room directly below the roof and flow straight to rooms 2 levels below.

Defective or deteriorated flashing is also a cause for concern. Leaks cause by such home defects can usually be observed from water stains on roof sheathing and framing on the ceiling and attic.

Debris on roof

While rather inconvenient, a proper routine should be scheduled for housekeeping of the roof.

While a peach blossom might be pretty, it can do harm to the roof

This is to remove any debris that has been collecting on the roof. Debris stuck in between shingle tabs in particular must be removed or they might promote fungi growth as a result of trapped moisture.

Further more, the obstruction of a smooth water flow can cause leaks.

Discoloration of asphalt shingles

A downside of asphalt shingles is it’s tendency to discolor over time due to exposure to the elements outdoor.

While this issue can be unsightly, it does not negatively impact it’s performance.

Finally, the material of shingles should be noted as different materials have their own pros and cons of usage. Homeowners have to weigh them up and select one that makes the most sense for them.