Choosing a roofing contractor that will install your roofing properly is easily as important as using quality material. Most roofing contractors are reliable craftsmen, but when the economy is growing and/or there is a lot of work to be done, as in areas hit by recent hurricanes, inexperienced roofers look for a piece of the pie.
This guide will arm you with the most important questions to ask a roofing contractor before hiring them. Quite a few sites list questions to ask contractors. We’re different because we also give details about what you should expect to hear from a legitimate roofing contractor that is worth considering for the critical work of roofing your home or business.
Note to hurricane victims: We recommend that you never hire a contractor that comes to you looking for work. Every established roofing contractor in your area has more work than it can handle. Roofing crews are flooding your area from across the country. Many inexperienced roofers and con artists are going door-to-door looking for work or an easy dollar. Your first call should be to FEMA at (800) 621-3362. FEMA can supply you with a list of legitimate roofing contractors that have been screened to ensure they are experienced, licensed and insured. In some areas, FEMA is handling the arrangements for homeowners to have their homes repaired.
Questions to Ask a Roofing Contractor Before Signing a Contract
Your questions should start with general issues about the business and the roofing crew. If the contractor gives satisfactory answers to them, then asking specific questions about the materials, processes and schedule will help you narrow your search for a trustworthy roofing contractor.
General roofing contractor questions and appropriate answers:
Q: How long has the company been in business?
You want a roofer that has “seen it all,” i.e., repaired and installed hundreds of roofs like yours. The owner of the company should have at least 10 years in the roofing business as an owner, preferably, or at minimum working as a crew leader for someone else.
Q: Are you licensed, and can I have a copy of your license?
Most states require contractors to have a license issued by a state agency. In Michigan, for example, it is called the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). In California, it is the California State Licensing Board. When applying for the license, the roofer must demonstrate knowledge and adherence to building codes and proof of insurance. Some states require that the contractor be bonded (see below). Most state licensing agencies allow homeowners to quickly verify online or by phone that the contractor’s license is current.
Q: What happens if a worker falls off my roof, or you damage my home? In other words, does the company have worker’s compensation insurance and liability insurance?
Worker’s compensation insurance covers the employees in case they are injured on the job. Without it, an injured worker is more likely to sue the homeowner to cover medical bills, lost wages and other damages.
Liability insurance covers you if the roofing company damages your home or your property. Some homeowner’s insurance policies won’t pay in such cases.
Q: What happens if you skip out on the job? Are you bonded, and if so, can I see a copy?
Many states require contractors to be bonded. A surety bond is a form of insurance that covers the homeowner financially in circumstances like these:
- The contractor fails to complete the work and the homeowner must hire another roofer to do it
- The contractor fails to pay subcontractors or the crew
- The contractor fails to get a permit for the work, and the city or county bills the homeowner for the permit
- Your home or property is damaged (the surety bond might cover damage before liability insurance will, though it varies by state)
Q: Does the crew know what it’s doing? What training is the crew given?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are “no specific requirements roofers.” Most learned on the job, and are skilled at what they do. Training in a high school vocational program can be a plus.
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That might be the best you can expect if you are having asphalt shingles installed. However, for low-slope and flat roof installations, metal roofing and other specialized roof systems, the crew should have factory training from a major manufacturer of the material – preferably the manufacturer of the material being installed on your roof.
Q: What is the physical address of the business?
If all the contractor can give you is a PO Box or he’s living in his van, the company isn’t legitimate. Working out of a home shouldn’t automatically deter you from considering the roofing company. Some contractors keep prices to homeowners competitive by reducing overhead. It’s worth driving by the business office/yard or the home of the roofing contractor to see if the premises are well-kept. A contractor that is “fussy” about neatness and detail is likely to do a better job on your roof than a sloppy one.
Q: What steps will you take to protect my property?
If roofing is being torn off, it should be deposited onto tarps and then into a dumpster or straight into the dumpster. Gutters, bushes, decks and patios should be covered for protection.
Q: Can I visit a current worksite and see your crew in action?
The answer should be “of course,” and an address should be provided. Go to the site and watch to see if the crew is conducting itself in a professional manner, being careful to dispose of roofing material without damaging property and keeping the site picked up. The contractor might not have received permission from the homeowner to give them as a reference, so you probably shouldn’t knock on the door and start asking the kinds of questions in the next Q.
Q: Can I have a list of three or four references?
Call the references for the short list of contractors you’re still considering after they answer all the questions in this article. Ask the references if the crew started when scheduled and, if not, how many days or weeks was the delay? Be aware that some roofers are in the habit of scheduling jobs for start dates they know they can’t meet. They do it to secure the work. A delay of more than two weeks is not acceptable unless there has been unusually bad weather in your area. Ask the references whether they recommend using the contractor, if the crew respected their property and cleaned up thoroughly and if the final cost was the price quoted. By the way, reviews of some roofing contractors are available on Yelp, Google and the BBB site.
General questions to ask a roofing contractor about the process:
Q: How far out are you scheduling? What percentage of jobs do you start on time?
Some roofers are booked for months, and that might not fit your home remodeling plans. This is a question that could also be asked first if you have an inflexible timeline.
Q: How do you handle payment?
If you’re providing the material, then no payment should be required prior to the completion of the work. When the contractor is supplying the roofing material, giving them a down-payment to cover some or all the material cost is appropriate.
Q: Do you provide a manufacturer’s warranty for materials you supply, and do you labor the installation?
You should understand a manufacturer’s warranty before choosing a material. They vary greatly. Most asphalt shingle warranties have a window of up to 10 years during which the material is covered 100% and then it is prorated downward over the next 15-20 years. Metal roofs have longer warranties. Labor on any roof should be covered by a warranty of at least 12 months so the roof is exposed to a full cycle of seasons.
Q: If you tear off the old roof and find the need to replace some or all the roof deck, what will the cost be?
You want to avoid a scenario in which your old roof has been torn off, exposing the home to the elements, and the roofer tells you the deck needs work and it will be very, very costly. It’s better to know what the estimate might be rather than to get caught in a situation that would make it very difficult to switch roofing companies in the middle of a job.
Q: Will you inspect my roof structure for adequate vents, make suggestions and give me an estimate on needed upgrades?
Properly venting an attic and other space immediately below the roof deck is essential to a healthy home and a durable roof. Moisture and excess heat are very damaging. There is no easier time to add necessary vents than when the home’s roof is being replaced.
General questions to ask a roofing contractor about materials and installation:
Q: Do you have experience installing this specific roofing material and brand?
They should, and the more experience the better.
Q: How many fasteners will you use per shingle, shake or section of metal, and where will you place them?
The right answer is something like, “we use the type and number of fasteners required by the manufacturer, and we place them exactly where the manufacturer specifies.”
Q: What do you do when rain is imminent?
The contractor should be very familiar with weather forecasts and never get caught in an, “uh oh, it’s starting to rain” moment. When rain and/or high winds are expected, a “torn off” or partially completed roof should be securely covered with tarp for protection.
Q: Do you take any special measures in cold weather?
Asphalt shingles can be installed in cold weather, but roofing cement should be applied to each to hold the shingle field in place until proper adhesion to the roof can take place when the weather is warmer.
Q: How will you seal pipe boots, skylights, chimneys and other protrusions?
New flashing should be used wherever it is needed, and the contractor should have proven methods for properly installing materials that will stop water from getting through these very common leak locations.
Q: Will shingles overhang the drip edge and by how much?
Shingles should overhang the drip edge by about ¼” to ensure that rain runs off the roof into the gutter without a chance of backing up beneath the roofing.
It’s a Big Job
Finding a roofing contractor can be a daunting experience. Searching for roofing contractors online or in the phone book produces a long list that would take weeks to narrow down. If you’d like to get quotes from three or four of the top roofing contractors in your area and grill them with these questions, we can help. Select the Free Local Quotes form on this page and enter a few details about the roof project to get started. There is no cost or obligation for using the service.
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