Q&A / 

Roofing Contractors

DEAR TIM: I’m flummoxed trying to chose between all the roofing contractors in my town. I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about poor workmanship, leaks and rip offs. How can I make sure that I hire the best roofing contractor for the money? What are the top things I should look for when I meet with a residential roofing contractor? I feel so vulnerable and can’t afford to make a mistake hiring a slick salesperson. Rebekah H. Quaddick, CT

DEAR REBEKAH: Your anxiety is shared by tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of other homeowners if my email Inbox is an accurate statistical sampling of the entire country. It’s my belief that this apprehension is rooted in the fact that a vast majority of homeowners don’t really know how roofing systems work, how shingles are installed, the purpose of flashings, etc. because many people have never even stood up on a roof. If you fit this description, you and countless other homeowners don’t know the right questions to ask or know if a roofing contractor is pulling the wool over your eyes in a sales presentation.

This is a fairly normal job site scene when you hire roofing contractors to install a new roof on your home. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This is a fairly normal job site scene when you hire roofing contractors to install a new roof on your home. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

It’s my belief you have to spend some time educating yourself about roofs before you contact roof contractors to come over and look at your house. In fact, you can really save lots of time if you go to the trouble to select the actual roofing material you intend to use. I would visit a business that sells the roofing materials to roofers that you plan to use. Do this mid-morning or mid-afternoon when they are usually not too busy. Ask to speak with the general manager or the owner. Talk to them about which shingle or roofing product they feel is the best value for the money and would work best on your home. Take photos of your house with you that show the roof.

Once you have zeroed in on the roofing material you intend to use, obtain from the manufacturer the written installation instructions for that exact product. In most cases, these are available in seconds by visiting the manufacturer’s web site. Print the instructions and read them. You’ll discover while reading them that certain accessory materials are required to install the roof correctly. Remember, whomever you hire must do all the things listed in the instructions to ensure you end up with a valid warranty.

This may seem like a boring task, but it’s absolutely necessary. You must understand the system so that you can ask the right questions when you interview the different roofing contractors and possibly any salesmen that may come to your home.

Here’s an example of what you might ask. Many asphalt shingles require felt paper or other approved underlayment be put over the wood sheathing. The instructions often say the type of underlayment. Ask the roofers to describe the layers of material they will install, but don’t mention the underlayment by name. See if they describe it perfectly. You can also ask questions about the nails or fasteners that will be used. The written instructions are very clear as to the type and length of the fasteners.

You may inquire about a roofing contractor license. Your state may require this formality. You can get the answer to this from your local building department or state web site that deals with contractor licensing.

As you start to obtain written estimates, make sure you have the contractors bidding on the same material and the same conditions. If you intend to strip off all the old shingles, be sure all contractors will do this. The same goes for any flashings, vents or other materials on the roof. Communicate to all contractors they all will install new flashings or reuse existing ones if in excellent shape. Each roofing contractor will give you an assessment about the flashings after they come down from the roof. Ask each roofer why they feel the way they do about your roof system. See if they will take photos for you of the existing roof if you can’t get up to look at it yourself.

You need to be sure you get copies of all insurance documentation with each bid. The roofers must have general liability and workman’s compensation insurance. Professional contractors will readily supply you with a certificate of insurance showing that the premiums have been paid in advance.

When you get ready to sign a contract with a roofer, be sure that all the things you discussed are in writing on the contract. Specify in the contract the exact materials and color with a line that says, “ .... all materials shall be installed in accordance with the written instructions as provided for by the manufacturer.”

Do not forward any money to the contractor unless the roofing materials you select are special order. The roofing contractor doesn’t pay his employees in advance, nor does he pay for materials in advance. Since this is the case, why should you forward money? Agree to a time table to make partial payments as the work progresses if necessary.

Even if the materials are custom ordered, most professional roofing contractors have credit accounts at the supply houses. It’s fair for the contractor to ask for the money for the custom materials in advance in the event you decide to not install your roof. You can always decide to buy the materials yourself and have them at the job site should you feel uneasy about advancing money.

It may be a great idea to hire a home inspector to look at the final roof job to ensure it was installed correctly. Put this item in the contract and state that the final payment for the work will not be made until the inspector certifies the roof has been installed correctly.

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