Roofing Warranties: Straightening Out the Confusion

The term “warranty” may be used quite a bit in a roofing sale, but do homeowners actually understand what’s meant by it?

September 22, 2016
roof warranties—materials and installation

Photo: Pixabay

A new roof isn’t cheap these days, which is why many contractors increasingly see sticker shock reactions from homeowners to their roof-replacement proposals. No surprise. The cost of renovating a home always goes up, and roofing material costs have steadily risen through the past decade.

The fact that a roof is that much more expensive makes the warranty that contractors offer yet more meaningful and important to their customers—or it should. But homeowners often have the mistaken impression that the “30-year warranty” or “50-year warranty” that the contractor mentioned means that for just that long someone from his company will come right out to fix things, at no charge, should there be the slightest problem. That is, homeowners confuse the manufacturer warranty, on product, with the workmanship warranty offered by the roofing contractor—the warranty that promises service in the event that that problem is the result of installation error.

Null and Void

About roofing manufacturing warranties, it might be said that they’re all alike and no two are the same. Warranties vary greatly, and that makes sense. Thirty-year shingles are engineered to last that length of time, given certain conditions, ditto 25-year shingles, and so on. Generally, though, what the warranty promises is that the manufacturer will replace said product (usually for anywhere from 20 to 50 years), sometimes on a pro-rated basis, should the product prove to be defective. That means that if by some strange quirk those newly installed shingles simply disintegrate, the manufacturer would be obligated to provide new ones.

But the likelihood of the product actually failing is remote. Manufacturers and insurance companies know—and so do residential roofers—that when a roof fails, it’s almost always the result of construction defects, that is, installation. “The overwhelming majority of the issues are workmanship related,” observes Patrick Morin, of Roof Life of Oregon, on that company’s website. “Here’s why: Most roofing companies pay their installers for the speed of their installation and fail to provide proper on-site management of their crews. The resulting mistakes result in roofs being installed with problems that don’t show up until the 6th year. (This is the national average as reported by the National Roofing Contractor Association.)”

A homeowner with a failed roof, turning to the manufacturer for relief, would quickly find out that such mistakes void the product warranty. In addition, roofing manufacturers issue detailed installation instructions, and if the roof fails—in the first year, the sixth, or the 15th—and it can be demonstrated that those installation instructions weren’t followed, the product warranty is similarly voided.

Service Without Charge

This is why, if you were an informed homeowner, you’d be paying a lot more attention to the roofing contractor’s workmanship warranty. It’s where the rubber meets the roof, so to speak. If something goes wrong with the roof, the installer’s company is the one you would call. But the workmanship warranty offered by many roofing companies—which essentially promises service without charge for the stated period of coverage—typically doesn’t provide that for anywhere near the length of time you’d find in a manufacturer’s warranty. “Many contractors offer one year or two years of coverage,” notes blogger Jim Thomson, on the website of residential roofer Sully-Jones Roofing, in El Cajon, Calif.

What would a customer make of that: the manufacturer offering a 25-year or 50-year warranty on the product while the installing contractor offers a warranty of just one or two years on the installation of said product? (Sully-Jones Roofing offers workmanship warranties of “up to 20 years.”)

Seeing a marketing opportunity, more roofing contractors are extending their workmanship warranty, according to an article on consumer review site Angie’s List, which does a fairly good job of differentiating types of roofing warranties for its homeowner members. Typically, the author notes, roofers offer a one- or two-year workmanship warranty on a new roof, but with the stipulation that theirs must be the only company working on that roof.  

Some roofing companies attempt to clarify for website visitors how their workmanship warranty and the manufacturer warranty on product are different. Veritas Roofing, in western Massachusetts, offers three-, five-, and 10-year workmanship warranties, depending on whether the work is repair or roof replacement. “These are IN ADDITION to warranties offered by manufacturers and are given at NO EXTRA COST to you!” the company states on its website, since (clearly) homeowners confuse the two.

Companies offer warranties with the expectation, or at least the hope, that they will never have to honor one. A roofing warranty is a declaration of confidence and a promise, which says: Our (product) (installation) is so good that we will (replace) (fix) it if it fails.

That promise becomes an incentive not to fail. So more and more roofing contractors, such as Christian Brothers Roofing & Exteriors, in Kansas City, Kan., have gone to the 10-year workmanship warranty. “Because we hire the best roofing installers in the area, we guarantee our workmanship,” the company's website says, adding: “We are confident in our quality control systems, materials and processes and offer a 10-year warranty on all roofs we install. (Did we mention our owner personally visits each job site?) We stand behind our work immediately after it’s finished … and for the decade to come.”

Once in a Lifetime

Some shingle manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on their best products. It’s a powerful marketing message because it implies that the purchaser will never have to worry about the roof failing. But even while some roofers are extending their workmanship warranties to five years, 10 years, or 20 years, few would offer a lifetime warranty on workmanship. What, exactly, does "lifetime" mean? All the minutes you ever live? Actually, it can mean, for the purposes of a warranty, whatever it is defined as meaning. It could mean, for instance, the length of time the homeowner who bought the product lives in the house. Or, lifetime could mean the lifetime of the actual product, regardless of who the homeowner is.

But either may be somewhat less than the length of time that the roofing company that installed the product is going to be in business, as Roof Life of Oregon’s CEO Patrick Morin points out on the company's website: “The sad part of most workmanship warranties is that they will only last as long as the company which makes them. The National Roofing Contractor Association also reports that 70% of all roofing contractors are out of business in 2 years with 90% of them failing in 7 years. A high number of disgruntled technicians who start their own contracting companies seem to be the main reason for this alarming statistic.”

Tie Product Warranty to Workmanship

Blogger Van Starling at Consolidated Roofing Systems, in North Carolina, advises that “… not all roofing companies are created equal. As a homeowner looking to replace their roof, always ask questions about installation practices, materials used and check local references.”

Others advise that the first and best question a homeowner should ask is about workmanship warranties. When it comes to that, the best of the best will match their workmanship warranty to the manufacturer’s warranty on product. On its website, Woodberg Roofing, in Denver, explains this in a way the head-scratching homeowner can comprehend: “While most Denver roofing contractors keep their workmanship warranties short in length (1-5 years), Woodberg Roofing guarantees our workmanship for any defect in installation for the LIFETIME of the product. That’s right, any defect in your new roof installation and/or workmanship will be repaired or replaced by Woodberg Roofing at ZERO cost to you! This protects you, the consumer against potential labor costs associated with any defect or issues with your new roof installation. Whether you choose Woodberg Roofing or another Denver roofing contractor, be sure to ask how long they guarantee their workmanship—if it’s not for the lifetime of the new roof, then you should seriously consider Woodberg Roofing for your new roofing project!”

About the Author


About the Author


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 coryjim@earthlink.net.

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