Roof Hatch Types

No one wants to clamber on a ladder placed precariously on the side of a building just to perform some routine maintenance. On many buildings with multiple floors, often the stairwell will continue up to the roof where a simple doorway will grant roof access. However, this takes up more space, not to mention more cost and materials, and won't even work for businesses that only have one floor.

To save on space, cost, and materials, you use a roof hatch. They're found all over the place and play a vital role when it comes to construction in general.

Roof hatches provide easy access to the roof on buildings that don't have the benefit of having a stairwell that can be extended to the rooftop, whether from the building's construction or if it is currently under construction. They offer a safe and reliable way to get to any roof where they are installed, where they also have the benefit of being pre-fabricated, and thus simple to install during construction—so long as everything is measured and prepared correctly. Typically they take the form of hatches laid against the roof itself with or without a built-in ladder or access method.

Roof access falls into several roof hatch types, as are listed below. From ladder access to full heavy equipment access, there are plenty of options available. They are easy to divide into two major groups—single leaf and equipment access, with the method of access falling into sub-categories. After that, you can discuss various options and extras to better tailor your roof access to your particular architectural needs.

(Throughout this article, you will see colored hyperlinks showing various products and websites. These are not necessarily endorsements or recommendations for purchases, but they are chosen to give a more detailed idea than can be conveyed in this article as well as showing sources for additional information on roof access options and installation.)

Single Leaf Hatch

These are the standard types of roof hatches and are more of a general classification than any particular brand or type. It's very straightforward—literally, anything with a single door that swings up and out classifies as a single leaf hatch. These are by far the standard sort of roof hatch and cover a variety of different brands and designs.

Single leaf hatch refers more to the hatch itself, and any differences not covered by specific brands or construction lie in how you get to the roof hatch in the first place: ladder access, ship stair, and service stair.

Ladder Access

These types of hatches are fairly commonplace in single-story buildings—there simply isn't much of a reason to install an entire staircase in a business that won't make much use of it after all. The ladder access hatch is best at saving space at the cost of limiting what equipment can pass through and who can use it. It really isn't really designed with frequent use in mind. You may see this in a restaurant, where space is best taken up by equipment, and there isn't much need to go on the roof except for decorating for holidays and special events.

Depending on what you choose, there exists the option of a fold-down, sliding or stationary ladder depending on how out of the way you want it to be. In general, however, it will look something like this.

Where these hatches fall short is precariousness—these are the easiest to fall from, especially if you are infirm. If you want to carry something to the roof without having someone pass it to you then forget it—you'd need both hands to actually climb the ladder. These can be a hassle to deal with on the rare occasions that you have to use them. Generally, however, these should still allow for regular maintenance on the occasions you need it.

Ladder access hatches are a common form of roof access, and save the most space and cost for what they offer. Carrying any tools and equipment up to the roof is a hassle, often requiring another person to aid the individual, or for the item to be carried in a bag or harness.

Ship Stair

Not meant only for ships, these hatches have an angled ladder that better allow users to step upwards while carrying something. These are the types of disappearing stairways that you commonly see leading up to attics in homes. Ship stair hatches are essentially a compromise between the space-saving ladder access and the larger service stair. A diagram that can better illustrate what it might look like can be found here.

These work best if you have to use the roof frequently for whatever reason, but still need to save as much space as possible. Most models allow for the ladder to fold upwards, again, like in attic access.

Ship stair access hatches are an excellent compromise between service stair and ladder access hatches, sacrificing some space for the ability to easily carry tools and items to the roof. However, they don't generally make allowance for heavy equipment.

Service Stair

Like the ship stair, these are best if you expect frequent traffic or wish to have an employee easily gain access to the roof with some equipment to perform a given task. In fact, any able-bodied individual can use these hatches without fear. These are ideal for construction sites, industrial sites or any other area where heavy equipment may need to be moved to and fro. This especially includes units that require the aid of multiple people to move.

However, this does come at the cost of space. The only hatches that require more room are double leafed equipment access hatches, and at this point, you may wish to extend a stairwell if you have it. The hatch itself is oftentimes elongated horizontally to allow an individual to walk out semi-upright, which helps with carrying items.

Service stair hatches are the most accessible of all hatch types and allow for heavy equipment to pass through. The only cost to these is space, which may be at a premium depending on your location, as the stairs are often stationary and the hatch itself is elongated to compensate.

Equipment Access

Equipment access hatches are the largest of the roof hatch types and are specifically designed for allowing the movement of heavy equipment. These fall under their own category due to the fact that they may have two doors and can take up a multitude of sizes and specific shapes, depending of course on the make and model. Equipment access hatches are typically paired with either ship stair or service stair access. These are best for industrial businesses and also shine in areas under some sort of remodeling or construction.

Of course, being double-leaf means that these take up the most space. On one hand, this means that heavy equipment and a great deal of personnel can enter and exit through. On the other, space may be at a premium for you. You should only get this type if you think you will have a specific need for it.

Equipment Access hatches are its own category of roof access, mainly crossing over with ship stair and service stair, that allows for the passage of heavy equipment and most individuals. They take up the most room and include models with more than one door.


Fire Rated Hatches

Less concerned about the look of things, this option is more concerned with safety. These feature specialized insulation and are rated to slow or even halt the growth of a fire. Dedicated fireproofing is more common in floor hatches than in roof hatches; still, in the case of an emergency, these can help protect anyone stranded by encroaching flames.


This is more unusual, as any ladders or stairwells to a skylight typically ruin the aesthetic and very point of the skylight in general. Typically this is only done when the owners of the building have a free-standing ladder that they can use to get to the hatch in the first place, or they have a lack of space to hide the hatch elsewhere in the building. You may also consider this if you have a roof that isn't completely flat, and there runs some risk of the hatch being visible to people on the street.

Although relatively rare, it has been seen before, and there are companies that offer it.

Recessed Hatches

These access points have a reduced curb or lip, which means they won't stick out of the surrounding rooftop and be unsightly. Again, these are more common on roofs that might be angled—though for angled roofs there might be at least one place where the roof is flat and equipment and fans can be tucked away just out of sight. Like the fire-rated hatches, these are more common as floor hatches, but the option exists if you seek out a seller that will offer custom jobs.

Safety railing

This is important for hatches that see a lot of frequent use, as a matter of following health and safety guidelines. Most companies that produce roof hatches will offer railings the correct dimensions for any product they offer, so shopping for these isn't too difficult. Some companies even offer safety rails that fold down, and a typical example of this can be found in this product demonstration video.

There are plenty of different ways to attach safety rails, even a simple safety post can often be added. Safety posts allow for individuals to safely move to and from ladder access hatches by providing a secure hand-hold.

When it comes to options for roof hatches, there are quite a few to choose from. It all depends on what your needs are—whether you want the hatch hidden away so as to not be visible, perhaps if you want it to double as natural light, and what health and safety concerns you may have. There are also additional things to consider, such as the finish on the product, what metal they are constructed with, (whether plain steel, aluminum or whatever else) what the curb size is, and so on.

From single to double leaf, different access methods, and even optional skylights, there are many different roof hatch types with a multitude of different makes, models, and options for consideration. That being said, choosing isn't so difficult: just ask yourself, what are your needs for the building you are working on? What look and construction fit with your building type? And finally, how often will you actually need it and what for? Just ensure you follow the proper guidelines for installing access points, and you'll be golden