Dirty Little Secrets in Roofing

Dirty little secrets seem to be a frustrating norm and roofing contractors, manufacturers and even homeowners hold their cards close to the vest in what can seem like a cat and mouse game when buying a new roof. Here, ‘ll lay out some raw facts that should help a discerning homeowner make a good decision.

How long will my roof last?

A good roof can last from 18 to 50 years. How long yours lasts will be dependent upon the quality of install and materials as well as regional differences.  Here in Wisconsin, the average roof only lasts 18 to 20 years.

So why the big differences in roofing longevity?

The biggest and easiest to spot differences are in the flashings that a roof has.  For instance, if a roof doesn’t have metal valley flashings in a high precipitation climate like Wisconsin, it’s more likely to have a problem.  Sure, companies who skip the cost of those flashings are going to be able to be cheaper. We’ve even heard companies say that it looks better. While this is acceptable for short valleys (less than 10 feet), roofs that have larger valleys gather larger quantities of water and that water washes the protective granules away over time.  Every valley should have an ice and water barrier under the shingles. A better option is to have the metal “W” flashing in the valleys.  But flashings are only one part of a good roof.

What are the dirty little secrets?

There are actually 2 dirty little secrets when it comes to roofing.  And while I’m not going to do an expose’ about salacious and tawdry roofers, there’s plenty of things the average roof shopper doesn’t know about.

  • Manufacturers:  They know that the average person lives in their house 7 to 10 years. So they’re offering “lifetime” warranties that they represent as 50 year transferrable warranties. But read the small print. They’re transferrable in the first 30 days after the house is sold. Are buyers more worried about draperies and paint in their first 30 days, or a warranty on a roof that may look fine to them?  There’s the Gotcha.  Worse yet, read those warranties. Most of them are worthless after 10 years. Don’t believe me?  Look up any manufacturer and on your favorite search engine followed by “class action lawsuit”.
  • Homeowners: We’ve all heard the horror stories. A homeowner buys a roof, knowing that the real estate agent listed it as having a newer roof. And then it leaks. The amount of people that have requested me to put a roof on that “just has to look good for a year” could fill a book. A good roofer knows to not only walk away from those customers, but run.  If you have a qualified roofer look at your roof, and you’ve actually paid for that inspection (usually anywhere from $200 to $500), you’ve got a pretty good chance of knowing if your roof is of good quality. There rule of thumb for inspecting a roof is a rule of 3.  Are there 3 problematic things on a roof that an inspection will reveal?  Is the chimney flashing a counter flashing?  Where the soil pipes flashed with the appropriate flashings?  Are there valley flashings?  Is there drip edge?  What an inspector can see, will often give hints about what he cannot see.  Find 3 problematic elements and you will
  • Contractors: With an extremely high rate of failure, contractors often exaggerate their credentials or longevity. Further, a contractor may not even be local. That “veteran-owned” contractor may now be owned by a venture capitalist group or even a hedge fund. At very least, make sure their their oldest review lines up with their claims of how long they’ve been in business.

How do I know if I have a good roof?

That is the million dollar question and I wish I could tell you what works best for your climate, but a roof that works great in an arid climate, is going to have different needs than a climate with high precipitation rates or even freezing temperatures. Most of the manufacturers have ventilation calculators on their website which tells you how many vents (that they make) would be necessary, but that begs the question of what their motivations are and corporate profits will drive their messaging. For ventilation, we do like Lomanco, who is not a roofing manufacturer, but who specializes in ventilation. But ventilation is just one of many factors that go into deciding what makes a good roof.  We do recommend looking at active versus passive ventilation which may help you decide what makes the most sense for your home.

What is the shortest roof you ever replaced?

  • Two weeks.  I’ll never forget it.  Two weeks earlier I’d gone out to give an estimate to a nice couple in a ranch style home. They had a chimney project underway at the time and I knew their chimney guy was going to be long since finished before I would be able to get the roof on.  Now I told these homeowners I didn’t do black roofs.  I don’t find them to be ethical and I’ve never done one before and don’t intend to do one. Check out “why black roofs are a horrible idea” for more on that. But two weeks later I got a call and Jo would like me to come back out. That’s a common thing — homeowners often call me back a week or two afterwards so I can write up their order and put their project in the queue.  But I pulled up and they had a black roof. It wasn’t black when I was there last. Of course the first thing that went through my mind is, “they have a new roof, why are they wasting my time”?  Natural right?  But I met them in their back yard.  They explained how their chimney guy had said he could do the work for $30,000 and I had been $39,900.  Then they took me into their house and there were two big industrial fans in their entryway.  Jo said, “look up” and I saw that they no longer had drywall or insulation.  The roof had leaked and their ceiling had collapsed.  The damage alone was more than the difference in price and they would later find out that the chimney guy was not insured.  What’s worse is that there was about 2 cases worth of caulk globbed up on the roof, none of the flashings had been replaced, the flat portion of the roof was not replaced, the back didn’t even have ice and water membrane on it, the gutters were never replaced and the soffit and fascia that we were going to do was never replaced.  But they asked me if I would take on the project.  Only if I can do it right and tear off all of this mess, was my response.  Two weeks later they had everything new.  We put a priority on her project and her tears turned to smiles.  It was a hard lesson, and not one without stress, but they were both happy with the end project.

Well, “the other guy said”…

In an industry where there is an 80% failure after 2 years, and a 95% failure rate after year 3, homeowners need to exercise extreme caution before even inviting a roofer over to their house.  If you haven’t checked them out before you’ve picked up the phone, you haven’t done your “due diligence”. The easiest way to verify if the “the other guy” has actually been in business as long as he claims, is to look on your favorite review website and see if their oldest review lines up with their claims. If we seem a little dismissive of “the other guy”, it’s because the other guy is usually exaggerating their credentials.

We hope this has helped.  We know some of the information in this article is not what you were hoping to read, but now you have some information that, while perhaps complicating your choice, will benefit you in the long run.  But keep in mind, with a 95% failure rate, roofers who wish to stay in business must sell about 1 out of every 3 roofs they price out.  The good guys out there may ask you how many contractors you’ve had look at the project.  In a good contractors mind, there’s a gigantic difference between the “quote collectors” who are having 4 or 5 random contractors out, and a cautious but prudent homeowner who had done some research and wants to have 3 qualified contractors take a look at their project.  It may seem unusual to hear from a contractor, but in whatever state you live in, practicing the Golden Rule and respecting their time as well as your own, will earn you a better chance of working with a good contractor who extend you both respect and kindness as they know it is how you operate as well.

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