When heavy spring rains hit, homeowners can see the pounding their roofs are taking. But getting an up-close look at any possible damage is a good idea.

James Kirby, associate executive director/technical communications for the National Roofing Contractors Association, recommends that homeowners get out the old ladder and conduct a simple roof inspection twice a year. Here are five tips on how to do that - and do it safely:

Level the ladder.

Make sure your ladder is on solid, level ground. To assure extra stability, secure the ladder at the top by wrapping a bungee cord once around the rung that is at or just above the gutter level, Kirby says. Then hook the other end of the bungee onto any accessible part of the gutter.

Also, be sure to extend the ladder up at least three feet beyond the gutter, and angle it one foot back from a vertical position for every four feet in eave height. For example, if your ground-to-gutter/eave height is 12 feet, you would want the bottom of the ladder to be three feet back from vertical.

Don't dismiss little things.

Shingles that are buckling, curling or blistering don't necessarily mean that you're going to have a leak and need a new roof, Kirby says. "It means that the roof is beginning to wear out, and you need to start paying attention."

Asphalt-shingle roofs typically have manufacturers' warranties of 25 to 50 years, he says.

Inspect possible trouble spots.

Examine around chimneys, pipes and other penetrations such as skylights. Look for seams that are open and/or missing fasteners. Call a roofer to fix such problems, especially if the roof is still under warranty.

Inside the house, check walls (including those in closets) and ceilings for water damage. It's best to find signs of a leak before big expanses of drywall need to be replaced.

Beware the nitty-gritty.

Look for excessive amounts of shingle granules in your gutters. Granules give shingles added weight and protect them from ultraviolet rays. If you notice sizable amounts of loose granules - beyond the first year's initial loss, which is normal - it's another indication that the shingles are starting to wear out.

Keep gutters clean.

Check them and downspouts at least once or, even better, twice a year. Clogged, heavy gutters that overflow in a rain storm can cause structural damage to your house's foundation in addition to damaging the fascia boards on your roof.

Remove leaves, sticks, needles and seeds with a garden trowel or gloved hand. Don't use a hose for this; downspouts can clog.

Also remove by hand or trowel the pasty goo made up of asphalt granules and water. Then flush with a hose.

To clean downspouts, thread a hose into the opening and turn on the water full blast. Or simply use a spray nozzle turned to the most forceful spray and shoot it down the downspout.

Finally, check gutters after flushing for pools that indicate low spots. Gutters should be sloped about one vertical inch for every 15 to 20 horizontal feet, so they drain properly.

For a free roof-checkup guide or information about how to find a professional roofing contractor, visit

. nrca.net. Homeowners with technical questions also can call 1-800-323-9545.