A guide to roof surveys

Looking up!

A Harrison Clarke guide to Roof Surveys

The importance of inspecting roof space during a survey

From the day that the human race staked their claim on our planet, creating a shelter has been a primal and essential need for each and every one of us.

It is deemed to be so fundamental to our safety and long-term wellbeing, that having a roof over your head is enshrined as a basic human right in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Generally, when people think of ‘the roof over their head’ they are thinking of the cosy rooms they are enjoying living in, the décor, the home comforts. They are not necessarily thinking of the key word in that well-worn phrase – ‘roof’.

However brilliantly robust, well-made, water-tight and beautiful a property is, it is worth nothing without a roof that is in fine condition and has the seal of approval for durability.

A poor-quality roof that is not structurally sound or water-tight makes a property incredibly vulnerable, and can be a hugely expensive problem for the homeowner.

So, properly inspecting the roof is crucial in a thorough building survey. At Harrison Clarke, our experienced surveyors are constantly mindful of the importance of this part of the building survey.

They take painstaking care when they are assessing the condition of a roof. Not only is the roof structure necessary to keep a property weathertight but, as it is also the part of the property most exposed to the elements, it can harbour some nasty surprises if it has not been well built or well maintained. 

It is also the part of the property that is hardest to access, making it even more difficult to spot any issues.

In most circumstances, when potential buyers inspect properties they do not think to look into the roof space themselves, and would probably not know what to look for if they did. This makes the surveyor’s assessment of the roof even more necessary.

“Will you look into the roof space during my survey?”

This is a question we are frequently asked by many clients. Wherever possible, we will carefully inspect the roof space in every survey that we carry out. Our surveyors always take telescopic ladders to inspections – making sure that, wherever there is safe access, they will be able to include the roof space in their survey, even where the property is not fitted with a built-in loft ladder.

Picture of chimneys and roof tops

Sometimes, it is not possible for us to access the roof space in a property, for example when we are surveying flats in an apartment block, or when the roof hatch is significantly obstructed or sealed shut.

Whenever and wherever it is possible for us to do so, we will do everything we can to get ‘up close and personal’ to every area of the roof space. Often, our access is restricted by obstructions such as the vendors’ belongings or poorly placed water tanks. If this is the case, our Harrison Clarke surveyor will do the very best they can, using their experience and expertise to guide them so that they can provide the most accurate and top-quality advice in every survey report that they produce.

Some surveyors only make a ‘head and shoulders’ inspection of roof spaces, particularly in Level 2 surveys. At Harrison Clarke, we find that we are able to offer much better advice from a more detailed inspection. 

Tip: when you are looking to appoint a building surveyor and you are comparing quotes from your shortlist of potential suppliers, make sure that you know exactly what they plan to include in their roof space inspection and how thorough they will be.

What we are looking for in the roof space

There is a comprehensive range of items and materials that can be found within a roof space. Your survey will report anything that the surveyor deems to be significant, even if something is currently in good condition.

We will:

  • inspect the structural timber for signs of weakness, lack of support, high moisture readings (which could translate into rot and future weakness, or even collapse in extreme cases).
  • tell you about the condition of the sarking* felt, which provides a valuable secondary barrier against water ingress (water getting in). 
  • let you know how much insulation there is in the roof, and whether this is likely to be adequate to keep you warm – this is especially important at the moment, with heating bills rising so dramatically. 
  • check the condition of any party wall, and that the firewalls are complete.
  • see if there are any problems with the cold-water storage tank.
  • make sure that the gable wall is tied to the roof structure; if it’s not, it may be unstable.
  • look for signs of any DIY activity that could have compromised the strength and stability of the structure, like cutting out a timber here and there to make space for storage shelves, or cutting a notch out of a truss to make room for a loft ladder.

*Sarking is the waterproofing layer lying below the roof covering that helps to divert any water that may get in (this is normal even in a perfectly ‘watertight’ roof, if there is particularly driving rain, for example) and it also helps to prevent the wind lifting off the roof covering. In modern properties, sarking is made from a breathable membrane. In older properties, it could be made from a form of bituminised felt, wood or even paper.

Our surveyor will also be looking out for a whole range of other issues within the roof, such as:

  • asbestos water tanks or other hazardous materials like polystyrene granules and vermiculite (which can sometimes contain asbestos fibres).
  • spray foam insulation.
  • damp chimneys.
  • vermin infestation or signs of wood worm.
  • dodgy wiring. 

Whenever the surveyor finds any defects or issues, they will explain in their report how these can be fixed.

Inspecting the roof space of the property is not only about finding potential bad news. Surveying the roof space will also tell you how much, if any, of the roof space has been boarded for storage, what the potential is for a loft conversion (if requested) and whether a loft ladder has been fitted.

Next steps

If you need to have a property surveyed, or you have any questions before you are ready to choose a surveyor, get in touch with our team of approachable and highly qualified surveyors at Harrison Clarke. They will be happy to discuss your requirements, and your roof space! We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Call 023 8155 0051 

Email info@harrisonclarke.co 

Discover something you would like to know more about?

Tim Clarke, Director at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Tim Clarke,


Tim set up Harrison Clarke Chartered Surveyors in July 2017 following a series of public and private sector surveying roles, having previously worked for the University of Cambridge, Rund Partnership, Goadsby, and CBRE. 

Tim has degrees in building surveying, construction project management, and business administration.