Pros and Cons of Roof Access Hatches

woman using guard rail on roof hatch

Installing a roof access hatch for your structure allows your contractor or maintenance person to have easy access to the roof of your building, without having to worry about the security risks that come with exterior wall ladders that anyone can access. Secure roof hatches work for any roof, but we especially recommend them for structures where there is a risk of a break and enter into the premises from the roof or concern that damage to the roof or rooftop equipment could occur during periods of unauthorized access. Wall ladders may seem like the lower-maintenance option, but they require quite a bit more maintenance than roof hatches, and many that are already installed in an older building do not meet current building codes.


Three Main Kinds of Roof Hatches

At Elite, we use Bilco as our main supplier for roof access hatches. With almost 100 years of experience in the production of quality materials and an extended warranty, the product is something that our team stands behind. There are several different roofing hatch options to consider for your building. There are three main delineations for roof access hatches, each with its own benefits. We’ve broken down the most common elements, and how they work for different building requirements.


Ladder Access Roof Hatch

Ladder roof access hatches provide access to the roof by using a fixed interior ladder. Ladder access roof hatches are the standard hatch system for most roofs (in our experience, over 90% of the roof hatches on buildings we service use this hatch).  The hatch itself features a counter-balanced cover design for easy operation. These fully gasketed systems are insulated and weather-resistant and so there’s no need to worry about water leaking in during inclement weather.


  • Interior ladder is secured to the wall, which provides safe access for workers.
  • Engineered with compression spring operators to provide smooth one-handed operation.
  • An automatic hold-open arm locks the cover in the 70-degree position, making it easier for service personnel to get onto the roof with or without equipment.
  • Positive latching system to ensure the security of the building.
  • These hatches are typically made of steel and last 20+ years with normal use.
  • Control of who can access the roof.


  • This kind of roof hatch is small compared to the other options listed here (36”x30”), and may not be best if you need to pull larger items [ie. HVAC replacement parts]  onto the roof from inside the building.
Ship Stair Access


Ship stair access hatches have all of the same features as the ladder access roof hatches with a few key differences, mostly concerning size and accessibility.


  • Ship stair access hatches are wider than ladder access roof hatches: 30″ x 54″.
  • Usually installed with a staircase.
  • This makes it easier to navigate and permits easier movement of personnel, tools, and equipment.
  • Positive latching system to ensure security.
  • Automatic open hold.
  • Control of who can access the roof.


  • Because this type of roof hatch is used with stairs, it’s not as easily placed as a ladder access roof hatch. However, if your roof requires regular maintenance with heavy equipment, it may be worthwhile to make the investment.



Service Stair Access

The largest of the three options (30”x96”) this roof hatch is recommended for buildings where service is a very frequent occurrence and provides the easiest access to the roof for personnel and equipment.


  • Easy access for larger equipment handling.
  • Automatic Open Hold.
  • Roof access control.
  • Positive Latching System.


  • Because of the size, placement for this kind of roof hatch may be difficult, and may not be in a convenient location. 


Other Considerations:

For any of these roof access hatches, a guard rail is necessary if the hatch is located 6 feet or less from the edge of your structure, as illustrated in the image of this article.

For all of the hatch units, it is also important to regularly lubricate all pivoting joints, latches, and the lower portion of the spring housings to maintain the hatch’s ease of opening.

If you’d like more information about how a roof hatch can help protect your building or have questions about the safety of your roof. Contact us here, our experts are available 24/7 to make sure that your roof is always functioning efficiently. That’s the Elite Advantage