Roof Access

It’s critical to keep the roof, gutters and chimneys of your roof property or block of flats in good repair but it’s also one of the most difficult parts of your building to inspect.  Can new technologies help?

The simplest and cheapest way to check your roof is by visual inspection – either from inside the loft or from a high point nearby such as a neighbour’s window.  But if that’s not possible, what else can you do?

Drone Inspections

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Roof inspections using dronesBalmore GroupClose up images can also be obtained

The use of drones is highly regulated in built up areas so you need to commission a survey from a company that has CAA registration & Permissions. 

Where can drones operate?

Drone operators need to ensure that they do not go within 50m of a building and keep at least 150m away from built up areas. When a drone is operated, the person in control of the drone must be able to control people moving around the operational area so this may mean that street closure is required ( and this needs permission from the council).  The operator must also maintain visual contact with the drone.

A minimum 30m exclusion zone is required for take off and landing. The operator must carry out a risk assessment before starting.

These standards can be reduced if the drone used has “multiple redundancies” which means it has 8 engines, 4 of which are ”spare”, duel battery system and a triple CPU back up control computer.  Such a drone can be used with only a 5m exclusion zone for take off and landing so could take off from a back court area. Contractors with this type of drone will have a “enhanced permissions” issued from the CAA. Due to the large cost of these aircraft there are only a select few approved contractors across the UK.

What can a drone inspection achieve?

The best drone inspection will use both a radiometric thermal imaging and visual HD camera.  The thermal imaging camera will identify cold/hot spots caused by leaks etc.  This can then be married up with the normal visual image to identify the required repair.  Ask if the firm you propose to use can produce a report that meets National Federation of Roofing Contractor (NFRC) Standards.

An inspection carried out at night time can be used for energy ratings assessments.

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Thermal image showing chimney defectsBalmore GroupNote also the temperature changes around the down pipe indicating a problem

What do drone surveys cost?

You could expect a survey and report to cost about £450 +VAT.

How do I find a suitable drone operator?

A search online for “drone roof survey Scotland” will produce a listing for a number of firms. You can also search the ARPAS-UK Register. (ARPAS is the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) which will also give you a number of other suitable operators. You can cross check that the firm is CAA registered.

Pole and Mast Photography

Some companies use cameras mounted on telescopic masts or poles. The longest are vehicle mounted and can reach up to 25m.  Shorter hand-held poles can be used to raise a camera to 3m - 6m height. Vehicle mounted masts may still require road-closure orders but can be used where it is not possible to fly a drone.


Expect to pay about £500 per day, correspondingly les for a half day.

Finding a Mast Photographer

Search online for elevated mast or telescopic mast photography.

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Telescopic camera mast in use for roof inspectionJohn GilbertLike all roof access methods, savings can be made by working with neighbours

Rope Access (Steeplejacks)

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Rope Access Technicians Balmore Group Sometimes known as Steeplejacks

If you know you have a problem and need to get workers on the roof then rope access can be considered over using a expensive scaffold.

Do I need roof anchors to use rope access workers?

Some buildings have roof anchors installed.  The first task for a roof worker will be to use a “deadweight” as a safety measure while they check the roof anchors. However, roof anchors are not always required and rope access workers may be able to access the roof through a skylight and then rig an abseiling point themselves.

What can rope access workers do?

Roofers using rope access can carry out inspections, minor/major repairs and gutter cleans.

What would rope access cost?

A typical cost would be around £750 +VAT per day.  One day would generally be sufficient to clean gutters, carry out a roof inspection and some minor repairs on a typical tenement roof. This provides for a team of three (two on the roof and one on the ground).  This does not include the cost of any materials required for repairs.  If the workers also need to erect a small 10m alloy scaffold tower, this will add perhaps another £100 +VAT.  Road closure permits are not normally required.

How do find a rope access firm?

Search online for “rope access roofs”. Check that the firm you are proposing to use is a member of registered trade body such as the National Federation of Roofing Contractors or Association of Technical Lightning and Access Specialists.

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Rope Access SurveysBalmore GroupRope access can also be used to inspect walls

Tower Access

When do we need tower access?

Roofing contractors can use a number of alloy towers, many of which are narrow enough to fit through a close so that the rear slope of a roof can be accessed.  These allow workers to undertake gutter cleaning and minor roof repairs.  Tower access can also allow workers to check walls, downpipes etc.

What does tower access cost?

Depending on size, the cost is slightly less than using a rope access technician but a permit costing between £100 and £250 may be required if the tower needs to a sited on a  busy pavement which needs to be closed off.

Powered Access 

When do we need powered access?

Cherry pickers are useful where several front gutters need to be cleaned in one day and rope access is not feasible. They are also suitable to providing access for tradespeople who are not trained to work at height such as surveyors and architects, painters and stonemasons.

A major problem with cherry pickers is that they cannot be used to access the rear slope of the roof so can only be used for half a job in a typical tenement gutter clean and roof check job.

What do cherry pickers cost?

Cherry pickers are perhaps the most expensive means of access and generally have an additional costs for a street closure permit (£100- £250 plus time to obtain permit from the Council).  Hire and labour costs can take the cost of using a cherry picker to £800 - £900 per day +VAT.  The cost can be considerably more if your building is much higher or if you need a machine that can reach over the roof to allow access to the rear slope

Vacuum Gutter Cleaning Systems

These systems use a high powered industrial vacuum machine connected to a set of carbon fibre poles. The machine sucks materials from the gutter. A camera can be attached to the pole end so the operator can see what is happening. 

When can we use a vacuum gutter cleaning system?

These systems are used only for cleaning gutters so won’t be suitable if you suspect that you need roof repairs or a roof inspection. The main limitation on the use of these systems is height - a maximum reach of 12 metres is possible which would deal with a 3- 4 storey tenement. They can be used to access rear gutters.

What do vacuum cleaning systems cost?

These are some of the cheapest systems to use as the equipment is relatively cheap to buy. Costs are often given per linear metre of gutter and a typical 3 storey tenement with a frontage of 15m would cost about £250 +VAT.

How we find vacuum gutter cleaning firms?

Search online for a firm near you.  There is no recognised trade body which firms which specialise in this work can join so you must check for yourself that the firm has adequate insurance and a suitable health and safety policy.