In this blog series, I am trying to explain why I typically recommend a 30-year Architectural shingle and not upgrading to the premium versions (40-year, 50-year, plus, premium, lifetime, or other marketing terms might get used). Many homeowners are concerned about maintaining the value of their homes, and as a house is likely your largest single investment I agree you should be concerned. They (rightly) think that often times if you spend more, you get something better in return. And as you improve your house, quality craftsmanship isn’t just something you live with every day, it will be reflected when it comes time to sell your house in the future.
I would think that when I am looking at a house that I would recognize quality craftsmanship, and appreciation that the former owner took to care for the property, and perhaps that might have value to me. However talking to realtors, most homeowners don’t follow that logic pattern. And this includes the roof that is the primary protection for that home. Prospective homeowners ask a single question, “how old is the roof?” If it is over eight (8) years old, they start to think about the check they will have to write to replace that roof. Like many of us, they don’t think about the insurance discounts I wrote about earlier, only the age of the roof.
Beyond what is “typical” for your neighborhood, there is likely no increased house value you can expect from upgrading from the 30-year Architectural shingles. I appreciate that as a homeowner, you are trying to be prudent and upgrade the value of your home, but the market treats your roof as purely a routine maintenance item and values your roof strictly by the age and nothing else. This is unfortunate, but this is also the reality.
In summary, as a roofing contractor, I recommend a tried-and-true product that has been real world tested in our Jackson County, Missouri weather; the premium products may last longer but I haven’t seen it. In addition, every time you replace a roof you get to press the “reset” button on your homeowners’ insurance and qualifying for a significant discount on your premiums. And last, the real estate markets simply views a roof as a maintenance item, and this upgrade won’t factor into a potentially higher future sale price. While I often advocate and recommend upgrades, this simply isn’t a place I can support spending more money.
OK, you have put it off long enough, it is time for a new roof. You are seeing fine-grained aggregate near your downspouts after every rain (this is roofing material degradation), you are getting some curling near the edges of your shingles, you are getting staining, and basically you know how old your roof is. Sure, you could wait for it to start leaking, the final step, but it is really just delaying the inevitable.
So, you talk to your friends and neighbors to get some references, a great place to start. Next up, you call them to prepare some bids. And when you get those bids, you will note a range of prices. The first thing you are going to do is to focus on the cheapest bid price, and discount the other roofing contractors as simply trying to take more of your hard-earned money. That may be the case, but it may also be the case that you are comparing apples to oranges.
How much information did you give the roofing contractors? Did all of the roofing contractors interpret this bid request differently? Did some provide upgrades that perhaps others did not? Before you decide to automatically go with the low bidder, it might behoove you to understand the differences between the bids, and the factors that are in play here. Some of these are critical factors:
The biggest factor in difference of bid price relates to insurance. Of the individual construction trades, workers’ compensation insurance for roofers is typically higher than any other construction worker. Many roofing contractors get around this insurance cost by hiring “day labor” or “independent contractors” instead of hiring employees. Day labor isn’t covered by insurance; independent contractors are responsible for their own insurance (and often go uncovered). Employees have to be covered by their employer.
In previous blogs, I have captured differences in underlayment materials (15-lb. felt, 30-lb. felt, heavier felt, premium underlayments, ice-and-water shield). Each of these has a different cost, and each roofing contractor has a bid they prepare based on one of these underlayments. You cannot reasonably compare bids from a roofing contractor that installs 15-lb felt to a roofing contractor that installs premium underlayment coupled with ice-and-water shield as this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
Your Homeowners’ Association restrictions – when I have repeat business in a neighborhood (and you got my reference from your neighbors – right?), I know the Homeowners’ Association restrictions. Some of these are based on roofing materials, and they are always an upgrade in cost. Other roofing contractors may not be aware of these mandatory upgrades and may bid your job based on lower quality roofing materials.
Differences in labor. If a contractor uses a high-wind installation pattern for installing your roof, this takes 50% more nails to install the same roof than a roofing contractor that uses a standard installation pattern. This equates to both increase in materials (50% more nails isn’t free), as well as an increase in labor time (50% more nails on each and every shingle adds up for the installer).
So, what upgrades should you consider as important, and what upgrades should you consider as maybe nice but not required? This will get us into a new series of blog topics.
Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs); we love them, we hate them. We love them when it prevents our neighbors from doing something stupid that impacts me. We hate them when they prevent me from doing something I want to do, it is my house after all and why should they care. Love them or hate them, when we buy into those neighborhoods we commit to living within the HOA restrictions.
So what does this have to do with your replacement roof? Believe it or not, most HOAs will have restrictions based on what roofing materials you can use. Here in the Kansas City area, historically many HOAs required Cedar Roofs. And Cedar Roofs look great!!! Granted that is when new, but Cedar Roofs are also expensive, labor intensive, maintenance intensive, fire risk (and associated insurance cost), and they harbor insects and creepy-crawly critters. Thankfully, mostly due to fire risk and influence from insurance companies, most of these Cedar Roof HOA restrictions have been removed. However this doesn’t mean you can install the cheapest 3-tab shingle either.
For example, I recently prepared a bid to replace a Cedar Roof. The homeowner asked for “Timberline” shingles. While “Timberline” is specified in many HOA restrictions, Timberline is actually a trade name for GAF; what HOAs are requiring are called “Architectural Grade” shingles (I just put a Band-Aid on my finger, Timberline is a trade name that has become a generic term). Within “Architectural Grade” there are several grades. I know that some of the roofing contractors prepared a bid based on the Base 30-year Architectural Shingles; however my experience in this neighborhood is that the HOA restrictions do not allow for a 30-year Architectural Roof, they actually require a thicker roof. Depending on the manufacturer, they may rate Architectural Grade shingles such as 30-40-50, or they may put some terms such as 30-plus-premium or 30-plus-lifetime. Anyway, I knew that this particular HOA required 50-year Architectural Shingles (premium, lifetime, 50, depending on how the manufacturer names them) and adjusted my bid price accordingly (a 50-year Architectural Grade shingle isn’t going to be as cheap as a base 30-year Architectural Grade Shingle). While other roofing contractors bid the job (for a fair bit less) based on materials not allowed by the Homeowners’ Association. Thankfully I had an opportunity to educate the homeowner before he made a decision he would come to regret, as putting unapproved roofing materials on your house would have likely been met with some punitive actions by the Homeowners Association.
As a roofing contractor, I field a lot of questions about different components of a roof. Enough so that I think a series of blog topics to educate on all the parts would be useful for my prospective clients (and honestly for any homeowner, even if you don’t call me). Let me know if you find these useful.
Asphalt shingles need to be installed over continuous wood decking; this wood decking is commonly referred to as sheathing or roof deck. In the ancient past, this may have been wood planks. However plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) have long since replaced wood planks, and as engineered wood products these are both superior options to wood planks. When we say, “They don’t build them like they used to,” in this situation I must admit the buildings are superior with engineered wood as the roof deck.
Asphalt shingles are flexible and will telegraph any imperfections in the roof sheathing itself. The most common areas of imperfections in roof sheathing take place at the joints. Plywood or OSB come in four (4) foot by eight (8) foot sheets; these will have much fewer joints than wood planking, greatly reducing potential for imperfections at the roof joints.
Wood is what is known as a “hygroscopic” material => this means that variations in relative humidity can impact its dimensions. As moisture content in the air increases (high humidity), the wood sheathing can absorb some of this water from the air, and this causes the wood to swell and the dimensions increase. As moisture content in the air decreases (low humidity), the wood sheathing will dry out and this causes the wood to shrink and the dimensions to decrease. The wood sheathing is exposed in the attic space; a properly vented roof will have the wood sheathing exposed to whatever seasonal weather fluctuations occur. In my service area of Jackson County, Missouri, our seasonal fluctuations are significant and range from very cold dry air in the winter to very hot humid air in the summer. And if you have a roof leak, the sheathing is exposed directly to water and not simply humidity in the air, making this problem even worse. While any individual component of the roof sheathing dimension may change only marginally; over a space as large as your roof the changes are cumulatively significant. With our local climate, a 4x8 sheet of plywood or OSB may expand and contract as much as 1/8 inch. This expansion and contraction itself leads to imperfections in the roof sheathing that will telegraph through the asphalt shingles.
To compensate for this, when roof decking is installed it includes gaps to account for the seasonal fluctuations. This is usually measured and consistent by using the shank of a nail used to secure the roof sheathing as a guide. I already identified that the most common areas of roof imperfections occurs at the joints, and here we are required to make imperfect joints to account for the wood to expand and contract, so minimizing joints is important.
In addition, both plywood and OSB are much more dimensionally stable than wood planks. Wood planks, when they were used, had to have larger gaps. Again, imperfections at the joints are where asphalt shingles will telegraph imperfections in the roof sheathing; wood planks have many more joints and the joints are larger. They don’t build them like they used to, and as a roofing contractor I am certainly glad they don’t!!!
We are an experienced Lees Summit roofing company with over 15 years experience in repair, service and installation.