Wondering What Questions to Ask a Roofing Contractor?
Repairing or replacing your roof is an important investment. This is why you should insist on working with a professional roofing contractor who has the knowledge and attention to detail necessary to ensure a successful project. It’s important to recognize that your project success is not simply measured in terms of shingles, labor and the price you pay. Your project success is a function of the entire experience before during and after the project. Remember, you’re not simply buying shingles and labor, you’re entrusting your home to a contractor who in some cases is literally tearing the roof off your home. Each year the Better Business Bureau publishes complaint statistics on their website. While I’m not surprised to know that roofing contractors do have their share of complaints, I’m always shocked to see how many of those complaints go unresolved. In 2011, for example, more than 30% of the complaints were not satisfied, and in almost 7 percent of the cases, they couldn’t find the contractor to resolve them. This is why it’s incumbent upon the homeowner to do their homework and not allow themselves to be swayed by low-cost providers who over-promise and under-deliver. Before you spend your money, it’s our very strong recommendation that you include the following guidelines into your contractor selection process.
Questions to ask a roofer before hiring:
1. Check to make sure the contractor has a permanent place of business and is not using a post office box. Most contractor selection guidelines start with this question because many sources of customer dissatisfaction involve low-bid, undercapitalized contractors. If the contractor is not permanently established, well how can you be confident he’ll complete the work or will still be in business if there’s a problem down the road.
2. Insist on seeing the roofing contractor’s proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance and please make sure the coverage is in effect for the duration of your project. Your contractors should be willing and able to provide specifics, detailed information, of their insurance coverage including the name and telephone number of their agent so that you can verify the information. This is the second most important question a homeowner should ask because many homeowners have been financially harmed by uninsured or inadequately insured contractors. As a rule, homeowners should reject any contractor without proper and adequate insurance.
3. Call the Better Business Bureau. Look, even the industry’s best contractors find themselves in a dispute for one reason or another. The question you want to ask is, what was done about the dispute after it occurred? The Better Business Bureau will be able to tell you if the contractors had complaints and more importantly, if the roofing contractor worked with the homeowner to rectify the situation.
4. Insist on a detailed written proposal and not a price written on the back of their business card. The contractor should be able to clearly explain how they plan to perform the work and what materials they will use. The proposal provided should offer complete descriptions of the job specifications and the products and colors selected. The proposal should also communicate the approximate start and completion date and the payment terms. In addition, the homeowner should be prepared to ask about local building code requirements and verify the contractor’s intention to follow those requirements. This is particularly important when it comes to installing products such as ice and water protector, for example. Some contractors may try to skimp on this product in an effort to save money, which will put the home at risk in the event of wind-driven rain or ice dams.
5. Ask the roofing contractor about their workmanship warranty. This is very important because the leading cause of roof problems and leaks is the result of installation errors made by the contractor. Don’t be swayed by long-term warranties provided by the manufacturer. These are limited product warranties with coverage predicated on the contractor installing the product correctly. In other words, if the product isn’t installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications, the warranty may be void. This is as true of a roof that is six unsolved as it is for a roof that is 50 years regardless of the warranty.
6. Look for a roofing contractor with a proven track record that offers a list of client references. Some contractors will provide testimonials from satisfied clients which is good, but if you really want to get a sense of the quality of the experience, you’re gonna want to call a few of the contractor’s references. But when you call, don’t simply ask the reference if they were satisfied. Think about and ask questions specific to your perceptions and concerns and the factors that may be causing you some anxiety about the project. Here are some examples;
Ask the reference if the workers were as professional and nice as the salesperson who sold you the project.
Ask the references if the contractor made efforts to protect their landscaping and the facade of their home during the shingle removal process – and ask him how it went.
Ask about the quality of the cleanup after the project was completed. Did the contractor leave the home as clean as it was when they found it? Or were there nails and cigarette butts left in the yard or driveway, for example?
Another very important question to ask is the project’s final price. Was it higher than the price they were originally quoted – and if so, why?
In the end, the homeowner’s ability to have a positive hassle-free roofing experience is predicated on their willingness to do the necessary homework and ask plenty of questions. Professional roofing contractors who act in the best interest of their customers will not be put off by you wanting to verify this criteria. The professional roofer is proud to tell you the efforts that they’ve made to be the contractor of choice for so many customers and the steps they take to ensure a successful project for everyone involved.
Get the Answers in IKO’s 22-Point Checklist for Choosing a Roofing Contractor
Your roof is an important investment. Whether you’re getting small repairs or a completely new roof, the contractor you choose will determine the quality of your roof and will determine how well your roof will protect your home in extreme weather. Proper installation is necessary to get the limited warranty coverage from your shingle manufacturer. So, choosing the right roofer is important. We’ll cover the roofing questions to ask your roofer to make sure that they are a good choice. Then, we’ll walk you through the process of choosing a roofer more generally.
Questions to Consider when Evaluating Roofing Contractors
Before you commit to your roofer, there are a few very specific roofing questions you should ask to make sure that they are above-board and the best choice for you. To discuss the specific questions you should ask a roofer, we reached out to Milt Kreitzer, vice president of operations and sales for Castle Roofing in Dayton, Ohio.
Below are 22 Questions You Should Ask Your Roofer
Starting with questions about their business is best as it gives you a sense of their qualifications and experience.
1. Are you associated with a manufacturer?
Most roofing shingle manufacturers – including IKO – have special programs for qualifying participants that have been trained on their products and their installation. If your roofer is affiliated with a manufacturer, that’s a sign that they have a greater understanding of how to install that company’s products, which can result in a better-quality roof for you. You can use our search tool to find an IKO ROOFPRO® contractor near you.
2. Do you have insurance?
Your roofing contractor needs to have insurance, not just to protect their company but also to protect you if an accident occurs on your property. If your roofer does not have insurance, you could be held responsible if their employee has an accident while working on your roof. All roofers should have valid general liability and worker’s compensation insurance at bare minimum. Learn more about what kind of insurance roofers need, and make sure that your roofer’s policies are still valid before you let them start working.
3. Do you have a license?
In many areas of North America, roofers need to have a license. Don’t just take their word for it, look up their roofing license in your specific state or province.
4. Where is your permanent address?
You can rule out storm-chasers by confirming their address. Make sure it is not just a P.O. box. You can use Google maps to look at the actual building to check that the business does exist at the address the roofer gave you. See if the building has a sign for the roofing company, or if it looks like a warehouse or storage unit where a roofer might store their tools and materials. Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous, fly-by-night operators who descend on entire neighborhoods with only a truck and then disappear as soon as the job is done, with no means for you to contact them if something goes wrong in future.
5. Are there pictures of your work on your website?
Before and after pictures can help you get a sense of the kind of work the roofer does. It can be hard to assess the quality of the work if you don’t know much about roofing, but the simple fact that the roofers are willing to show pictures of their work indicates that they are at least somewhat transparent. A reputable roofing professional will be proud to share pictures and details of projects that their company has completed, on social media and their own website. If possible, you might also want to drive by the residences to take a look at the actual roof.
6. How much experience do you have?
If their website doesn’t list how long they have been in business, they are probably a new company. However, roofing contractors who are just starting out on their own may be equally qualified as companies that have been in business longer. Typically, roofers spend some time working for another company before they start their own roofing business. So, don’t base a hiring decision solely on years of operation; consider other factors as well. Your new roof is definitely a long-term investment. You want to be sure the contractor’s company will still be in business to honor any guarantees.
7. Where can I find your reviews?
You may find reviews on the roofers’ websites. Also keep in mind that roofers will gather the best reviews for their website. So, it is wise to look the roofers up on a secondary review source that you trust. Google offers reviews of contractors in their maps function. Yelp, Angie’s List, and Home Advisor all host reviews of contractors. You might also check the roofers’ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Ultimately, reviews should help guide you, but not be the sole deciding factor in your decision.
8. Do you specialize in anything?
Some roofers specialize in specific parts of the job, like installing skylights. If you know that you have a more complex roof or need specialty work, it may be worth your time to find a specialist who is familiar with it. For example, if you have a historical home, you may be able to find a roofer who installs historically accurate roofing materials, or who partners with a mason that can ensure your historic chimney gets proper flashing to protect it.
9. What kind of training and education do you have?
Does the roofer’s website mention anything about certifications or on-going education for their staff? Training, as well as worker health and safety, should be a priority for every roofer. Roofing materials and their proper installation are constantly changing. Health and safety rules are also frequently updated, so ensure that the contractor you hire keeps his staff on top of all the latest developments.
Next, it is wise to focus on questions about how your roofer does their job and what will be required for your specific roof.
10. Do you use a complete, matching system of roof components?
A roof is more than just shingles nailed to some plywood. It’s a complete system of roof components — synthetic underlayment, ice and water protector, hip and ridge shingles, starter strips, flashing, shingles, vents — all designed to work together.
Kreitzer recommends making sure all of your shingle roofing components come from the same manufacturer. “Don’t mix and match to get the price down,” he said. “It might be a little less expensive, but it could complicate elements of the installation.”
He also said to be sure your roofer is using products as prescribed by the building code in your city or state. For example, he says, “In Ohio, code requires ice and water protection on the eaves and valleys.” Although, some jurisdictions will not require that.
11. What’s the process for a re-roofing job?
Ideally, your roofer will explain the whole process for a re-roofing job, clearly and in a way that you can understand it. You may not know exactly what a roofing job should entail, but you will know if you can understand the roofer and if his or her response sounds reasonable. Further, some of the questions below will help you hone in on important parts of the process to make sure you’re getting a quality roof.
12. Is a building permit required for my roofing work?
Your roofer’s answer will depend on your local building codes. If a permit is required, the roofer should get it for you before work begins. Permit offices may fine you for attempting to complete work without a permit, even if that work meets the building codes. Roofers should have experience working with their local permit office and shouldn’t rely on you to do any of this work.
13. Will you check the condition of my decking?
The decking is the thin board of wood that makes up the bottom of the roof. Some roofers overlook the decking, adding new shingles on top of it without considering if it has been damaged or how long it will last. Others will look at the decking but may end up needing to add replacement costs to their quote. It’s important for you to know that the decking will be checked, and what it could cost if it needs to be replaced. Otherwise you may be surprised by a larger bill than you anticipated.
14. How will you handle my skylights?
Skylights are notoriously challenging parts of the roof. Many homeowners struggle with roof leaks around their skylight after a new roof installation. You can call the roofer who did your installation back to fix these issues, but it is better to not have them in the first place. It can set your mind at ease to know how your roofer will treat your skylight and its flashing. You may want to ask each roofer you’re considering about the skylight, as they may have different opinions about how to handle it.
15. What valley installation will you use?
Roof valleys are another key area of vulnerability to leaks, as this is where the most water gathers when it rains. “Typically this is one of the places, next to flashing, where leaks occur due to improper installation,” said Kreitzer.
He says the way to handle valleys has changed over the years, and recommended approaches may vary depending on the construction of your home and the region where you live. However, good valley installation will include a combination of ice and water protector, flashing, and roof shingles installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
In any case, Kreitzer recommends you ask your contractor what method they use and how it will work.
16. How will you cap the ridge vents?
Most roofs have vents on the ridge to allow the roof to breathe and prevent moisture from building up in the attic. It’s also the part of the roof that endures the greatest wind shear.
“Common practice was to cut three-tab shingles to use as ridge caps,” said Kreitzer. Instead, he recommends using ridge cap shingles. They don’t require cutting, which means faster, cleaner installation.
17. How far will the shingles extend over the drip edge?
When it rains, water flows down the slope to your rain gutters. Then, some of it holds onto the edge of the shingle and can make its way back up the underside of the shingle. Even with a drip edge installed (an aluminum or plastic strip that protects the edge of the deck), water can find its way to the roof deck and cause damage.
To prevent this, the edge of the starter shingle should extend past the drip edge. How far? “Starter shingles should overhang the eaves and rake edge by ¼ inch to ¾ inch,” said Kreitzer. “This allows water to fall off the shingle and into the gutter.” He added that it also reduces the likelihood for water to climb back up the underside and soak into the roof deck.
18. How many nails do you put in each shingle?
The correct answer to this question is, “It depends on the specific instructions each manufacturer has for their products,” according to Kreitzer. “No two shingles are the same.” IKO, for example, recommends four nails in our architectural and performance class shingles in order to qualify for a limited warranty.
19. What type of flashing do you recommend?
Areas where the roof meets a structure like a chimney or a dormer are especially vulnerable to water intrusion. That’s where flashing comes in. Kreitzer said flashing is extremely important. “It’s your primary defense against water. Your roof is only as good as the flashing.”
While some contractors will simply do a “facemount flashing,” Kreitzer says this usually isn’t enough. He recommends Z flashing for brick or stone siding and reglet-set flashing for clapboard siding. These flashings feature channels and bends that integrate with the siding and help prevent water intrusion from wind uplift. Ask your roofer which flashing they recommend based on your home’s siding material and wind exposure.
20. How will you seal off the pipe boot?
Another area that’s often overlooked is the pipe boot, where vent stacks emerge from the roof. Kreitzer says this is a special area of concern. “Most pipe boot manufacturers don’t offer a warranty,” he said.
Kreitzer says that makes it doubly important to make sure the pipe boot is sealed correctly, with ice and water protectors installed around them, because if they’re not it can lead to significant damage.
Lastly, you can finish with some questions about how your roofer handles weather and payment.
21. What will the weather be like when you install the shingles?
Installing a roof is a fair-weather job, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, and sometimes it’s cold and grey on installation day. On those days, Kreitzer recommends you make sure your contractor uses recommended cold-weather installation practices. This typically means using spot adhesives to secure shingles until proper bonding takes place.
“Your roofers should keep an eye on the weather,” he said. “On cold, gloomy days they should do a spot seal-down.” That way, the roof will stay in place until the sun’s had a chance to do its part.
22. How is payment handled?
Before you work with a roofer, it’s wise to know what kind of payment schedule and payment methods they accept. Most roofers will ask you to pay a deposit up-front. Avoid roofers who ask for much larger deposits than their competition.
As you pay your contractor, try to do so in a traceable method and ideally through a credit card. Credit cards are a wise option because you may be able to get your money back if the roofer fails to start or complete the work.
It’s a red flag if your roofer will only accept cash. Some roofers will accept credit card payments in person, others will ask you to pay online through their invoicing system. Prior to making payment in full to the roofer, it is prudent to ensure that there are no liens or unexpired lien rights that can be asserted. These rights will vary by jurisdiction.
What to Look for In-Person
Once you’ve looked through several roofers’ websites, the next step is to call three or four of them for a quote. It’s better to call multiple companies so that you can compare them. Your potential roofers will want to come to your roof, inspect it, and then create a detailed quote for you.
Perform research on any company before you let one of their representatives up on your roof, so that you can ensure they have insurance, a license, and the other important things we discussed in the first step. It is unwise to allow a roofer who stops by your door unexpectedly onto your roof. They could be storm-chasers, or unlicensed contractors, who are looking to take advantage of you.
When you meet with one of these roofers that you have chosen in person, you should judge them based on a few different criteria:
- Professionalism: Did the roofers arrive on time? Were they presentable, friendly, and clearly associated with the company? It is unlikely that the roofers will become more professional when they are conducting their work on your roof, so be sure you’re satisfied with their conduct in their first visit.
- Friendliness: You want to work with someone who will listen to your concerns, address them appropriately and patiently explain his process, guarantees and other aspects of the job. No reputable roofer will appear to be insulted when you ask about qualifications, testimonials, insurance, or other issues that are important to you. Plus, roofers who answer questions honestly and openly are easier to work with and less likely to be performing sub-par work as they have nothing to hide.
- Honesty: It may be challenging to assess how honest a roofer is being if you don’t know too much about roofing. That’s where meeting with multiple roofers comes in handy. If there is a discrepancy between what one roofer says and another says, you can ask them a few questions to figure out which is more truthful. For example, perhaps one roofer says that you should replace all your flashing, while another says that only your chimney flashing really needs to be replaced. Ask each why they feel this way and compare to get a sense of which is more honest and looking out for your best interests. A roofer should care about delivering a quality finished roof that’ll provide long-lasting performance. You can also check out our Roofing 101 section to learn some basics about roofing that can help guide you.
- Confidence: A professional contractor will have devoted considerable time to sourcing quality roofing products for his jobs. Don’t hesitate to question why he recommends and uses a certain brand of materials. Reasons may vary, depending on where you live. Possible factors include climate, choice of colors, his crew’s experience and product availability, just to name a few. He should be able to tell you exactly why one line of shingle within a brand is the most appropriate choice for your home and budget, too.
- Limited warranty: Now is also a good time to talk about limited warranties and any guarantees that the roofers might offer with their work. Ask how long their limited warranty is, and what it covers. Be sure to distinguish between any limited warranty offered by the manufacturer and any offered by the roofing company itself.
Questions You Should Ask a Roofer’s References
Once you have the roofers in person, you should strongly consider asking each roofer for a reference from past customers who live in your area, so you can talk to them in person. Customer testimonials are great, but they don’t give you the opportunity to ask the questions that matter to you. When you are talking to a past customer in person, you can discover a lot more pertinent information about the kind of work the roofer does, and whether they will actually be doing the work.
Ideally, you’d connect with multiple customers who had their roof replaced in the last one to three years, so there would have been time for any issues to show up. Also, when possible, ask for a reference that had the same kind of work done that you’re requesting.
Here are a few questions to ask the references:
- How long ago did you get work done from this roofing company? How is your roof holding up now? This question is more important the longer it has been since the roofing work was done.
- Was it easy to talk to this roofing contractor and his crew? If there were any misunderstandings, ask how they were resolved.
- Did the roofers protect your landscaping and property? There are things roofers and homeowners can do to prepare for a roof replacement which will prevent damage to other parts of your property.
- Did the roofers clean up after they were done? Nails and shingle debris should be picked up and disposed of by the roofers.
- Were the roofers as polite and professional as the sales staff? The staff that works on the roof should be just as concerned with customer service as the staff who sold you their services.
- In the end, was the price you paid the same as the price on the quote? There are legitimate reasons to raise the price, so be sure to ask why the price changed. If the customer decided they wanted a different type of shingle, hidden damage was discovered, or new damage was dealt to the roof, the price raise is likely justified. However, there are many circumstances where a customer rightly feels like they ended up paying more for their roof than they should have. A sudden price change over damage that the roofer can’t show you isn’t justifiable. You also shouldn’t feel bullied into buying a higher quality shingle, flashing, or other accessory than you are comfortable with. Once the roofer is working on your roof, changes to prices should be very rare.
How to Compare Roofing Quotes
While you may not have the knowledge or experience to assess the quote like a roofer would, you can learn a lot by comparing quotes from different roofers. Once you have each quote in your hand, you can compare them along these lines:
- Is anything missing? Especially when you are getting a full roof replacement, the roofers should include all the roofing accessories and materials in the quote. You may not get an itemized breakdown of the costs of each element, but the roofers should list them, so that you know they will be replacing them. It’s fruitful to compare the quotes and see if a roofer has excluded an item another one has included. You’ll have to ask the roofers to discover why they have included or excluded an extra item.
- Are prices vastly different? Dramatically different prices are a warning sign. A quote that is significantly lower than another indicates that the roofers with the lower price may be cutting corners, which may negatively impact the quality of the roof you get. A quote that is significantly higher may be the mark of superior workmanship—or it may not. If you have questions about the price, ask the roofers to explain how they arrive at the price they sent you.
- Are the products different? Sometimes different shingle products are a good reason quotes may be significantly different. Be sure that the quotes specify the exact shingle type that you’re looking for. However, the brand and type of other roofing materials, such as ice and water protector and underlayment, is also important.
- Is the start and completion date included? Having the start and completion dates included offers you some protection from roofers who drag their feet getting started or abandon the job. You may also prefer to choose a roofer who can get to your roof the soonest, because that limits your chances of developing more roof problems.
- Are there written limited warranties and guarantees? If the roofers have made a promise to you, they should have no problem including it in writing. Otherwise, you may not be able to hold them to their word.
Find Your Roofer
Are you ready to start looking for your roofer? Begin your search on IKO’s Contractor Locator. When you get a good roofer, make it easier for others to find him or her. Review them online, recommend them to people you know.