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HomeReaders ChoiceHow Do Roofers Stay On The Roof

How Do Roofers Stay On The Roof

About Steep Roofs And How To Safely Work On Them

[ROOFERS SECRET] How Do Roofers Walk On Steep Roofs?

Before it was reshaped by an Earthquake, the Hillary Step was a steep vertical portion of frozen terrain near the top of Mount Everest, almost 29,000 feet above sea level. The cliff was named for the famous climber and explorer Sir Edmond Hillary who, with sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to conquer the climb in 1953.The Hillary Step itself was merely a 40 ft. high cliff, but for climbers losing their footing and without secure roping, the fall could be 8,000 ft. on one side of the step and 10,000 ft. on the other side Seven times higher than New Yorks Freedom Tower! That ought to put steep slope roofing work into perspective, right?

While steep slope roof replacements and repairs might not be quite as harrowing an adventure as climbing Mount Everest, roofers have to be well trained, well equipped, and pretty fearless to conquer the task.

Plan Your Start End And Break Times Strategically

You can plan your day wisely to stay cool while working in the heat. Many roofing professionals will start their day as early as light conditions allow, perhaps 7 a.m. in some locations, to avoid the heat and sun of the midday. Sometimes roofing professionals attempt to finish their work before the hottest part of the day even arrives.

Once the temperature rises, you should take a water break every 15-30 minutes. Contrary to popular belief, taking your breaks in an air-conditioned environment will not reverse your acclimatization. You become acclimatized to hot conditions over a 7-10 day period, after which your body sweats and pumps blood more efficiently. You will only lose this acclimatization if you do not work in high heat conditions for a few days. If you were recently acclimatized, you can regain your advantages in 2-3 days.

Its also important that you dont exercise before you arrive at work. Exercising before working in the heat could increase your risk for heat-related illnesses on the job. Its better to assess your health after work and decide whether or not it is safe for you to exercise in the evening.

How Do People Walk On Roofs Without Falling

People are able to walk on roofs without falling by taking certain precautions and exercising caution. The first thing to consider when walking on a roof is making sure that the surface is dry and free of debris such as leaves and branches, as these can cause slips and falls.

If the surface is wet, it is important to wear shoes with good grip and to use caution when walking. Additionally, it is important to make sure that the roof is secure and free of potential hazards like broken shingles, holes, and other potential trip hazards.

It is also important to avoid running and jumping while on the roof, as movements like this can be very dangerous. When possible, it is also helpful to set up guard rails or hand rails to provide additional safety when walking on the roof.

Finally, it is important to be aware of ones surroundings and to pay attention to where one is stepping in order to minimize the risk of falling.

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Wha To Do With Old Roof Sheathing

Q: We plan to replace the roofing on our 100-year-old house with architectural asphalt shingles that can stand up to the occasional hurricane we get around here. While we’re at it, should we also take off the roof’s original board sheathing, which is still sound, and replace it with plywood? Ed and Peggy Simmer, Suffolk, VA

A: Tom Silva replies: There’s no need to remove the board sheathing. It actually adds strength to the roof and makes it easier for roofers to do their job. Just have them nail any loose boards tight to the rafters. Then they can cover the entire roof with ½-inch plywood sheathing.

Make sure the new plywood sheets are placed so that their short edges land over a rafter and there’s about a 1/8-inch gap around each sheet to allow them to expand. In hurricane country, plywood should be nailed every 6 inches into each underlying rafter using galvanized, ring-shank, 8d common nails, such as the HurriQuake nail made by Bostitch. Anything less and your roof could blow off in a storm. The underlayment and shingles have to be applied with similar care, following the requirements laid out in the local building code.

What Materials Are Used On A Steep Roof

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When constructing a steep roof, the material used will depend largely on the overall design of the roof and, to a lesser extent, the local climate. In most cases, asphalt shingles are the preferred choice due to their affordability and durability.

This type of material is often the most cost-effective option, as it can be installed quickly and is resistant to water, weather, and hail damage. In addition, it is available in a wide range of colors and styles, making it easy to find one that matches the aesthetic of the home.

Metal roofing is another popular choice for steep roof construction and is often used when a homeowner wants to create a more modern or contemporary look. It is more expensive than other options, but is more durable and can withstand significantly more wear and tear.

It also has a high level of fire resistance and can be painted to match the home.

Tile roofing is a more expensive option, but it is also incredibly durable and can last for decades with proper maintenance. This type of material is also fire-resistant, providing extra protection for the structure.

Additionally, tile roofing comes in a variety of colors, giving owners the opportunity to create a unique and eye-catching look.

Lastly, slate roofing is a high-end option that boasts a long lifespan, only requiring occasional maintenance. It is more expensive than other materials, but is an excellent option for those who are looking to make a statement with their roof.

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Know What To Wear When Working Outside Including Sunscreen

Your first thought when working in the heat is probably a desire take your shirt off. But, youll actually be cooler if you wear a shirt because it keeps your skin out of direct sunlight. Choose a light-colored shirt, bottoms, or even shoes, to reflect more of the suns rays. Also consider that breathable fabrics, such as cotton, will keep you cool in hot weather by letting you feel the breeze.

There are also specialized products to keep you cool in extreme heat. These include:

  • Work clothing made from moisture-wicking fabric, which is often used in athletic gear. This material keeps you cool by allowing your sweat to evaporate faster.
  • Shirts with built-in air-conditioning can keep you very cool, although they do add weight and require a power source.
  • Water-cooled clothing, which uses a series of tubes to push cool water against your skin. These clothes arent as heavy as air-conditioner shirts, but they do require power.
  • Cooling vests that contain ice packs are a great power-free option, but the ice does tend to melt in two to three hours.
  • Simply soaking an over-garment in cool water can also help you stay cool.

Two Roofs Are Not Better Than One

Q: I have an old tract house with composition roof shingles. I need to re-roof but the roof has two layers of shingles on it already. Do I have to have them taken off? Also, which rate or weight of composition shingles is best to use?

Irene, Riverside, Calif.

A:Tom Silva replies: Yes, you need to strip the shingles. I don’t like to shingle over any old shingles, but one layer is acceptable. Two is not. A single layer looks better, lasts longer, and won’t put any unnecessary extra weight on the roof.

As to which shingles to use, the longer the warranty, the heavier the shingle and the greater the cost. You want to look for the best warranty you can afford.

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Advice About Walking On & Inspecting Asphalt Shingle Roofs

We do not walk directly on any asphalt shingle roof that has one or more of these hazards:

  • Roof is uncomfortable or feels unsafe or too fragile for any reason, in the opinion of the inspector
  • Steep pitch roofs – judgment of the inspector
  • High roofs – judgment of the inspector
  • Fragile roofs – judgment of the inspector
  • Wet, icy, snowy roofs – judgment of the inspector
  • Roofs with curled, cracked, or broken shingles – judgment of the inspector
  • Roofs for which there is not ready, safe access – judgment of the inspector

Loose mineral granules on an asphalt shingle or roll roofing roof surface, are dangerous and can cause the inspector to slip and fall off of the roof, regardless of the cause of loose material: whether because the roof is brand new or old .

Inspecting at ground level may show evidence of severe roof granule loss even before the inspector, owner, or roofing contractor has placed a ladder at the roof edge for a closer-look. From the roof edge you may see a gutter with a half inch or even more of mineral granules . The two times we see asphalt roof shingle mineral granules on the ground or in gutters in quantity is at brand new asphalt shingle roofs, or at older, damaged, worn roofs whereon granules have lost their adhesion to the shingle by weather, age, foot traffic, hail, or other damage.

Heating Cables For Gutters

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Q: Last winter, we had a serious problem with ice clogging our gutters. And every time it melted a bit during the day, the overflow would spill onto the walkway and driveway and refreeze at night into a sheet of ice. How can we stop this from happening?

A:Tom Silva replies: One way is to run electric heating cables inside the gutters and downspouts. Turn the cable on during snowy, freezing weather so the water drains away and stays off your walk and drive. Be sure to use cables with thermostatic controls so they don’t overheat or run up your electric bill.

But these cables only treat the symptom of a bigger problem: inadequate roof ventilation. In other words, the heat escaping from the house is getting trapped under the roof and melting the snow, even when the weather is below freezing. That meltwater ends up refreezing in your gutters.

A roofing contractor can install the ridge and soffit vents that a properly ventilated roof should have. But if you can’t get this work done before winter, try placing a small box fan in the attic to cool the underside of the roof. Face it towards the area of the roof that gets warm, and run it whenever there is any snow on the roof. That’s a lot less expensive than installing and operating heating cables.

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Working In A Changing Industry

Roofing designs continue to change and evolve as architects and consumers keep up with new styles and changing preferences. For example, green building standards are leading to more solar panels and green roofs being installed. Also, rooftop gardens continue to increase in popularity features we never saw in the past. Then there are the ever-popular rooftop patios, which continue to be a trend, but which are now being seen in new venues like a corporate workplace.

What does this mean for roofers? The more features we add to roofs, the more traffic we can expect on them whether thats builders, maintenance staff, or occupants out to enjoy leisure spaces. More people means a greater risk for falls, which means even closer attention needs to be paid to roof fall protection measures at all phases of construction and use.

Lawmakers are keeping up with these trends too, so as new technologies and trends emerge, officials continue to update safety legislation to stay current. This means you, as a roofer or a roofing employer, must keep a close eye on not just popular new roof features, but resulting new laws that may go along with them.

Roof Repair In Bad Weather: Is It Even Possible

Technically, yes, it is possible to do roofing repairs in inclement weather conditions. Whether or not it is advisable is another story entirely. Bad weather can end up damaging your roof, after all. Plus, bad weather creates incredibly hazardous work conditions for the roofers.

In short: while if people really wanted to, they could do roof repair in bad weather, this is an incredibly bad idea, for a multitude of different reasons. You shouldnt want or expect roofers to do any sort of roofing work in inclement weather. For both their safety and for the sake of your roof, its best to wait for a clear day.

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Fall Arrest Systems Or Safety Harness

Fall arrest systems can sometimes be the least preferred option of fall protection because they intend to stop a fall after it is already happening. Often times, these devices require training and practice in order to use properly. Fall arrest systems are most helpful when a worker has to safely reach a repair on a roof edge.

While some of these systems may be ideal for some workers than others, it still remains to be true that adding even one method of fall protection into your work environment will greatly increase your level of safety overall.

Hazards that may lead to a greater requirement of fall protection can be specific circumstances where working on a roof requires working around skylights or multi-level roofs and edges.

More Roofing Safety Supplies and Tips

When you have all the supplies you will need on hand ahead of time, you can prevent getting on and off of your roof more times than should normally be necessary. The more efficient you work, the less of a risk you have of falling. With that being said, here is a list of some of the handiest supplies to gather before you begin working on your roof:

Rather than taking multiple trips up and down your ladder to transfer your tools, grab a buddy along with a rope and a bucket. By make shifting a pully system, one of you can climb on the roof while the other passes supplies from below.

Advice For Walking On & Inspecting Wood Shingle Roofs:

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Wood shingle or shake roofs such as shown in our photograph are fragile and will be damaged by any foot traffic.

We’ve walked on new, good-condition wood shingle roofs but they are easily damagedby foot traffic which can cause splits in the shingles. In additionwood shingles are often slippery and dangerous to walk on and absolutely slippery when wet.

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Working For Safetys Sake

With this background, and these changes in mind, here are some guiding principles to keep in mind as you continuously improve your roof fall safety program so its not just compliant with relevant regulations, but also helps get you and your employees home safe to your families each day.

1) Re-frame your culture

Safety should be a part of everything you do not something you tack on after youve developed your work plan. Think: safety first, safety always.

2) Keep up with changes

As a contract roofer, or an employer, you need to know fall protection regulations like the back of your hand. To stay on top of any changes, be sure to visit the OSHA site regularly .

But thats just step one. To stay ahead of safety changes, you should also get to know the industry.


Expanding your safety knowledge might at first seem a bit dry, but you may find the more you learn about fall protection safety, the more interested you become.

Who knows, maybe youll become the knowledgeable go-to person in your area for safety advice and resources!

3) Training, training, training

Making sure you and your employees are properly trained in fall protection, safety equipment and rescue is required by law. So, you should already be signing up both yourself and your staff for regular certified training.

But to really build a safety culture, you should start to consider safety education an investment in your business, not a chore that has to be checked off a project list.

4) Talk to your workers

Descend The Roof Properly

Once you are done with the job or at least done for the day, its time to get off the roof. A good tip for descending a steep roof is to walk down a valley whenever possible. The valley is where two parts of the roof form an aperture. Walking down the middle of the roof is more hazardous.

Another tip for descending safely from a steep roof is to reverse your body from your position to climb up the roof. Leaning back against the pull of gravity on your way down to the edge of the roof will allow you to balance better.

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Snow Guard For The Roof

Q: Our house sits only 11 feet from our property line, and our neighbors’ house is so close to the line that their gutters are almost right over it. Last year, they added another story to their house and installed a metal roof. Now, when the ice on their roof begins to melt, it slides past their gutters and sails into the side of our house where our bedroom is. Can you please help us?

Lisa, Austin, Texas

A:Tom Silva replies: I’ve never encountered that problem, but there is a straightforward solution. Ask your neighbors to install a snow guard on their roof near the eaves. These guards effectively halt roof avalanches and hold the ice in place until it melts. The type of guard that best suits your situation has two or three pipes mounted parallel to the eaves and a screen on the pipes to catch flying ice.


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