At some point in the course of buying a new roof, someone’s going to raise the subject of warranties. Usually it’s the contractor, but not always. Regardless, the conversation is going to take a little time. Warranties are the biggest source of confusion in residential roofing, says Jeffrey Fick, vice president of Fick Bros., in Baltimore. Ron Hall, general manager of Russell Roofing, in Philadelphia’s suburbs, sometimes spends as much as a half-hour explaining how warranties work and how homeowners can best protect their property.
It’s not a simple thing to do. Roofing material manufacturers provide warranties on their products, while residential roofing companies provide a workmanship warranty against installation errors. The length of a manufacturer’s warranty is typically far greater than a roofing company’s warranty on installation. “An issue with the shingle is completely different from an issue with whether or not it’s installed properly,” Fick says.
But there’s more. In honoring a warranty claim, manufacturers promise to not only replace defective materials but to also provide the labor to do so. That doesn’t mean they’re obliged to remedy installation errors, which is covered by workmanship. The typical homeowner, Hall says, doesn’t know the difference.
That doesn’t prevent some roofing contractors from assuring homeowners that the roof they’re about to put on comes with a (take your pick) 25-, 35-, or 50-year warranty against anything and everything that nature or human error can throw at it. What they’re referring to, of course, is the manufacturer’s warranty, which further contributes to the confusion because in some cases that warranty may only be valid if the roofer is certified to install the product. “They mislead the consumer,” Fick says. “They focus on this as a 50-year-warranty shingle, implying that that’s the workmanship warranty.”
If homeowners are misled, it may be not so much by dishonesty as by the roofer’s desire to talk about what seems most impressive. “Most roofers focus on manufacturers’ warranties,” says Kevin Bumstead, owner of Stan’s Roofing & Siding, in Orland, Ill. Which is why Stan’s carefully separates the two. “Our process is: We go over the manufacturer’s warranty, and then we address the workmanship warranty,” Bumstead says.
Three years ago, Bumstead hit on the idea of replacing Stan’s four-year warranty with a 15-year workmanship warranty. To homeowners, that seemed generous to the point of suspicion. “A lot of the feedback I got was that this was a gimmick,” the owner says. He changed the workmanship warranty to 10 years. That’s more than most area roofing companies, which may offer a workmanship warranty of two to five years. Lately, Bumstead says, he’s noticed other area roofing companies extending workmanship warranties. “There are a couple guys out there with 15-year warranties," he says, "so I see it creeping.”
A Warranty Is Not a Guarantee
If all this seems like hair-splitting, it’s far from it to a homeowner who’s laying out serious money to replace a roof and wants assurances that the company will service any problems that occur within a specified period, the longer the better. But what if the company that provided a 10-year workmanship warranty on the roof doesn’t answer its phone? What if that company just went out of business?
“Whether a company gives you a two-, five-, or 10-year warranty,” Fick says, is less important than whether they stand up to it. “From that perspective, the homeowner needs to look more at the track record of the company than at the warranty they’re offering.”
Fick Bros., which celebrates its 100th year in business this year, offers a five-year workmanship warranty on re-roofs. Last year the company spent just $2,300 performing repairs due to its own installation errors. One reason for that negligible amount is that Fick Bros. holds monthly meetings at which production and sales “autopsy” each job in a discussion that includes service calls.
Value & Confidence
Increasingly, manufacturers have stepped into the warranty arena themselves. More than 90 percent of Russell Roofing’s customers purchase a “Golden Pledge” warranty from shingle manufacturer GAF. That’s a 50-year warranty on the manufacturer’s top-of-line products and a 25-year warranty on installation errors. To offer the Golden Pledge, installers must be certified, specify certain ancillary products, register the warranty, and have a roof inspection conducted by the manufacturer. Owners of Exterior Medics, a roofer serving the Virginia and Maryland markets, decided after selling a certain number of Gold Pledge warranties to customers, that every roof the company sells should be installed to Golden Pledge standards. “Why shouldn’t our work last as long as these shingles last?” co-owner Mark Watson asks. That means a 25-year warranty on workmanship in addition to product warranties. So the company not only pays greater attention to installation details—“We require that all subs and employees take pictures of their work,” Watson notes—but it specifies ancillary products that last as long as the shingles do. For instance, instead of using an aluminum pipe collar that will be splitting within 10 years, Watson says, the company uses a pipe collar with a 100 percent silicone base, made to fit the exact size of the pipe, and with a lifetime product warranty.
In a homeowner's mind, the warranty’s principle value is as an assurance that the roofing company not only supplies a quality product, but that it performs a quality installation. “We’re seeing more and more consumers who’ve educated themselves,” Hall says, “and know to ask for a workmanship warranty.”