I have a leak in my Cape Cod style house and need to check the
flashing around the chimney and dormers. I don't have any experience
climbing roofs but am wary that a loss of balance will find me eating
dirt and looking at white coats when I wake up. Should I hammer steps
into the roof? I notice that's what roofers do but I don't want to
compromise the waterproof integrity of the roof. I could also lasso
the chimney and tie it around my waist. Just wondering if there is a
simple safety measure out there that homeowners know that I don't.
Bottom line: confidence is everthing, if you are uncomfortable then
you may want to hire who is paid to go up there rather than risk your
What is the pitch of the roof? Do you own an extension ladder that
will reach the eaves? On steep roofs that are unwalkable I might use
a series of planks and ladder jacks to get up there. If you don't own
or want to own these tools then that's another reason to hire
Another way is to buy a special ladder that will hook over the ridge.
We called it a "chicken ladder" on the crew I was on presumably since
you have to be a chicken to need it, haha. You could easily spend
several hundred dollars for ladders and planks if the house is big and
the roof is steep so think about it.
So you call it a "chicken ladder". Chimney sweep used one on my roof
in January when there was some snow. He did not have a helper so I
hung around to watch him. "Chicken ladder" slipped and would have
slid off roof with him on it if I had not held onto ladder used to get
on roof. Did not hire him for subsequent work which I could have done
myself but at my age and taking blood thinners I hired another chimney
guy to do the work.
Yeah, a traumatic spine injury is a lousy way to learn that gravity sucks.
If you are on the north side of 30, have no experience climbing roofs
(especially 12-12 Cape Cods), and don't have a warm fuzzy about all this, I
strongly recommend hiring the work out. (I say over 30 because us grownups
don't heal up near as well or quick as we did when we were kids.) If you
don't already have the long ladders. roof jacks, etc, renting or buying
those would cost more than paying a roofing company for a site survey. If
they do the repair work, they will probably credit you for the inspection.
Walk around neighborhood during outdoor hours, look for similar roofs to
yours, and ask those folks who they have used, and if the work was done
well. Steep roofs are a lot harder than the usual 5-12 or so a ranch has,
especially when you get 20' off the ground.
If you are only concerned about safety, the best way would be to buy a
safety harness/rope. They are not hard to find...even Menards sells
them where I live. Tying a rope around your waist doesn't cut it--if
you fall at best you'll wind up upside down and then slip out of the
noose and crack your head. I wouldn't lasso the chimney--you might
fall, break off a chunk and get that on your head---after you hit the
ground! It's best if the rope is somehow anchored to the peak, but it
can be tossed over the peak and anchored to something on the other
side, like a car bumper (But take the keys out!) The trouble is, once
you get up there, you need some way to free up your hands to work, so
the rope idea doesn't really do you that much good in the end--unless
You could buy some "roof jacks" which slide under the tab of a shingle
and are held with nails. With care, you won't damage your roof. The
hard part is prying up the shingles, which will be sealed down. The
other option is a ladder hook, which is a hook that fastens to the top
of a ladder and can be pushed up the roof. I'd use roof jacks if it
was me. They are inexpensive and safe if properly installed.
i seriously recommend you hire a pro.
look at it this way. lets say you fall and are off 6 months recovering
or even 3 months.
that means the cost of doing the roof job and likely not completing it
can be 1/3 or 1/2 your annual income, and perhaps more if you become
permanetely disabled. now add in the pro cost if you fall and havent
completed the job.
let alone the damage if the repair isnt done properly. replacing
drywall, insulation, mold etc etc.
I have done some limited stuff on roofs but leave the pro work to the
And tell everyone else who has keys that they should NOT drive the car
until you say so.
Might be a good idea to check with someplace that sells supplies for
climbers, if going with the rope approach. They should know about rope
selection for this, and the best ways to attach yourself to the rope,
and they will probably have some kind of useful quick-release mechanism
for the case where you need to get off the rope, fast (like if someone
forgets about you and drives off while you are roped to the car!).
For the OP, I agree with the others- steep roofs are no joke. I grew
up in a climbing family, and still have some equipment. My roof is
moderate pitch, and I still use harness as described above if working
near the edge. With slings and caribiners, and rope thrown over roof
and secured to tree, I can generally get security and flexibility of
movement- helps if you have an ascender or like me grew up before
these things and learned how to tie prussic knots, etc. Was up a few
weeks ago to do spring roof work- had noticed my skylight was starting
to leak during winter insulation work, and even though I'd seen leak
from the inside, it was darned hard to see on the outside as others
warn. I think I got it as it was dry inside after heavy rain. Maybe
I would attempt a steep one like yours, depending on how brave or
stupid I was feeling, but I grew up climbing like a monkey and still
feel fairly confortable with it.
I could be misremembering, but I thought I saw on some documentary
program about mountain climbing that if someone falls, and the place
their rope is connected to the rock fails, there is a big risk that they
will then pull the next person off, and those two will pull the third,
and so on, so when a person lower on the rope sees this happening and
sees that it has gone beyond the point where it can be stopped, they
want to get off that rope, quickly. But it could be that the guy on the
bottom of the rope on the climb the show was about was just really fast
at operating whatever it was that hooked him to the rope, rather than
having some kind of quick-release.
falls with harnesses are more common from tripping on lines etc.
although less deadly.
dont forget to watch out for power lines they can kill.
the idea is rock climbers always are bolted to at least 2 hooks if
someone falls the rest hold him. never cutting clear the unfortunate
all in all DIY in this case is a bad idea.
might check your neighbors for good roofer referencesor a handyman
I have a neighbor like that he can fix almost anything and low cost too
Just to give everyone an update - I chickened out and called a roofer.
He noticed that a seal on one of the pipes had deteriorated and put
some sealant on it and told me that it should be good for another 20
years. For the record that is exactly what I thought the problem was
when I looked at it with my binoculars. It took him 5 minutes to fix,
he didn't charge me but I gave him 30 bucks nonetheless. Thanks
everyone for talking me down!
Frankly I suggest hiring someone. Cap Cods have have steep roofs and if
you are not comfortable you are actually more likely to have an accident.
The guys who know what they are doing don't have the problem, but you will.
There was a time I finally got comfortable on a roof, but today I am not, I
would not go up again. Life is short enough as it is.
Simple and safe is what I do these days. It is called "writing a check".
You call a pro, he climbs, you write the check. Very simple very safe.
I used to think nothing of going up on the roof but after I passed 50, I did
it much less and past 55, I've not been up there. Capes are a steeper pitch
than mine so I'd probably have stopped closer to 40 on them.
So a cape cod has a 1:1 roof? Someone else said so. Even though I can
imagine it now, I don't think everyone knows this, and it's an
essential point to your question.
Also, be sure to wear the right shoes. With laces that tie, no
loafers. Tied well. Ankle high probably gives more stability. Rubber
or gum soles, not leather, and probably with some indentations or
ridges in the soles, which iiuc wouldn't help on dry surfaces**,
except in this case with shingles, there can be loose shingle
particles to slip on.
The ladder should go 3 or 4 feet above the edge of the roof. It's
pretty easy to get off a ladder that stops at the gutter, onto the
roof. It's a heck of a lot harder to get back on the ladder. With my
more shallow roof, it's the hardest and scariest and most dangerous
part of the whole thing. If only my knee bent in both directions, it
would be easy, but it won't bend that way. With 3 or 4 feet of
ladder above the edge, it's pretty easy to step onto the ladder,
facing the middle of the roof and stepping to the side.
I think you can make a ladder to hook on to the crest of the roof
yoursself, from a straight ladder, or the top half of an extension
ladder, (maybe even the bottom half, although I think I would tie up
the pivoting legs so they didn't catch on something when you were
trying) but someone here discussed adding something near the top to
act as a hook. Probably even a ladder stand-off, the U shaped thing
that is clamped on to the top of a ladder (I don't know the name it
goes by), to span windows so one can paint above them, and to make it
easier to use a short ladder to clean gutters, in houses with eaves
one foot or greater, where otherwise one's forehead would be touching
the gutter or even under the eave. I haven't used this on the roof
but it is wonderful for gutter work. If I had more but narrower
windows, it would be wonderful for painting the house.
They sell these in a couple widths, although no place I went had 14
inches off, only about 10 these days for some reason, which would be
fine for your roof work I think but not as good when leaning against a
wall. Mine is old, and maybe they don't make that size in the simple
They also make one adjustable version, that I couldn't find at any
bigbox or ACE hardware around here, but is available on line.
I wouldn't tie myself to a chimney, brick or metal. The strongest
lateral forces they get are the wind, and you might be a lottt more
than that, and they might be ready to fail anyhow. I wouldn't test
them either. You'll either break it or won't do a sufficient test.
**Which is why a lot of racing tires are "slicks".
It's wise to be careful. I had a friend from work in his 50's who
fell off his roof. His wife was washing dishes at the sink with a
window and saw him fly by. Only a story and a half iirc and he only
broke his leg, but it wouldn't heal. He was on one crutch for weeks
and weeks and had to plug himself into an electric device each evening
when he got home, or maybe overnight. Either he retired or I changed
jobs. I should have kept in touch.
I suggest you ask yourself what you are going to do once you get up
there; I think most leak sources are not readily apparent, and it takes
some skill and practice to find a leak. Even if you find what you think
is a problem, all you are probably going to do is call a roofer and ask
him to fix the leak, so why not just let him do the whole job and not
risk your neck. I'd hate to think you would think you had found the
leak, and hire a roofer to repair the flashing, only to later find that
the actual leak was elsewhere.
Give that man a gold star!
Excellent advice really. It's nice to see for yourself what could be wrong,
but unless you know what you're looking for and are positive you can fix
it - it cheaper, faster, better to pay an expert to do their job. If you're
asking for advice on how to climb a ladder, I would question your ability to
fix roofing problems.
Not that I'm the king of ladders. In fact I asked this very same question
some 9 months ago while trying to clean my gutters. My roof is only a 1:4
or 1:3 - shallow and simple to walk on - even still one slip on moss or
loose shingles and I wouldn't be able to stop before tumbling off.
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