Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The homeowner who was assured that his or her new roof would last 25 or 30 years is not going to be happy when deterioration is evident or leaks develop only five, seven, or 10 years later. A rarity? Not at all.
Horacio Kusnier, owner of K&B Home Remodeling in New Jersey, estimates that “40 percent of [his] roofing business is replacing roofs that are under 10 years old,” despite the typical warranty for shingle roofs lasting anywhere between 30 and 50 years. “Every one,” he says, “is an installation issue.”
Ventilation: First Go-To
Replacing the roof is not an inexpensive proposition. A new shingle roof will run anywhere from $350 to $500 per square, depending on the market. Kyle Hoffman, owner of Roofing & More, in Herndon, Va., can spot a failing roof immediately: “Excessive granular loss, seal failure, and premature curling,” he says, signal a roof in decline. High-end roofing products such as slate, metal, tile, or wood shakes tend not to have those problems—it’s asphalt shingle roofs that fail early.
“It’s quite common,” says Mark Watson, co-owner of Exterior Medics, an exterior remodeler in Springfield, Va., about premature roof failure. When it happens, he says “ventilation is my first go-to.” Inadequate or nonexistent ventilation essentially produces “a buildup of temperature in the attic” that bakes shingles at temperatures of 150° F from underneath, while the sun is roasting them overhead.
A second and related issue, Watson says, is excessive buildup of moisture: the product of improperly directed bathroom fans, which causes sheathing (plywood or OSB) to soften or rot. It’s why, he points out, his company’s estimators head to the attic.
Roofing to spec will take a little more time. Kusnier estimates maybe another half day to cut in ridge or gable vents, unplug soffit vents jammed with insulation, and install flashing and ice and water shields wherever there’s potential for ice damming.
“Instead of taking the time to replace existing flashing and do things right, they get a caulking gun and silicone and keep on going," he says. "It’s negligence. They didn’t get paid enough to do a good job, and they just don’t care. After a few years, the sealant comes off and water goes in.”
Weather Events and Maintenance
But workmanship isn’t always at fault. Where you live comes into play, too. Ken Kelly, owner of Kelly Roofing in Naples, Fla., points out that while 47 percent of premature roof failures can be attributed to poor workmanship—a figure he credits to the National Roofing Contractors Association—the biggest cause is natural disaster, such as storm-related damage that can devastate even roofs installed precisely to spec. “Here we are in Hurricane Alley after a direct hit from Irma," he says, "and we are absolutely having that conversation with homeowners today."
Also at fault, Kelly adds, is lack of maintenance. “People put on a roof that they’re told will last 25 years, and they’ll think about it again at year 25," he says. "That’s like driving your car in first gear and never changing the oil.” Homeowners don’t want to be bothered to maintain a roof, figuring that it takes care of itself. If they inspected it regularly, Kelly says, and “cleaned out those gutters,” they could correct minor installation defects, such as flashing that’s not lapped correctly, before they turn problematic.
When Shingles Fail
While premature roof failure can be attributed to faulty installation or weather events, there are situations where the product is at fault. A decade back, John M. Rogers, president of Rogers Roofing, in Hammond, Ind., found himself facing a situation in which thousand of roofs his company had installed using CertainTeed organic shingles were prematurely failing.
A class action lawsuit was filed against the manufacturer by those who owned homes prior to December 15, 2009, that at any point in time contained CertainTeed organic shingles manufactured after July 1, 1987. Homeowners had until October 2, 2011, to submit claim forms after CertainTeed settled.
“When we found out about the class action lawsuit,” Rogers says, “we sent out a letter to all our past customers, stating that the shingles we’d put on their house had been deemed defective by a court.” Rogers Roofing offered to assist those customers in filing a claim as part of the suit, to take shingles off the roof and mail them in as evidence, and to discount the work involved in reinstalling a new roof.
“I filed over 1,000 warranty claims in a five-year period,” Rogers says. “I still can’t believe the amount of wonderful feedback we received by being proactive. It could’ve been a disaster for us, if we’d put our head in the sand and hoped [past customers] didn’t call us. As much as you want to run from it, you can’t believe the amount of goodwill we got from it.”
After 2005, all shingles sold by CertainTeed were fiberglass shingles, and Rogers Roofing remains a prominent CertainTeed customer. Rogers says he is happy to recommend CertainTeeds’s Five-Star Warranty. “If you use all their materials—underlayments, shingles, and ventilation—and are credentialed and certified," he says, "I can give [you] a 50-year, non-prorated warranty covering labor, materials, tear-off, and disposal, and back my workmanship for 25 years.”
Manufacturer and Municipal Oversight
Khris Reynolds, owner of AMDG Exterior Contracting, in Springfield, Pa., says he sees a lot premature roof failure in the suburbs south of Philadelphia. Everything from nail pops to a failure by roofers to properly ventilate the attic or space the shingles correctly can be the culprit.
Reynolds recently sold a job to a woman whose attic was filled with black mold, under a roof that had been installed only eight years prior. “They did not install the proper ventilation," he says, "and that, in connection with the lack of insulation, causes moisture and condensation to form."
Many roofing contractors are unaware of the building science that goes into a healthy, functional roof that lasts close to as long as the manufacturer says it will. Reynolds and others think there needs to be better education of roofers on the potential causes of premature failure.
Kusnier attributes much premature roof failure to haste and the pressure to finish the job that day, but he thinks there's a bigger part at play, too: lack of training. "It’s not that they want to purposefully screw up a job," Kusnier says. "They actually think it’s the right way, that they did the best job.”
He and others blame local municipalities for failing to enforce code standards with rigorous inspections. But those inspections are tough to pull off: Kelly points out that when you compare the number of roofs being replaced to the number of inspectors, it’s a mathematical impossibility.
Reynolds feels manufacturers also need to take responsibility. “Instead of walking everyone through a certification process so they can slap a badge on their website, (manufacturers) should require contractors to sit down and learn, in a classroom," he says. "Then, take a test.”