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.
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.
Starting with questions about their business is best as it gives you a sense of their qualifications and experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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