Amelior Insulation

Amelior Insulation
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How to Access the Roof Space

Red roof tiles of an Australian home.

Although not recommended, getting into the roof space of a house may be necessary for maintenance, repairs or to simply inspect the condition of the roof. There are two common methods for accessing a roof space: through the manhole and through the external roof by removing roof tiles. Accessing the roof space must always be done with care to avoid damage and personal injury.

How to Access the Roof Through the Manhole

Many homes have a manhole installed in the ceiling of the upper floor to provide access to the attic. This allows homeowners or maintenance workers to enter the roof space for storage, insulation inspections and repairs (e.g. to electrical wiring, HVAC systems or plumbing). Note that an electrical safety inspection must be done by a qualified electrician.

Here’s how to safely access the roof space through the manhole:

1. Turn off the power

Turn off all the power in the house. Professionals will usually lock the electrical box with an Electrical Lockout Kit to ensure no one turns on the power until the work is finished. If you don’t have one of these gadgets, tell your family, housemates and/or coworkers that the power needs to remain switched off until you’re done, and that you’ll turn it back on again. Leave a clear note on the electrical box to remind people.

2. Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The roof space is a risky place to enter and work in. Because it’s very dark, it’s important to use a fully-charged headtorch, and even bring a floodlight for extra visibility. Consider wearing a face mask, gloves, safety glasses, hard-soled shoes and full-length clothing, especially if you’re working around insulation, which can irritate the skin.

3. Prepare the area around the manhole

Clear the area around the manhole of any obstructions. Ensure there is a stable platform, such as a ladder, beneath the manhole for easy entry and exit. A ladder should be secure and positioned at the correct angle. When using a ladder, climb slowly and steadily, maintaining three points of contact wherever possible.

4. Test the weight of the cover

If the manhole cover is heavy or difficult to handle, consider asking someone for help.

5. Open the manhole

Carefully remove the manhole cover by lifting it upwards and sliding it to the side. Use caution to avoid falling, straining your back, jamming your fingers or damaging the cover.

6. Enter the roof space

Once you’re high enough on the ladder, carefully lift yourself up and step onto one of the sturdy ceiling joists. Do not step on electrical wiring or the ceiling plasterboard – stepping on the plasterboard can damage the ceiling and you may even fall through into the room below, potentially injuring yourself. Move slowly and steadily.

7. Exiting the roof via the manhole

To exit the roof, make your way back to the manhole, hold onto two strong joists, and carefully step onto the ladder. Pull the manhole cover partly closed, take a few more steps down the ladder and slide it shut. Once you’re all the way down and are certain no one else is in the roof, you can turn the power back on.

A closed manhole in the upper-floor ceiling of a house.
A manhole is a built-in opening usually found in a ceiling or upper floor, allowing entry to the roof area.

Enter the Roof Space Via the External Roof – Removing Tiles

If your ceiling manhole has been covered by insulation or just cannot be opened, the next best option is to enter via the external roof. This involves removing roof tiles or shingles to create an opening. Entering the roof cavity via the external roof is not advised as it is very high risk, but provided you have safety equipment and excellent balance, it can be done safely on a single-storey roof. For a double-storey roof, it’s best to contact someone experienced to give you a hand.

Here’s how people generally access the roof space by removing roof tiles:

1. Turn off the power

As with accessing the roof via the manhole, all power in the house must be switched off for safety. If you have an Electrical Lockout Kit, use it to lock the electrical box. Otherwise, inform your family/housemates/coworkers that the power must stay off until you’re finished and leave a clear note on the electrical box as a reminder.

2. Assess the situation

Before attempting climbing up, assess the condition of the roof and the accessibility of the area. Ensure you have the necessary tools and equipment for the task, including a ladder and safety harness. Avoid working in wet weather – the roof tiles will become slippery and ceiling insulation may become mouldy.

3. Choose the right tiles

While still on the ground, get an idea of which roof tiles to remove based on the location of the desired access point and the type of roofing material. 

4. Put on protective gear

When working on the roof, always wear appropriate safety gear. Good gloves and grippy boots are recommended.

5. Secure the ladder

Place a ladder against the roof, close to where you have decided to open up the tiles. Ensure the ladder is stable and securely positioned. Consider using ladder stabilisers or standoff brackets to prevent damage to the gutters or roof edge.

6. Remove the tiles

Carefully and methodically lift the selected roof tiles using your hands or a pry bar. Take care not to disturb adjacent tiles or cause unnecessary damage to the roof structure.

7. Create an opening and enter

Once the tiles have been removed, create a sufficient opening to access the roof space. Use caution when stepping onto the roof beams or trusses, ensuring they can support your weight. Gently lower yourself onto a sturdy joist.

8. Replace the tiles

After completing the necessary tasks in the roof space, carefully put the roof tiles back into their original positions. Ensure they are properly aligned and secured to prevent water infiltration or damage.

Safety Considerations When Entering a Roof Cavity

Regardless of which method is used to access the roof space, safety should always be the top priority. Here are some important safety considerations to keep in mind when accessing the roof space:

  • Always tell someone you are going into the roof space and have a mobile phone on you.
  • Use appropriate PPE, including gloves and grippy footwear.
  • Be aware of electrical hazards, such as exposed wiring or electrical equipment, and take precautions to avoid contact. Always make sure the power is turned completely off.
  • Distribute your weight evenly.
  • Always stand on solid beams and joists.
  • Bring a water bottle or two so you can stay hydrated – roof cavities become extremely hot on scorching days!
  • Follow manufacturer instructions and safety guidelines when using ladders, tools and equipment.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute custom, professional advice. If you need assistance installing insulation, please contact our insulation specialists on 0450 858 568.