What to look for when hiring a roofer

At A Glance

Many homeowners share this anxiety over choosing a roofer. I attribute this apprehension to the fact that most homeowners don’t really understand how roofing systems work. They don’t know how shingles are installed, the purpose of flashings, and so forth, …

In Depth

Many homeowners share this anxiety over choosing a roofer. I attribute this apprehension to the fact that most homeowners don’t really understand how roofing systems work. They don’t know how shingles are installed, the purpose of flashings, and so forth, in part because they’ve never even stood up on a roof. If you fit this description, you probably don’t know the right questions to ask and can’t tell if a Roofing Contractor is pulling the wool over your eyes in a sales presentation.

Your first step should be to spend some time educating yourself about roofs. Do it 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, you can find these within 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, as well as 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 specify 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 also very clearly specify the type and length of the fasteners needed.

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.