Ask a Roofer

We suggest that you evaluate your roofer as carefully as you would a doctor or lawyer. It is certain that you will want a roofing contractor who employs capable applicators to install the shingles. It is also clear that you will need to look closely at the proposal offered, the products selected, and the price/value relationship of the entire package.

But what criteria can you use to decide if the contractor is a true professional who will stand behind his work? While there is not a single, clear-cut answer, there are a number of indicators that you can look for when going through the evaluation process.

Seven Questions to Ask Your Roofer

1) What is the full name and address of the company?

Getting the complete address of the company can be an important factor in determining a company’s time in business. If a post office box is given, ask for a full street address as well. Try to hire a contractor that has an office nearby. The likelihood of better service and quicker response time is greater if the company is based near your home.

2) Does the company carry insurance?

A contractor should carry comprehensive liability insurance and workers compensation insurance to protect you in the event of a roofing accident. This can be verified by asking to see the contractor’s certificates of insurance workers compensation and general liability). Let the contractor know you want current certificates sent to you by the insurer before the job is started.

Contractors may also carry other kinds of insurance including health, life and auto insurance. Bland assurances of insurance coverage may refer to these. Don’t be confused. Ask for proof of general liability and workers compensation coverage for roofing projects.

Worker accidents. Be aware that if a worker is injured on your property, the homeowner might be held liable for all costs unless the employee is covered by workers compensation insurance. Hospital bills for serious accidents can be extraordinarily expensive.

Contractors who carry insurance and follow safety guidelines on fall prevention endure higher job overhead costs. These expenses could be the cause of price variations between contractors who follow the standards versus those who ignore them.

Uninsured contractors. Roofers who do not carry insurance will most likely be cheaper to hire as they do not have the large insurance premiums to pay. Workers compensation premiums can increase wage costs from about 20% to as much as 100%, depending on the province.

There are a variety of reasons why full insurance may not be carried by a contractor, such as:

  • Not a full-time contractor
  • Operates as a partnership or self-employed without employees
  • New in the business
  • Can’t afford insurance premiums
  • Doesn’t stand behind work

It is up to you to determine if it is worth the risk to hire a contractor who does not carry insurance.

3) Is the company a licensed or credentialed contractor?

When you pose this question, you are, in effect, asking if the contractor is licensed by your province and/or city.

Not all provinces require contractors to be licensed. If your province does license contractors, then he might have had to pass a written examination in his specialty, although few licenses make this a requirement. A number of cities also require professional licensing. Check with your local licensing authority for details.

A contractor may also answer this question by telling you he has a business license. However, a business license is a tax requirement only and is not directly relevant to the contractor’s competence.

Several roofing manufacturers offer a variety of programs to professional contractors that establish their credentials as a knowledgeable roofing company. Homeowners can view a contractor’s credentials as another indicator of their degree of knowledge, professionalism, and dedication to the roofing trade.

4) How long has the company been in business?

Needless to say, longer is usually better. Under three years may signal an unstable business or one low on the learning curve.

On the other hand, everybody has to start somewhere. References will be helpful to double check any business, and are especially important when dealing with a new business. A newer business may have a great future but it is only reasonable to be more careful when considering its referrals. The failure rate of small businesses in the first three years is very high.

5) Will the company provide referrals or references from previous jobs?

Ask for photos of completed work, if available. Keep in mind, however, that many roofers will not have photos.

Request a list of 10 names and phone numbers of recent customers (last 12 months). It is not necessary to check all 10, but you will be able to pick randomly from the list those you do call.

6) What is the company's workmanship warranty?

Typically, contractor workmanship warranties are for one year or more. Longer warranties are not necessarily more valuable than shorter warranties. The length of the warranty is less important than the intent and ability of the roofer to stand behind his warranty. That is best evaluated using customer referrals. Ask his customers specifically for information about these four things:

  • 1) Did he perform his work on a timely basis?
  • 2) Was he responsive when asked for information and changes?
  • 3) Did he act as if he cared about the customers interests?
  • 4) And finally, would you call the company trustworthy?

The roofer will warrant his workmanship. The manufacturer, on the other hand, warranties the roofing material against defects in manufacturing. Thus, two warranties will cover the shingle roof system. Understand them both. Ask for a copy of the manufacturer’s warranty pertaining to the specific shingle products you are considering.

Usually, problems of either workmanship or material show up very quickly. Therefore, the near-term warranty given by the contractor or manufacturer is more important than the warranty coverage during the later years of the warranty. Even if problems of workmanship arise after the workmanship warranty has lapsed, a reliable contractor usually will want to stand behind his work.

7) What is the company's track record for solving customer complaints?

Try to find out how your contractor handles problems when they do arise. Request a referral from a job that involved a complaint.

Ask the contractor if he has ever lost a job-related court case.¬†Ask if his contractor’s license has ever been suspended and why.

Also, in talking to the appropriate authorities, such as the Better Business Bureau and licensing departments, find out if any complaints have been filed against the contractors whom you have interviewed. Many contractors in business for any length of time have been involved in a dispute. Ask how the dispute was resolved, to test your contractor’s reputation.