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?

May 31, 2017

The majority of roofing failures are installation-related, yet few companies offer anything but a short-term warranty.

Homeowners often have the mistaken impression that the “30-year warranty” that a roofing contractor mentioned to them means that, should there be the slightest problem, someone from the company will come out to fix things, at no charge, for the next three decades. That is, homeowners confuse the manufacturer warranty on product with the workmanship warranty offered by the roofing contractor.

Null and Void

When it comes to roofing manufacturer warranties, you could say that they’re all alike and no two are the same. Thirty-year shingles are engineered to
last that length of time, ditto 25-year shingles, and so on. Generally, though, what the warranty promises is that the manufacturer will replace said product (usually for between 20 to 50 years), sometimes on a prorated 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 have to replace them. 

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 a problem with the installation. “The overwhelming majority of the issues are workmanship-related,” observes Patrick Morin, CEO of Roof Life of Oregon, on the 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.)” And a homeowner with a failed roof, turning to the manufacturer for relief, would quickly learn that such mistakes void the product warranty.

Service Without Charge

This is why, if you’re an informed homeowner, you pay 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 typically doesn’t provide coverage for anywhere near the length of time you’d find in a manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, many contractors only guarantee their work for a year or two. What would a customer make of that: the manufacturer offering a 25-year or even a 50-year warranty on the product while the installing contractor offers a warranty of just one or two years?

Seeing a marketing opportunity, some roofing contractors are extending their workmanship warranties, while others are attempting to clarify how their workmanship warranty and the manufacturer’s warranty differ. 

Veritas Roofing, in western Massachusetts, offers three-, five-, and 10-year workmanship warranties, depending on the type of job. “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 that says: Our installation is so good that we will fix and/or replace the roof if it fails. And 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 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.”

The first and best question a homeowner should ask is about workmaship warranties. When it comes to that, the best of the best will match their workmanship warranty to the manufacturer's warranty on product. 

Tie Product Warranty to Workmanship

Blogger Van Starling at Consolidated Roofing Systems, in Raleigh, N.C., advises that, “As a homeowner looking to replace [your] 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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