Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Roofer

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Does handing over $7,500 to a stranger make you nervous? And what if that stranger was about to rip your roof right off from over your head? No wonder that choosing and hiring a roofer is so stressful. To get some much-needed guidance on roof repair and replacement, we went directly to the pros. Meet David Yates of Crestmark Roofing & Construction in Georgia and T.J. Prime of Kings Roofing in Florida. T.J. and David demystified the process, giving us solid information, helpful tips, and a step-by-step guide to finding a contractor for one of the biggest costs of your life. 

Here’s a detailed look at how to choose a roofer, from vetting candidates to evaluating estimates to working with your insurance.

How to Find Qualified Roofers

Before you can vet roofers, though, you have to find them.

First, go to friends, neighbors, and family. Have they had their roof replaced recently? Were they happy with the job? Online sources such as Networx, Better Business Bureau, and Google reviews can give ideas for more candidates. And your insurance agent may have a recommendation or two.

At this point, you may have ten names or more. That may seem overwhelming, but you’re going to whittle down that list quickly. Before you ever speak to a roofer, go to online reviews or roofer websites to check out their qualifications.

Certain qualities are no-exception, must-haves:

    1. Licensed – A license shows permission to do business in your state. Work done by an unlicensed company won’t have the necessary permits and may not be covered by your homeowner’s policy. 

    2. Insurance - Liability insurance protects you if the contractor damages your home. Worker’s comp insurance saves you from liability if a worker is injured.

      PRO TIP: “If a roofer hesitates about sending you his license or insurance information, be suspicious,” cautions T.J. “You don’t want to be the client whose roofer took a 50% deposit and then disappeared to another state, leaving you with only a business card that was printed an hour ago.”

    3. Bonded – If the roofer is bonded, you’ll be compensated financially if the roofer doesn’t finish the job or does it poorly. 

    4. Local – A local roofer will be there next month or next year if something goes wrong with your roof.

    5. In business for at least three years – Five years is even better. Ten or more years is best. These businesses have proven staying power and will be around to honor your warranty for years to come. 

“So many roofers are just fly-by-night,” says David. “They come into the neighborhood when a storm comes in. Then you call them afterward, and the number is disconnected.” 

Other qualifications are a plus, although you don’t have to rule out roofers without them:

  • Certified or accredited by manufacturers
  • Great online reviews
  • Awards from online sites or local media

Interviewing Roofers

The next step is to go through your list and notes to choose three roofers to interview. Eliminate any roofers who don’t meet the basic qualifications. Give bonus points to roofers with excellent reviews or personal recommendations.

Sometimes homeowners think they’ll do better by interviewing five, six, or even ten candidates. But both David and T.J. warn that it will waste everyone’s time and paralyze you into indecision. “When you get into 5 or 6 estimates, you start to cloud your own judgment,” says T.J.

When you speak to a roofer, ask about any qualification questions you couldn’t find answers to online. Contractors should be happy to provide you with that information immediately.

Does the roofer have experience with the kind of roof you want? All roofers do asphalt shingles, but metal, slate, or tile are trickier.

Request references for the last three jobs in your area. (Not giving references is another red flag!) Visit those addresses to check out the roof. You won’t have a professional eye, but even a layperson can spot a shoddy job:

    • Do the shingles lay flat and line up neatly. 
    • Is there a ridge vent? Leaving old ventilation systems is a sign of carelessness. 
    • Pipe boots are covers that protect your roof from moisture and other debris that may come out of the pipe or seep in around the pipe. Are the pipe boots replaced and in good repair?

PRO TIP: “When looking at a roof, pay close attention to the valleys and the eaves. Even in those spots, the edges of the shingles should be uniform and neat," David points out.

If you’re satisfied with what you see and hear, request an estimate. 

Some contractors may call it a proposal, but it’s usually the same thing: An unsigned, non-obligatory document explaining what the roofer will do, when he’ll do it, and how much it will cost. Estimates will give options for different materials and upgrades.

Evaluating Estimates and Proposals

You now have three estimates in hand. It’s time to evaluate your options and choose a roofer.

Estimates have different formats, but certain items should be clearly spelled out in any estimate:

    1. Price – Price is often a homeowner’s most important consideration. When assessing cost, calculate the price per square foot for like materials. Otherwise, you may be comparing apples and oranges.

      This is also the time to ask about financing options. (See more on prices below.)

      PRO TIP: According to T.J., “If you get two or three estimates and two of them are around the same but one of them is outlandish, there’s probably something wrong with that one. Trust your gut.”

    2. Materials - What type of shingles, underlayment, flashing, and pipe boots will the contractor use? Every material should be specified, including the product type and manufacturer. (See more on materials below.)

    3. Warranty – Not all warranties are created equal. A warranty may be for as little one year or as long as the lifetime of the roof. Be sure to read the fine print of any warranty for exclusions.
      Many materials come with their own warranties, but only if installed correctly. Your roofer should be familiar with those guidelines. Finally, a transferable warranty can be a selling point if you later put your house on the market.

    4. Time frame – Standard timing for a roof is to do it in one day.

    5. Roof measurement – Don’t rely on an adjuster’s estimates. Roofers should do their own measurement and be able to prove the numbers to an insurance company.
      More than that, the roofer should take on the liability of measuring the roof correctly, not returning to you on the job with a higher number. “It’s not right to try to pull more money out of a client that way,” David says.

    6. Property protection - How will the roofer protect your gutters, landscaping, and other property? How will the company dispose of refuse?

Understanding Pricing

Every estimate will include an overall price, but you want to understand the breakdown for each part of the roofing job.

Pricing for your roof should always be expressed in “price per square footage.” For example, the roofer will replace 200 square feet at $25 per square foot for a total of $5000.

Other line items may be “hidden.” If you don’t see them on the estimate, clarify these costs with your roofer:

    • Old roof – There’s typically a small fee for removing it.

    • OverlayingOverlaying means installing the new roof on top of the old one. For many reasons, laying shingles on top of shingles is never recommended. A lower layer of shingles will expand and contract and push out the nails. Roofers will overlay if the client insists, but there may be an additional per square foot charge.

      PRO TIP: David explains that sometimes people want to avoid the cost of tearing off the old roof, but it’s not worth the quick short-term savings. Overlaying voids your warranty on the shingles and can cause more expensive problems down the line. 

    • Underlayment – The underlayment is a protective, secondary moisture barrier between the outer roofing material (like shingles) and the decking. See below for more details on options and costs.

    • Decking – If the boards underneath the roofing material are rotted or soft, they need to be replaced. Find out the cost per board and the roofer’s estimate for how many, if any, need to be replaced. They can never know for sure until they rip off the old roof, but experienced roofers can recognize weak spots by seeing how the shingles lay. 

    • Flashing and pipe boots – Flashing is a metal seal that may be necessary on certain areas of your roof. Be wary if the roofer says he’s not going to replace the flashing or pipe boots; a high-quality job should include these replacements.

    • Ridge vent - Again, be wary of a roofer who plans to keep your old ventilation system. 

    • Gutters, soffits, etc. - Will it be necessary for you to replace any other parts of the roofline? 

How can you tell if a price is fair? 

  • Compare it to your other estimates. As mentioned above, make sure you’re comparing like with like.

  • Check out materials’ prices online at Home Depot or Loews.

  • Roofs with a very high pitch are more expensive because they take longer to roof. The same is true for roofs with multiple valleys or dormers. Flat roofs or roofs with a very low pitch are also more expensive because they require more expensive materials. 

  • If you have water damage on your roof, the job may include replacing part of the decking (wooden boards) or soffits. That will cost more money.

PRO TIP: Some roofers require a small deposit with the contract to show your commitment. But don’t agree to pay any substantial money (such as 50%) until the materials are delivered to your home, T.J. advises. 

Choosing Materials

Your estimate should include options for roofing materials. It’s worth spending time to weigh the costs vs. the benefits. High-quality materials may cost more upfront but can sometimes save you money down the line.

  1. Roofing Material - The roofing material is the outermost layer of the roof. Most homes have shingles since they’re the least expensive and work well in any climate. Still, it’s worth knowing about other options, and even shingles offer you choices. 

Roofing Material

Pros

Cons

Notes

3-Tab Asphalt Shingles

 * Most inexpensive option

*Less durable than other materials
*25-year life expectancy
*80-mph wind rating
*Can only be used on pitched roofs

Roofers are phasing out 3-tab shingles

Architectural Asphalt Shingles

(also called dimensional shingles)

*35-year or lifetime warranty
*Heavy-duty
*Up to 124 mph wind rating
*Increases the resale value of the house

*More expensive than 3-tab shingles
*Can only be used on pitched roofs

The price difference between architectural and 3-tab shingles is shrinking.

Wood Shingles

*Environmentally friendly
*Lasts up to 50 years
*Energy efficient

*Potential fire hazard that can raise insurance rates and may not be up to code in some areas
*Requires maintenance
*Vulnerable to termites and mold

Some homeowners like the classic look of a wood roof.

Slate Shingles

*Can last 80-100 years
*Extremely water resistant

*Very expensive to install and repair
*Heavy

A slate roof needs a professional who specializes in installing it.

Metal 

*Can last up to 60 years with proper maintenance
*Energy Star rated.
*Some states offer rebates
*Some homeowners like the sound of rain hitting a metal roof

*More expensive than shingles
*Need to tighten screws and inspect for rust every three years
*Screws sometimes need to be replaced

Replacing screws is still much cheaper than replacing an entire shingle roof.

Tile

*Can last up to 100 years with almost no maintenance
*Energy Star rated

*Very expensive - double or triple of a metal roof
*Vulnerable to debris and can crack
*Color can fade over time

Tiles are popular in very hot climates and as a luxury choice for high-end homes.



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  1. Underlayment - While you’ll never see the underlayment again once your roof is complete, it’s important to choose quality materials to protect your home. This is not the place to skimp.

    Your underlayment options include:

    a. Felt – Felt has been used for years and is the least expensive option. It’s water-resistant, although not waterproof.  Felt comes in different weights. 15-lb felt is not recommended; it tears too easily. 30-lb felt is a thicker, more durable choice. 

    b. Synthetic – Synthetic is replacing felt as the go-to underlayment for roofs. It’s stronger, easier to install, and repels water. It is, of course, more expensive. 

    c. Peel ‘n stick – Peel ‘n stick is a newer, premium (read: expensive) product that provides excellent protection. However, you can’t use peel ‘n stick if your attic has spray foam or closed-cell insulation. In fact, it will void your warranty. The seal will be too tight for vapors to escape, and your roof will bubble. “It suffocates your house,” explains T.J.

Speak to your roofer about the best underlayment option for your house and climate.

  1. Additional Protections - Other materials offer extra protection to the vulnerable areas of your roof:
    1. Plastic water shield – This may be installed between the underlayment and shingles as an extra layer of water protection in your roof’s valleys.
    2. Pipe boots – Pipes are the most likely place for a roof to develop a leak. The pipe boots prevent those leaks and are worth upgrading to hard plastic. Rubber pipe boots deteriorate after ten years. 
    3. Metal flashing – The intersection of different surfaces on your roof are also prone to leaks. (For example, chimneys, skylights, walls, or any place when your roof goes from a higher point to a lower point.) Flashing is a thin piece of metal sealed in place to direct water away from those intersections. 

PRO TIP – David warns homeowners to pay close attention to the materials on the estimate. “Roofers can try to cut corners on materials. They may offer you high-grade shingles but then skimp on everything else.”

Repair vs. Replace

Repairing a roof is much less expensive than replacing it-at least in the short term. Sometimes it’s clear that your roof needs to be replaced, such as for catastrophic damage. Other times, you only have one small leak around a pipe boot, flashing, or from a single hole.

But, often, the decision isn’t clear-cut. Here are a few tips to help with your decision:

PRO TIP – T.J.’s rule of thumb is that if a repair costs more than a third of a replacement, it’s better to replace.

  • See what the roofers are recommending. They know roofs better than anyone else.
  • If you have multiple leaks popping up, it’s probably time to replace. 
  • If you don’t see granules on asphalt shingles, it’s time to replace.
  • Know the age of your roof. Shingles, especially, have a life expectancy, and after a certain point, you’ll be on an endless stream of repairs. You’ll spend more money in the long run by constantly patching.
  • Check with your insurance company. They may not cover your roof after a certain age. 

PRO TIP: “If your insurance is paying for a new roof – do it! Don’t just keep the money, or they won’t give you that much again. If you later file a claim for a roof repair, they’ll see that you didn’t replace it,” says David.

Working with your Insurance Company

Chances are that if you’re replacing your roof, you’re working with an insurance claim

Your contractor will be very comfortable and familiar with working with insurance companies. The process is standard and should go smoothly.

Once the paperwork is complete, your insurance will pay a deposit upfront. They may write the check to you or directly to the contractor.

The insurance company will pay the balance (called the “depreciation”) after the roofer sends in a “letter of completion.” That can take up to a week, so be sure the roofer gives you a long enough grace period to pay the balance.

The roofer may ask you to sign a “letter of intent,” which allows them to speak directly to your insurance company. That is acceptable and often helpful since they know the system. 

However, NEVER sign an AOB (Assignment of Benefits). An AOB transfers your insurance claims benefits to your roofer while you relinquish your rights. AOBs are now illegal in many states.

Hiring the Roofer

You’re almost there! 

You’ve gone over each estimate with a fine-toothed comb. You compared prices, materials, timing, and all the other details. You’re confident in your decision and know which roofer you want to hire.

There are a few more loose ends to tie up in the hiring process:

  1. Research which building permits or documents you need in your area and make sure they’re filed properly. Go to your municipality’s website or office to find out what’s required.

  2. Send in the financing application for approval or complete all the insurance paperwork.

  3. SIGN THE CONTRACT! The contract will usually contain the same information as the estimate/proposal but is honed down to only the options you chose. It’s a binding, signed document where the owner commits to paying, and the roofer commits to doing the work in a specific time frame.

Congratulations! You made a great choice, and you’ll be enjoying a new roof for years to come.

MUST READ: Run! 10 Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring a Roofer

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