We’ve all seen it on flood/hurricane rescue videos, people go on the roof to wave down a chopper/rescue crew.

Let’s say I have to retreat to my attic due to high water, and it keeps rising and I need to get out. How hard is it and what’s needed to break through the average everyday roof to get out?

Assuming that there’s no fan or anything that is more easily broken through than the standard roof.

Pardon a complete lack of experience with roofing other than fixing some leaks with “stop leak” sealant way back. Need some schooling.

Original Post

Not to be snarky, but:  Have a ladder already set to go so you can just climb up when the water starts rising?  Otherwise, stage an axe or battery powered sawzall upstairs.  

A hatchet and a couple of minutes, depending on how motivated you are.

You're going to go through a thin layer of wood (called "sheathing") and then the shingles. Swinging a tool upward in a cramped attic, while trying not to fall through the ceiling, will be the hard part. The roof isn't particularly tough.

Edited to add: Sometimes experience is the best teacher. I  vote that you hack a hole in your roof, then report back to us.


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Sorry but my first thought upon reading the header for this post was Clark Griswold stuck in the attic in "Christmas Vacation."  So maybe some old home movies and some modern warming layers.


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If there is even a slight chance of such high flooding for your home or other places where you stay often, check out the roofing and insulating of the roof beforehand and select proper tools to breach it! Or you will be way behind the curve if something happens.  Also the distance between the room floor and roof. Most likely you will need a folding ladder to work the roof (to wait til one floats under the roof hight enough would really suck). I would stay away from gas- or electric powered tools, there is a good chance they will not work if you need them most desperate. Also have proper PPE, at least a pair of goggles if working overhead, it would really really suck to got ones eyes injured in an emergency! (Trust me I know this, I drove once through the night by myself a nearly 100 Km to the nearest hospital with sawdust in the eyes)

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Yeap dont go to attic!

You know fighting in an attic offers a lot of difficulties.  Number one being you're fighting in an attic

Yes I know I bastardized the quote from Inglourious Basterds

I'm going to suggest a chainsaw.  Do thorough inspection first to decide where you want to cut the hole.  Don't forget, there is usually a wall on the end that you can go through too.  And I'd also stage a ladder to make it a little easier to exit.  Finally, others have suggested a kayak, etc.  I've never done a search for an emergency inflatable raft, but it might be worthwhile.  Something with a compressed air cylinder that you can rapidly inflate once it is outside the attic.  You don't want to cut your way out and then drown as the water rises and you don't have a boat.

standeasy posted:

Depends how long you've got

I’ve had a P-51 opener for years. Thought I had lost it but it showed up in one of my pre-staged go bags late last week. To get excited about a 50 cent item is odd but I’m glad I found it. 

I second the chainsaw with a carbide chain provided it’s kept in good working condition, the main concern being ethanol fuel, you would want to get something like Tool Fuel that is ethanol free. You can’t go wrong with either a sledgehammer or splitting mawl, they work much better at blowing apart the sheathing than an axe which has a tendency to get stuck, and if your good with them you can almost keep pace with a chainsaw.

My attic is 5' high at the peak and consists of plywood, probably 3/4".

To be able to manually open up the roof would be a PITA. I would most likely have to use underhand chops to open it up. Add in my age and cardio condition, it would not be fun.

Granted, I would not allow myself to get into the position in the first place, but shit does happen.

Thanks for the info.

The reason I thought of this whole thing was because I was moving some stuff around in the attic and for some reason the thought came to mind about people on the roof during Harvey. I also have to say that it is highly unlikely where I live that there will be a flood much less water getting past the first floor; I’d also say its more likely that the roof would be blown off by a tornado where I live than getting flooded.

That being said, it still was a thought. Anyway, I came to the conclusion as in a couple posts not to get stuck on the attic. If it would come down to that, its much easier going out one of the upstairs windows than cutting a hole through the attic. I will likely look into some sort of inflatables should that be necessary.

May be a bit of over planning considering where I live but I guess the thought still crossed my mind since I used to live in a flood/hurricane prone area.

Good discussion though.

Roof vents are good starter holes.... I've seen a barricaded guy hiding in the attic stick his head out of one when the chemical agents we pumped up there finally got to be too much for him. 

KUTF posted:

Roof vents are good starter holes.... I've seen a barricaded guy hiding in the attic stick his head out of one when the chemical agents we pumped up there finally got to be too much for him. 

This makes me happy. 

KUTF posted:

Roof vents are good starter holes.... I've seen a barricaded guy hiding in the attic stick his head out of one when the chemical agents we pumped up there finally got to be too much for him. 

Also, the insulation you’re hiding under does not hide you from an angry Malinois

and when you’re in cuffs, there is no way to deal with all that itchy fiberglass.

just FYI.

(I love attics)

Back when I was dragging hose, I could be through a roof in about 50 swings of an 8 pound axe on a good day, or maybe 30 seconds on the saw if the damn thing actually ran (fought that saw for years, apparently it's been replaced with a much more amenable model). But that's a 4 foot square hole for vertical ventilation, you'd need smaller just to get out. You'd also be hacking away with little to no room for a swing, at a cutting level above your head, in a hot, dark attic.

I do not envy the task, especially given your roof construction. Modern is usually OSB, but you could be talking some serious timbers if you live somewhere that might feature on "This old house".

Leot posted:

A shotgun will give you a starter hole. Then some sort of hand saw that cuts on the pull stroke, like a pruning saw. Don't forget hearing protection.


I remember reading at least one story from Katrina, in which a homeowner used a shotgun to blast holes to escape onto the roof.

I couldn't find a story involving a shotgun, but found one about a New Orleans police using his pistol:

When the water threatened to drown him in his own attic, Abbot used his service pistol to blast holes in the roof, then he kicked his way out. After fellow officers reached him by boat and pulled him from his rooftop, Abbot reloaded his pistol and went to work. More than a month would pass before he would get a day off.



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