Contributions by consumer advocates, legal professionals, and industry insiders
How to Head Off Problems with Roofing Contractors Before They Occur: 8 Tips
The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) responds to a large number of
requests for technical assistance each year. Of those calls, approximately 20 percent
are from homeowners. Many are complaints or concerns with the business practices
of roofing contractors. As a trade association, we cannot get involved in matters
between contractors and homeowners, nor do we attempt to mediate disputes. However,
from experience we can offer tips on how to work with roofing contractors and hopefully
prevent some of the problems from occuring.
Tip #1: Hire a professional roofing contractor.
NRCA has developed the following checklist to help consumers select professional roofing contractors. A professional roofing contractor should have:
- A permanent place of business. A professional roofing contractor should have a permanent address, telephone and tax identification numbers, and a business or roofing license (where required). A professional contractor should tell a homeowner or building owner how many years his or her company has been in business and provide a license or registration number(s) where applicable.
- Knowledge of various roof systems. A professional roofing contractor will be able to help homeowners and building owners choose the right roof systems for their buildings and budgets, using quality materials produced by reputable manufacturers. A professional roofing contractor will explain his or her project supervision and quality control procedures, the name of the person who will be in charge of the project, how many workers will be required and the estimated time of completion. An owner should feel comfortable with the roof system and procedures a contractor recommends.
- Proof of insurance and an effective safety program. A homeowner or building owner should ask for proof of insurance and make sure it includes workers' compensation and general liability coverage. A professional roofing contractor will submit copies of his or her insurance certificates when asked and have a comprehensive safety program in place.
- Evidence of industry professionalism. A homeowner or building owner should check to see whether the contractor is a member of any industry associations, such as NRCA, as well as check for any complaints filed with the local Department of Professional Regulation, the state contractor licensing department, or the Better Business Bureau.
- Continuing industry education. A homeowner or building owner should ask about a contractor's commitment to education and training. Professional roofing contractors attend seminars, conferences and trade shows offered by industry associations and organizations. They employ trained workers who understand the importance of quality.
- Financial stability. A homeowner or building owner should choose a company that is financially stable. An owner should ask for information about a company's financial condition.
- A license and/or bond. Many states require roofing contractors to be licensed; many contractors are bonded by surety companies. A homeowner or building owner should ask for a contractor's license number and evidence of bonding ability, as well as the bonding agent's name and address. A homeowner or building owner also can call his or her state's licensing board for the state's specific requirements.
- References. A homeowner or building owner should ask for the names and telephone numbers of a roofing contractor's recent clients, inquire about other work in progress and find out whether clients are satisfied with the contractor's performance.
- A maintenance program. When roofing work is complete, a professional roofing contractor will follow up with periodic inspections to ensure potential trouble spots are fixed. Many professional roofing contractors offer maintenance contracts to ensure long-term roof system performance.
Tip #2: Get educated.
You should become acquainted with roofing terms and roofing material types before meeting with roofing contractors. It also will help you when you are reviewing proposals. Homeowners can learn about the different roof coverings and commonly used roofing terms by visiting the Consumer section of the National Roofing Contractors Association’s website.
You’ll also find a wide range of information and services on our site to help building owners and homeowners make informed decisions about replacing and maintaining their roof systems.
Tip #3: Obtain a detailed, written proposal with a workmanship warranty.
Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. The following is a partial list of items your estimate or proposal should include:
- The type of roof covering, manufacturer and color
- Materials to be included in the work, e.g., underlayment, ice dam protection membrane
- Scope of work to be done, such as:
- Removal or replacement of existing roof
- Flashing work, e.g., existing flashings to be replaced or re-used, adding new flashing, flashing metal type
- Ventilation work, e.g., adding new vents
- Who is responsible for repairing/replacing exterior landscape or interior finishes that are damaged during the course of the work
- Installation method
- Approximate starting and completion dates
- Length of warranty and what is covered, e.g., workmanship, water leakage
A professional roofing contractor should provide warranties for workmanship and explain manufacturers' materials warranties to protect an owner's investment. Typical warranty lengths are 1-2 years.
- Payment procedures
It’s not a good idea to pay the entire sum before any work is done. An unscrupulous contractor may just take your money and run. The contract you sign ought to contain information on payment terms. Typical agreements will have you pay a percentage upfront and then pay the remaining amount upon completion of the work. It is also advised to not pay in cash. Instead, write a check or, if possible, use a credit card so you have a record of payment.
Unfortunately, there are consumers who hire companies based on a verbal agreement or just by a handshake. It’s in your best interest to have a signed contract before any work commences.
Tip #4: Get several estimates.
The price of a new roof system varies widely, depending on such things as the materials selected, contractor doing the work, home or building, location of the home or building, local labor rates and time of year. To get a good idea of price for your roof system, get three or four proposals from reputable contractors in your area. Keep in mind that price is only one factor, and it must be balanced with the quality of the materials and workmanship.
For each roofing material, there are different grades and corresponding prices. There also are a variety of styles and shapes. You need to look at the full product range and make a choice based on your budget and needs.
Within the roofing profession, there are different levels of expertise and craftsmanship. Insist on a contractor who is committed to quality work.
If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many fly-by-night contractors' below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contractors often are uninsured and perform substandard work. If an estimate is confusing, ask the contractor to break down the estimate into items/terms you can understand.
To assist homeowners in finding roofing contractors, NRCA offers a service that locates NRCA-member professional roofing contractors in specific geographic areas. NRCA’s website allows consumers to search for roofing contractors by ZIP code, type of roof system and radius.
Tip #5: Read before you sign.
Believe it or not, we hear stories from consumers who sign contracts without reading them first. A signed contract is a legal agreement between you and the roofing contractor. NRCA often receives complaints that a roofing contractor didn’t do what the homeowner expected them to do. Examples include: neglected to do certain work items and it turned out that the items were not included in the contract; the wrong color or type of shingle was installed; or the roofing contractor used a different type of metal flashing. A detailed, written proposal can confirm what is involved with your roofing project.
Another situation to be aware of is a roofing contractor asking you to sign an agreement that allows them to look at your roof. This commonly occurs with contractors that come knocking on your door after a storm event. However, there have been circumstances where this so-called agreement is actually a document that states you are obligated to hire the roofing company or you are allowing them to work directly with your insurance company. We are aware of cases where the homeowner did not read it before they signed and were caught in an unfortunate situation.
Tip #6: Beware of storm chasers.
Often following a natural disaster, unprofessional contractors will try to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. Take some time to evaluate potential contractors before any reroofing work begins. See Tip #1 for selecting a professional roofing contractor.
Be wary of any contractor:
- Whose references are all out of state;
- Who only wants cash;
- Who wants the entire amount upfront;
- Who wants money before materials are on site;
- Who offers “specials” or “extra-cheap” work;
- Who states their proposal is good for only one day.
Tip #7: Make sure you are completely satisfied before you make final payment.
When a project is done, a roofing contractor will ask for final payment. Before you make that payment, examine your roof with your roofing contractor and verify that all of the work included in the contract has been completed and that the job is done to your satisfaction. A roofing contractor will be more motivated to do any uncompleted work if he/she hasn’t been paid yet.
Tip #8: Keep good records.
Make sure you retain all of the paperwork and keep it in one place where you can easily find it.
This includes a copy of the contract, change orders, correspondence and the manufacturer’s warranty. It is also a good idea to keep a log of all phone calls, conversations and activities. You also might want to take photographs, especially if your project involves an insurance claim. Having good documentation will come in handy in case a problem arises.
Getting a new roof can be an overwhelming experience. Hopefully these tips will help you navigate through the process and avoid the problems homeowners sometimes have with roofing contractors. If you have questions or require technical assistance with a roofing project, NRCA’s Technical Services Section is here to help. You can reach us at 847-299-9070.
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