A roof over your head used to be all the security you needed. Today, most of us have gone a few steps further. We’ve beefed up our home protection with a cushion of extra insurance coverage in case we ever have to build back from scratch. We’ve got home security cameras, window sensors, and smart locks to repel prowlers. In many ways, home insurance is home security.

But still, a roof is one of the most critical elements of your home. It also happens to be one of the areas of our houses that we sometimes overlook. Until there’s a problem, that is.

If dealing with massive amounts of water damage isn’t something you want on your to-do list, you’ll definitely want to arrange an inspection every few years. What exactly should you be looking for, how often should you be looking, and how much will it cost? We’re going to get into all of this in just a bit — but first a quick crash course on roof construction because this is where you should really start.

Pro Tip: If your inspection turns up major problems with your roof, you’re going to need good homeowners insurance to cover the repairs. Make sure your policy is up to snuff by reading our homeowners insurance buyers guide.

What Is a Roof?

It sounds like a silly question. “It’s that thing on the top of your house,” you might say to yourself while rolling your eyes. You’re right, but the fact of the matter is that roof construction is actually pretty complex, and if you’re looking to get yours inspected, you’re going to want to have a general idea of how it was built.

For starters, there are five basic designs for residential roofs.1 They are:

The five basic design types for residential roofs are shed, gable, hip, gambrel, and mansard.

Roof Types

Gable roofs are the most common, and some homes combine different types of geometries to create something unique.

Next there are the roofing materials. This is what you see on the outside of the home, and what’s protecting the interior from the elements. There are many different types of materials available, but some of the most popular include:

  • Rolled roofing
  • Asphalt composite shingles
  • Standing seam metal roofing
  • Metal shakes
  • Wood shakes
  • Clay tile
  • Concrete tile
  • Slate shingles

The design and type of material used will dictate how your inspection will take place and what the inspector will be looking for, so it’s important to know these pieces of information before you start shopping around.

It’s also important to understand the components of your roof. While the roofing material is all you typically see, there are several layers beneath it that are important in keeping moisture away from your home.2 Starting from the bottom up, these are:

  • Frame: This is the part of the home that supports the weight of the roofing materials.
  • Insulation: This is a layer of material that prevents loss of warmth from heat rising up through the home.
  • Roof deck: These are typically sheets of plywood that are nailed to the roof trusses.
  • Water shield: This is a waterproof membrane or barrier designed to prevent the buildup of moisture around the eaves. This is usually a peel-and-stick layer applied directly to the roof deck.
  • Underlayment: Also called roofing felt, this is a layer that’s made up of fiberglass paper or felt. It covers the roof deck and is breathable enough for it to help with ventilation, but it stops liquid from seeping through to the deck.

Your roofing material then goes on top of the underlayment. See? There’s more to it than you thought, right?

Now that you understand how roofs are designed and built, let’s talk about what a roofing inspector does when they come out to your home.

What Does a Roof Inspector Do?

A roof inspector is going to do a lot more than just take one look and say, “Yup. That looks good.” It’s their job to examine every component of your roof for any signs of damage, including the structural supports, the roofing material, and the ceilings and walls.

During the structural examination, the inspector will check the overall condition of the roofing system as a whole. This includes a search for:

  • Sagging interior ceilings
  • Bulging, leaning, or tilting exterior walls
  • Missing or damaged collar ties
  • Cracked, splintered, or rotted rafters and trusses
  • Missing or damaged rafter ties

Any of these symptoms might be indicative that your roof is in need of repair. Once the inspector has given these elements a once-over, they’ll move on to the interior inspection. As you might have guessed, this is the portion of the inspection that deals with the interior portion of the roof — the part you don’t usually see. The inspector will check your ceilings, attics, and walls for mold, wood rot, water stains, pests, and other elements that indicate damage to the overall roof structure.

FYI: One of the main things roof inspectors look for is water damage, which can lead to mold. Surprisingly, mold damage isn’t covered by most traditional homeowners insurance policies, but it can be covered as an add-on protection. Read all about it in our guide to mold insurance.

Finally, the inspector will take a look at the exterior of your roof for any problems. This will involve walking around on the roof itself to examine your roofing materials and flashing for any damage, missing materials, moss growth, mold growth, or water damage.

After they’re done, they’ll either give you the all clear or point out problem areas. The inspector can then recommend a course of action to remedy whatever’s wrong. They should also give you a physical copy of their report in case you need it for insurance purposes.

Now that you know what’s involved in a roof inspection, you might be wondering how often you need to do this. Of course, we’ve got the answer.

How Often Do I Need a Roof Inspection?

There’s no beating around the bush here. Ideally, you’ll want to have your roof inspected once a year. Most experts recommend getting this done in the fall — especially if you live in an area where it snows regularly. This will ensure your roof is in tip-top shape going into the colder months and you won’t have any issues from the weight of snow or the moisture that accumulates when it finally melts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.

That said, there are times when you might want to get a roof inspection for peace of mind, such as after a major storm or hurricane or if one is forecasted. You might also want to schedule an inspection if a tree limb fell onto your roof or if you’ve noticed water stains on your walls or ceilings.

FYI: Speaking of hurricanes, we’ve compiled a list of the best homeowners insurance providers for Florida residents, in case you’re in the market.

Now you might bristle a little at having this done once a year. We get it. Being a homeowner is expensive, and you don’t want to be spending a bunch of money every year just to have someone to tell you your roof is fine. We’ll have some thoughts on that in just a bit, but first let’s talk about how much a roof inspection will run you.

How Much Is a Roof Inspection?

Not that much, which is good news. The national average cost of a roof inspection is just $210.3 That said, remember how at the top of the article we talked about all the different design and material combinations that are possible in roof construction? Some of those make inspections more costly, and the size of your home will also come into play. An inspection for a mansion will obviously cost more than one for a bungalow.

Pro Tip: If you’re budget-minded, you might want to make sure you’re not overpaying for homeowners insurance. Check out our guide to the best affordable providers of 2023 to see where you stand.

Now we understand that 200-some-odd dollars isn’t necessarily cheap, especially considering all of the other costs involved in homeownership. But consider this: A roof inspection is a preventive measure. If you schedule them regularly, you’re likely to catch issues before they turn into major problems.

Think of it this way. You get a physical every year, right? You usually don’t do this because you think something’s wrong; you do it to catch something before it goes wrong. So think of a roof inspection in a similar vein.

Something else to consider: Minor roof repairs are relatively inexpensive, but if you let things go too far, you might end up having to replace the whole thing. That, on average, costs about $14,000, and it’s unlikely your homeowners insurance will cover it if they can prove the damage was caused by negligence on your part. Suddenly shelling out $200 every year seems a lot more palatable, right?

Let’s say, though, that you’re a pretty handy person. You’ve got a 12-foot ladder. Can’t you just handle this yourself and save a couple of bucks?

Can I Do a Roof Inspection Myself?

Yes and no. Sure, you can spend the afternoon crawling around on your roof looking for broken shingles and squishy, rotted-out roof sections, but unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re likely going to miss early-stage problems.

Another reason it might be a better idea to call in the pros is the documentation they provide. If your roof had a clean bill of health from a professional roof inspector and then you had significant water damage a few months later that required costly repairs, you’ll have a much easier time convincing your homeowners insurance adjuster that you weren’t at fault.

Finally, it can be downright dangerous climbing ladders and traversing your roof. Unless you’re a roofer by trade, it’s best to stay off of your roof and leave it to the pros.

Now let’s have a look at the big picture.

Final Thoughts on Roof Inspections

Like we said above, you should view roof inspections as preventive maintenance. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle and an expense to have them done every year, but when you consider the alternative — extremely costly damage to your home — they make a lot more sense.

Pro Tip: Regularly scheduled roof inspections are a major part of keeping your home safe. Another important aspect, though, is having adequate homeowners insurance. Check out our list of the best home insurance providers to get a better idea of what’s currently available.

A professional roof inspection will assess all aspects of your home’s roofing system and provide you with peace of mind knowing that the roof over your head won’t let you down.

Roof Inspection FAQs

Are roof inspections expensive?

No. For an average-sized home with a traditional roof, a complete roof inspection shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars.

How can I find a good roof inspector?

Make sure your inspector is certified, and read online reviews. You might also want to check with your homeowners insurance provider for recommendations.

What does a roof inspector do?

A professional roof inspector will examine the structural and material integrity of your roof to ensure there aren’t any issues that could lead to problems with your home down the road.

What's the difference between a roof inspection and a home inspection?

A home inspection will analyze all of your home’s systems, including the roof. This is traditionally done before purchasing a new house. A roof inspection, however, is an inspection that focuses only on the roof and goes into far greater detail.

Is a roof inspection worth it?

A roof inspection is a preventive measure. A small upfront cost could save you tens of thousands of dollars in the future.