If your roof needs to be replaced and you can’t get any solid contractor recommendations from friends, chances are your friends will at least tell you who not to call…
That’s because there’s no shortage of bad contractor stories… everyone’s got one.
When hiring a roofing contractor, finding companies online that have good reviews can be helpful in narrowing your search.
The Roofing Industry Has a Bad Reputation for Good Reason
There are a lot of unqualified people, misrepresenting themselves as “professional roofers.”
Some are knowingly taking advantage of people, using inferior materials and manipulative sales tactics. Others are getting away with doing substandard work because they lack skills and experience or they’re just cutting corners.
The problem is, most homeowners can’t easily determine when a contractor is cutting corners or doing things incorrectly.
However, if you’re prepared with the right questions to ask and you familiarize yourself with the 7 items below, you’ll be able to quickly disqualify many unworthy contractors from the start.
This will save you from lots of potential headaches, inflated costs and wasted time because you’ll have the insights you need to help you hire a solid roofing contractor.
7 Key Things You Need to Know Before You Get a Roofing Estimate
- Shingling over existing shingles is bad.
- The possibility of needing new plywood (decking) needs to be considered.
- How to protect yourself against inflated costs of new plywood (decking).
- Is there a manufacturer’s warranty?
- The 2 types of insurance all roofers should have.
- Is your roofer using subcontractors or his own employees?
- Giving a deposit (how much to put down and when?)
1. Beware of Recommendations to Shingle Over Existing Shingles
Dismiss any roofing contractor that recommends shingling over existing shingles. If a roofer recommends this, then he isn’t interested in doing a good job for you.
That’s because you can never know the integrity of the decking under the shingles without completely “ripping the roof” – even if you can see the underside of the decking from the attic.
Shingling over existing shingles is not something we ever recommend. It stresses your roof because of the added weight and there are too many potential problems that could be hiding under the old shingles.
Don’t be enticed by saving a few bucks up front because it can cost you more down the road if you have problems.
2. Will Your Roof Need New Plywood Decking?
A good roofer will want to strip the roof down to its decking so there are no hidden problems. For this reason, the price you’ve been quoted for the job may change once the roof is “ripped” down to its decking.
Once the condition of your decking is determined, your roofer will decide how to proceed:
- If the decking is in good shape, it can be re-shingled
- If damage is minimal, it can even be repaired…
- If the decking is rotten or has too many soft spots, it may have to be completely replaced or gone over with all new plywood. This is sometimes the only way to ensure that your new shingles stay nailed down securely. Nailing into soft, rotten, wood is a recipe for premature failure.
3. How Much Will New Plywood For Your Roof Cost?
Should your roof need new plywood, it’s essential that costs be outlined in your contract.
Once the roof is opened up, if plywood prices have not been agreed upon and stated in writing, your roofer will be in control…
And you could be in for a shock when he tells you it’s going to be an extra $2,000 to complete the job.
When your roof is open and exposed to the elements… that’s a poor position for you to negotiate from. In the roofing industry, the customer’s cost for the plywood usually includes the cost of installation.
In upstate New York, a fair price for plywood is about $65 per 1/2″ sheet installed and $75 per 5/8″ or 3/4″ sheet installed. However, most reasonable contractors will bring that price down when the number of sheets hits 50 or more…
It’s in the customer’s best interest to negotiate that price before agreeing to the job, otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the roofing contractor.
For example, you could (and you should) ask the contractor up-front, “what’s the best price you can give me on new plywood, should I end up needing to replace the decking?” The more you need, the better the price should be.
It’s important to know the brand of shingles that will be used and what the manufacturer’s warranty is. Sticking with established brands like GAF, Owens Corning and CertainTeed is a safe bet.
If your roofer is certified by a reputable roofing manufacturer, that’s another indicator that he takes his work seriously and will stand behind it.
GAF offers a 50-year warranty (see .pdf) on its roofing products, which we think is pretty darn good.
5. The Right Insurance
When you meet with a roofing company, ask up front if they are carrying proper “roofing liability insurance” (not carpenter’s insurance with a roofing rider). Then ask them if all of their employees are covered with workers’ compensation insurance.
Here’s why this is important. Liability insurance will cover the homeowner or business owner if the contractor does something that results in damage to the home or property.
Workers’ compensation insurance will cover the contractor’s employees if they injure themselves on your property. Without “workers comp” insurance, the property owner could be liable to cover those medical expenses.
If you get a yes on both types of insurance, ask the roofing contractor to fax or email you proof of both types of insurance with his proposal. Asking for proof of insurance is standard practice for commercial roofing jobs. It’s less common for homeowners to ask, but it shouldn’t be.
6. Ask if They Hire Subcontractors
Always ask the roofing company giving the estimate if they use their own employees or they hire subs. One of the ways big roofing contractors are able to take on many roofing jobs at one time is by subbing out work to “hired guns.”
These subcontractors can be smaller companies or individuals hired from pools of roofers with varying levels of skill and experience. Quality ultimately suffers because it’s simply not the priority.
These contractors that hire subs will usually have shorter waiting lists and better prices, but buyers beware…
You really won’t know who is actually working on your roof and you certainly won’t know if they are properly insured unless you get proof.
7. How Much of a Deposit Should You Put Down?
Most good roofing contractors won’t require a deposit to schedule you for a roof replacement. That’s because they are busy and they have the necessary cash flow to run their businesses, order materials, pay their employees, etc.
If a roofing company requires a deposit to put you on their calendar, this could be an indication that they are not a solvent company and it might be a red flag for you as a customer.
A company without cash flow may not be around in the future. So if you ever have a warranty issue, you won’t have any recourse.
Many roofing companies will require 10% of the total job cost to be paid upon delivery of the materials, which is usually the day the job starts.
If a contractor does require a deposit from you to secure a commitment from him, if you trust him, and you feel good about it, we recommend no more than 10% down. A request for anything more for a roof replacement is a red flag for you as the customer.
There are many reputable roofing contractors doing good work and doing the right thing for homeowners, but there are just as many that don’t have the customer’s best interest at heart.
Now that you’re more prepared with some insight, you’ll know what to look for when hiring a roofing contractor.
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