In this blog series, I am discussing the value of “upgrading” to longer-life shingles, and if it is worth it to you, as the homeowner, to spend more money when replacing your roof. When you call roofing companies and get bids to replace your roof, you are looking at the bottom dollar on the bottom of that bid. How large a check are you going to write? What other costs are there?
I own my house here in Lees Summit. Technically I don’t, I pay the mortgage company and they own the house. The mortgage company requires me to purchase homeowners’ insurance. This is just like you, if you are talking to roofing contractors (renters don’t put new roofs on houses they rent, that would be the landlord’s responsibility). If you call your insurance agent, you will qualify for a significant discount when you put on a new roof. Your insurance agent calculates this discount simply based on the age of the roof, and doesn’t count any other factors in the discount. Your discount is the same whether you use the cheapest 3-tab shingles (perhaps we get 10-years out of these) or the most expensive slate (which has stood the test of time and we might expect 100+ years). Your discount is generally good for about five (5) years, and then starts to taper down. By the time the roof is ten (10) years old, you have no discount.
When you add that “new” roof discount over ten (10) years, you will note that (in our area) adds up to probably 50-75% of the cost of a new roof. You pay for a new roof today, which reduces the risk that your insurance company has on storm damage to your house so you are lower risk. As that roof ages, your damage risk increases, and your rates increase accordingly. However every time to put on a new roof, you get to push the “reset” button and start those discounts again at year zero.
When you factor these insurance discounts into your roof investment decisions, this discount becomes significant cost savings. Every time you replace that roof, you qualify for that discount. Now then, what prevents you from replacing a roof every five (5) years? Nothing, except that we have to consider the idea is to maximize the value of your investment. If you need help deciding when is the most cost effective time to replace the roof on your own home, contact your local roofing contractor. We're always happy to give you advice that gives you the best bang for your hard earned buck.
In previous blogs, I have been a strong proponent of upgrading from the minimum necessary to simply put a new roof on your house. And yet my most recent blog series is recommending that there are times when you shouldn’t upgrade? Before you discount my ramblings entirely, please allow me an opportunity to explain. I understand that a roof is a significant investment, so my recommendation is simply to invest wisely. I know a few extra dollars in my pocket is always welcome, and if I can save some money by shopping I appreciate that someone took the time to steer me in a better direction.
My first recommendation is simply that here in Kansas City that we get sunny and hot summers, icy winters, windy spring, violent storms that include tornadoes and hail, and generally harsh weather year around. While a base Architectural Shingle is often referred to as a 30-year shingle, it is quite unlikely that we will ever get anything approaching 30-year lifespan out of that shingle. One bad hail storm is all it takes to render them damaged enough to warrant replacement. However our sunny days with ultraviolet (UV) exposure take their toll as well. Wind-driven rain drives water in places it was never intended to be, and that impacts your roof. Our winters are based on ice; I have already written on ice impacts, causes, and minimization, but you cannot eliminate the impacts of freezing on your roof materials. Simply put, we don’t get anywhere near the forecast life presented by the marketing brochures.
Architectural grade 30-year shingles have been around awhile, we can accurately predict how long they will last in our Midwest climate (on average). Predictions vary, and a single hail storm or tornado will destroy a brand new roof, but our roofing company history is showing that fifteen (15) to twenty (20) years would be a good run for a 30-year roof. The upgraded roofing (40-year, 50-year, plus, premium, lifetime, whatever marketing terms are used) simply haven’t been around long enough to show they stand up longer. I have seen 50-year roof damaged by a hail storm, and while the neighbor qualified for a new roof from their insurance company, this homeowner was left with a damaged roof that looked bad but also didn’t qualify for replacement. And looking at these materials, there is nothing in them that leads me to believe we will ever get 40 years or more of life out of them, compared to the 20 years we might expect from the baseline roof. Do you want to take the risk on unproven materials? They certainly cost more.
When it comes time to preparing bids, I really like a homeowner that wants to make the best decision, not just the cheapest roof they need for their house. A homeowner that is planning on living in that house for the foreseeable future, and not just dressing it up to sell, flip, or other short-term gain. These are homeowners that understand that short term cost decisions have long-term ramifications; and that saving money today may well not be saving money in the long run.
And the most common question, should I upgrade my shingles to 50-year shingles (depending on manufacturer, these might be called 50-year, plus, premium, lifetime, or perhaps other marketing terms)? When they are looking at a baseline of Architectural shingles, we tend to think in terms of 30-year life. They understand that a good roof is expensive, so why not pay a little more now for upgraded materials if it means longer life, no hassle in the future (do you plan to be alive in 50 years?), and understanding that the cost of the roof is more than just the cost of the materials as it includes labor, equipment, trucks for my crew, insurance for my workers, etc.
While I am typically criticized for my answer, most people are surprised when I recommend not upgrading from a 30-year architectural shingle. As a reputable Lees Summit roofing contractor, I want to make sure I'm doing the best I can for my customers. Sure, those upgraded shingles do look nicer, and if you were to see two houses, side-by-side, you could probably pick out the homeowner that spent a bit and cared enough to upgrade.
I base my recommendation on a couple of factors, and I will prepare subsequent blogs to provide more information. Here in tornado, hail, ice and snow, and high summer UV country in the Midwest, we will never get 30 years out of a 30-year shingle. Longer life shingles haven’t really been tested in the real world. A new roof qualifies for a significant insurance discount (check with your agent). And if you are going to invest in your house (a new roof is a significant investment, your house is likely your largest single investment) you want to be assured of payback on that investment.
Optional Upgrades and Costs
When it comes time to replace your roof, you are likely to notice a difference in bid prices. In previous blogs, I have identified two (2) mandatory factors that could impact the bids you receive from different roofing contractors; insurance and Homeowners’ Association (HOA) restrictions.
Once we get beyond these minimums, and I would strongly encourage discounting of roofing contractors that don’t insure their employees, we can start to compare apples-to-apples. And we can start to look at reasonable upgrades in materials, and what might make sense and what is simply money spent on nothing.
When a new roof is being installed, you are presented a unique opportunity to upgrade some materials or installation practices that should be considered. You cannot retrofit these later; as your roof might last 20-years or longer, a small additional investment may well provide significant savings and should be considered. I am happy to discuss each of these individually with my clients and customers.
I use a 30-lbs felt underlayment as a minimum installation. In a previous blog, I explained different underlayment materials you can choose from; 30-lbs isn’t the cheapest or thinnest underlayment available.
Depending on the pitch of your roof, we may want to upgrade to ice-and-water shield for a portion of this as insurance against ice dams (another previous blog topic). If you have an ice dam problem with your roof, the ice dam problem needs to be solved. However if you have a relatively flat roof, ice-and-water shield is a great defense mechanism against ice dams causing roof leaks, and a roof leak in the middle of winter isn’t a pleasant proposition to address.
If your HOA requires 50-year Architectural Grade Shingles, we may want to consider an upgrade to a premium underlayment instead of the 30-lbs. felt. It depends on who manufactures your roofing materials, but every manufacturer has an upgraded underlayment then have specially formulated to work in their respective systems. I have used them, I like them, they have a lot of benefits, but they aren’t for necessary for every new roof either.
Here in tornado country, another item you may have read about is “high wind” pattern on shingles. Every roofing shingle is typically installed with four (4) nails/shingle; the high-wind pattern installs six (6) nails/shingle. While this sounds like a 50% increase in holding power, it really doesn’t equate to that. If you have a steeper pitched roof, this is something we may want to consider. I would point out that manufacturers’ rate their roof resistance to wind speed, and a high wind nailing pattern only marginally changes this resistance for lower sloped roofs. Again, this might be nice for you to consider as a homeowner, but it isn’t necessary for everyone.
These are just a couple of optional factors that increase material and/or labor cost. Depending on your individual roof, I may include them as “base” cost or I may include them as optional upgrades. When I bid a job, As a conscientious roofing contractor, I want this to be a job I am proud of, and my experience dictates that sometimes these are requirements based on your specific roof, and sometimes these are optional upgrades. I am happy to discuss this so that you, as the homeowner, can make an educated decision.
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.
Most homeowners know that when it becomes necessary to install a new roof on your home, this isn’t a small investment. You obviously want to save money; but you also want the maximum value for you investment. You are smart, and you realize that sometimes when you pay a little more, you get a better product. However, in a previous blog I identified that sometimes when you pay more you get a Roofing Contractor that hires employees and pays Workers’ Compensation Insurance. What you get by paying more here doesn’t end up on your roof.
I already identified that 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.
Before you discount the importance of insurance, I encourage you to think through this. The cost of insurance is proportional to risk. It is just like your auto insurance policy, if you have tickets, collisions, and drive an expensive car, your auto insurance premiums are higher because you are more risk. It is illegal for you to forego auto insurance, but that doesn’t mean that every driver on the road is insured either and some drivers take on excess risk.
The same is true for Roofing Contractors; we pay higher premiums for our employees compared to construction workers because we have higher risk. We work on roofs all day, we have risk of falls and falling off a roof has high risk of injury. We also work with power tools, we do heavy and tiring labor, and all of this equates to potential for injury.
So what does this mean for you, as the customer? If you hire a Roofing Contractor that uses day labor, or you hire a roofing contractor that uses independent contractors, you are liable for these injuries, as the homeowner. I encourage you to contact your insurance agent, they will be happy to discuss your liability for hiring uninsured workers to work on your house. Your Homeowners’ Insurance covers more than just damage to your home, but it may not cover damage to uninsured contractors you hire. This is like you driving without auto insurance; you need to plan for likely events we hope will never occur. You wouldn’t think of driving without auto insurance, why would you hire high-risk construction trades that aren’t insured?
And a side note, Roofing Contractors that pay Workers’ Compensation insurance are sticklers for safety. Our insurance rates are based on risk, if we can show safe workplace practices we get reduced premiums. Which would you rather have working on your roof; a contractor that places an emphasis on safety, or a contractor that places an emphasis on cost and passes the risk to you as the homeowner? You don’t “see” insurance in the finished product, but if an accident happens you will “see” what happens when it isn’t there.
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.
Roofing Horror Stories
I have wanted to start a series on “Roofing Horror Stories” or a “Wall of Shame” type projects. Today seems like that day has come; I will share this roofing project that was pretty extraordinary.
This was a project in Brookside area of Kansas City. If you are familiar, you know that this was an upscale J.C. Nichols old development in Kansas City; those are some grand old houses. The roof didn’t look anything out of the ordinary; easy to measure, easy to see from the ground, no surprises. However once I got on to the roof, I realized that there were eight (8) layers of roofing material on the roof. You can often re-roof or install a new roof over an old one, but you cannot re-roof this many times. Typically if there are two (2) layers of roofing shingles, the next roof project is a complete tear-off. In this case, there had never been a tear-off; every new roof was installed over the previous roof.
To illustrate just how big of a deal this is, these are pretty big houses and this one was ~35 squares (each square is 100 square feet). In my DIY blogs, I identified that architectural shingles weight 300-450 pounds/square. In Brookside, you would almost always upgrade, so let’s assume 350 pounds/square. This is 12,250 pounds/layer of roofing material on the house. Eight (8) layers of roofing material equates to 98,000 pounds. I wonder how many of these were installed by professional roofing contractors (that understand the layer limitations) and how many of these were installed by DIY-installers? All of this needs to come off the roof before we can even start, and that is a lot of labor and roll-off container/dumpster. While I would normally order a single roll-off, in Brookside it is difficult to get trucks in and out, so getting the largest roll-off containers is impossible on some streets. This meant that the disposal company was going to need to get several trucks and roll-off containers, one-at-a-time.
Let’s just say my bid was not the lowest. I would also say, I am really glad I trusted my gut to get the ladder out and get on the roof to prepare an accurate estimate of my costs for this project.
And here is how the rest of the story unfolded. That 98,000 pounds on the roof; for perspective, this weighs more than a fully loaded semi tractor-trailer on the roof. This is certainly a testament to the construction quality in Brookside; again what you would hope and expect. All of this weight built up slowly over time, the life of the house. The structure of the house accommodated through compression and deflection, and as this happened very slowly it also was perhaps imperceptible and resulted in minimum adverse effects. But the removal of 98,000 pounds happened within a single week, prior to reinstalling the new roof at approximately 15,000 pounds (upgraded shingles). Have you ever been remote camping, accessible only by backpack? Then you know how it feels at the end of the day when you remove your pack? You have a new spring in your step. Well that house released all of the compression and deflection that had built over many years in a single moment. Every window and door that was open at that moment, no longer closed. Every window and door that was closed at that moment, no longer opened. And whose fault do you think this was placed? The roofing contractor – that was the only thing that changed between windows and doors working flawlessly and suddenly not.
And then the lawyers get involved. At this point, the only winners are the lawyers themselves; every other party loses.
Here in Jackson County and surrounding areas, we were enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures and fantastic weather, but now that the cold weather is here, it is important to do some preventative maintenance on your roof to prepare it to withstand winter. According to El Nino, we are likely to be warmer than normal, but also more moisture, so having your roof in tip-top shape is important.
Where do you start? First, make sure your gutters are clean and drain well. Most of the leaves are off the trees, and if you have trees overhang your roof they are also in your gutters. It is critical that any water on your roof have a clear drainage path, and having gutters clean is critical to this drainage path. This drainage path will also help alleviate ice dams, depending on how cold we may get.
While you are cleaning your gutters, check for missing or damaged shingles. You can typically see missing shingles from the ground level, but there are areas of your roof that you can only properly observe from a higher vantage point. If you have any trees that overhang the roof, the branches can contact the roof and this will cause damage to shingles. Also any twigs or fallen or broken branches on your roof can potentially cause damage. These branches should be trimmed, and any damaged roof shingles replaced. Shingles have glue strips, and the unseasonably warm temperatures we are having will ensure your glue strips activate prior to winter’s cold.
And last, check your flashings. Especially plumbing and vent stacks, as these flashings have a rubber seal to ensure the seal to the roof penetration is tight. This rubber breaks down with ultraviolet (sun) exposure. When the rubber breaks down, this will result in a roof leak.
If you don’t want to climb onto your roof, you can call a professional roofing contractor to provide this service as well.
DIY-capable homeowners do their research. They select the best products, they shop for the best prices. Certainly warranty of the underlying material is part of what drove you to selecting your roofing materials. A new roof is a significant investment with a long life (30-50 years on asphalt shingles). A good warranty could save you a bundle, in the event there are problems in the future.
However, the manufacturer’s warranty only covers manufacturing defects in the roofing material itself. Architectural shingles may well include a Lifetime limited warranty from manufacturing defects to the original homeowner. This may even be transferrable to the next subsequent homeowner (if you sell your house). However note that this is shingles only, many other materials (read the under the shingles series) do not have the same warranty.
More importantly, this warranty doesn’t cover two (2) items:
Asphalt roofing companies operate high-technology manufacturing plants; the risk of manufacturing defects is very low; hence why they can offer generous warranties. At the same time, manufacturers are very aggressive in inspecting the roof prior to providing warranty coverage and have identified that most causes of “warranty” claims are due to the installer’s workmanship, and not the material itself. I have seen situations of delaminating shingles where the manufacturer simply dropped a handful of new bundles on the driveway and left. So while you may think you have limited-Lifetime coverage, you may have nothing.
What can you do to protect yourself? As a professional roofing contractor in business for over 20 years, and with intent to stay in business and service my customers longer, I provide warranty coverage against any errors in workmanship. In addition, I am “Installer Certified” for several lines of asphalt shingles that I install; the manufacturer’s warranty includes a reasonable labor or installation cost to repair or replaced manufacturing defects in these situations.
One of the biggest motivations of DIY is saving money. Make sure you understand the limitations of the manufacturer’s warranty. More importantly though, make sure you don’t try to spend dollars to chase dimes. By that I mean, don’t try to save money on your roof by DIY if you think you will have warranty coverage later. And with your house as your most significant investment, do you really want to risk your first line of defense against the weather to trying to save a few dollars? You likely have other home improvements you would like to focus on; leaving roofing to the roofing professionals will enable you to undertake these other projects, and know that you have warranty coverage for installation and workmanship errors as well as labor in the situation of manufacturer’s defect.
We are an experienced Lees Summit roofing company with over 15 years experience in repair, service and installation.