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Roofing Shingles and Utility Wires are a Shocking Combination

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Chances are, you don’t spend your days thinking about new and inventive ways to be electrocuted. If so, it’s a good thing you’re here. The power lines, service drop. or utility wires – whatever you prefer to call them – could pose an immediate shock or electrocution hazard if they touch the roof. That’s probably not something you hear often. But when the conditions are favorable, the homeowner – and you as the home inspector – are at risk.

Here’s what to look out for the next time you inspect a house with hot wires stretched far too close to the roof.

Why Power Lines and Roofing Shingles Don’t Mix

The most common roofing materials in the United States today are asphalt shingles. They come in many different colors, and they’re not especially expensive. At least not compared to the cost of other roofing choices. Part of what makes asphalt both attractive and durable is a surface layer of small, colorful ceramic chips. If the chips contact the power line’s insulating sheath, says Charles Buell of Buell Home Inspectons, bad things can happen.

In a sense, asphalt shingles are like coarse sandpaper. The ceramic chips have sharp edges. And the insulating sheath that protects the wires is comparatively soft. If the wires are stretched across any part of the roof, the shingles can abrade the sheath and expose the bare wires inside. If the power lines move during high winds, the effect might not take long at all.

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A drone lets you inspect risky rooftop situations without putting yourself in danger.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

To understand the danger of exposed wires in a service drop, think about the unencumbered electricity flowing through it. There aren’t any breakers or fuses between the pole and the service entrance. So there’s nothing to protect you as the inspector or the homeowner from electrocution if either of you come in contact with the bare wires.

There’s also nothing to protect the house except the layer of ceramic chips, which, fortunately, aren’t flammable. But the surface beneath the ceramic is. Bare wires touching the shingles might not start a fire today, but all that it takes is one breeze or movement that lets the bare neutral touch the hot, says Buell. If that happens, things will become very exciting – not in a good way – in a hurry.

Who’s Responsible for the Repair

The service drop is owned and maintained by the electric utility company, at least in most markets. So when a power line crosses the roofline, they might be responsible for making the repair, both to the wiring and the house shingles. Of course, the homeowner will have to check with the utility company to be sure.

If the service drop is clear of the roof and another part of the wiring, such as the drip loop, touches the shingles, the homeowner might be on the hook for the repair. To avoid any confusion or liability on your part, it’s best for the customer to talk with the utility company directly.

Some areas have underground utility service, which keeps hot power lines away from the shingles. That’s a best-case scenario. But many homes have a service drop running overhead from the utility pole to the house. Trouble starts when those wires, or any others, touch the coarse, abrasive roofing materials.

You might never see a power line that’s abraded down to the bare metal. But once you’re aware of the possibility, you might never look at a roof inspection in a cavalier way. And that’s a good thing.

ICA School is committed to training men and women for a long and rewarding career in home inspections. You’ll learn about a lot of different home defects throughout your training. And once you’re certified, you can start your own business. Does that sound like the path you want to be on? Enroll now and get started today.

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