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Things to Look for When Buying a New Roof

If you are in a hurry you can skip down to the list, but I encourage you to read the reasons for the list first. It will help shed some light on why it is important to look for certain things. It may also help you to understand why you have been so frustrated with buying a new roof.

The Reason for Needing The List:

Yesterday I met with a homeowner. He was confused about the specifications on his new roof, said he had already met with a few roofers, he didn’t say how many, and each one seemed to be doing something different.

Some of them wanted to put in a ridge vent. Some wanted to leave his one power fan. Some wanted to tear off the old shingles but leave the old felt. Some wanted to leave the shingles. In the valleys, some wanted to put ice and water shield, some didn’t even mention it. Some said gutters would help with the water runoff, and some said a rain diverter would be fine. Some wanted to run the ridge vent to the edge and some wanted to stop it a few feet short. And I could go on and on.

When you start the process of buying a new roof it is confusing. You have questions like, “Who do I call?” “What shingle do I use?” “What should I pay?” And you would think that as the process moved forward the confusion would subside and you’d be left with a simple task of picking the one you like. Yeah right, the further along in the process you go the more confused or frustrated you get. And at the end, you are sitting there with 4 estimates, with a huge range in price and specifications, and you still have no idea what to do.

If this is you, you are not alone. In fact, you are in the majority, and this explains why the internet has thousands upon thousands of articles and information on choosing a contractor; because we, as roofers, are self-serving idiots when it comes to helping homeowners decide what is best for their house.

We, again as roofers, either don’t take the time to explain why we are doing what we are doing, or we haven’t learned enough to know why we do what we do. Some of us just do it a certain way, whether right or wrong, because that is the area standard or that is how our dad did it.

On behalf of all roofers, I apologize. I am sorry that we actually make a difficult buying decision worse.

So, what I want to do is give you the information you should have been given in the beginning. The information that focuses on what really matters: you, your house and what is best for it.

The List of Things To Look For When Buying a New Roof:

** A Note: This list is assuming you are interested in buying an asphalt roof. If you are considering a metal roof, which is a good idea, all of this applies except #2 (What Shingle?). I’ll post a separate list of things to look for when considering a metal roof, but this one first. If you are interested in metal roofing, click here, but first read this list.

Do you need one?

Sounds obvious, but make sure. How do you know if you need a new roof, or if a repair is good enough? These 3 things will determine if you need a new one or not.

  • How old are the shingles? If they are older than 15 years then repairing may not do much good.
  • If they are under 15 years, repairing might be a good option.
  • Is it leaking in one spot or all over the house? This may not be visible from the inside but from the attic (ask the roofer to look through the attic and see)

If they are curling or buckling it is time to replace the roof because once a shingle starts pulling up it won’t reseal and it will begin allowing water to get in.

What Shingle Should I Install and Should I Tear Off The Old Roof?

That sounds like a loaded question, doesn’t it? I’m not talking about what manufacturer but what type; 3-tab or architectural. In short, at least from what we’ve seen here in South Carolina, 3 –tab shingles won’t last more than about 10-15 years. In many cases, less than that.

What Shingle?

Why not 3-Tab Shingles? 1) they have slots in them that leave a portion of your roof with only one layer. The slots also are the reason there are so many corners on a shingle (isn’t that what is curling?”). 2) they are thin.

Architectural shingles are laminated, meaning 2 (or 3 or 4) pieces are glued together to make the shingle the way it is. What that means to you is this: it has no slots in it. There aren’t any corners to curl up and no areas left with only one layer of shingle. Yes, there is a tiny space between each shingle, but that is inconsequential compared to the gaps left in a 3-tab shingle.

Do I Tear off My Old Roof?

My answer is YES. For two reasons.

The manufacturer admits there are advantages:

  • For example: If there are any defects in the roof deck, they will be revealed when the roof is torn off. These defects should be repaired before applying the new roof.
  • If condensation problems exist in the attic, they too will be revealed when the roof is torn off. Properly designed attic ventilation can then be installed in order to help eliminate such problems.

When the old roof is torn off, waterproofing shingle underlayment can be installed before applying the new roof. This will help protect against leaks created by cyclical ice damage and wind-driven rain. (CertainTeed)

From a practical standpoint, I want to know, as a roofer, what I am dealing with. If you leave the old roof on then there are unknowns that I am not comfortable with. Besides the fact that the shingles on top will look older then they really are, if you leave the old roof on, any rotten wood around a chimney won’t be seen. I can’t confidently look a homeowner in the eye and tell them it is a good idea to leave the shingles on when installing a new asphalt roof. One note on tearing off the old felt. Here is South Carolina, roofers, sadly, are famous for tearing off the shingles and leaving the old felt. It is absolutely ridiculous the level of incompetence and outright selfishness that would allow a roofer to tell a homeowner they are tearing everything off and then leave the 20+ year old felt on there. There is no reason given that even remotely makes up for the lack of sense and laziness this takes.

Is Ventilation Important? And if so, Then What Type?

Making sure the attic is properly ventilated is essential when having a new roof installed. If you don’t have adequate ventilation in your attic, the manufacturer won’t give you a warranty on your shingles. Or, if they do, it will be a very limited one. Proper ventilation in a house is one of the most important things you can have. It will keep the house cooler, saving you money on air-conditioning, and it will keep the moisture level in check, saving your insulation from losing R-Value (which will keep heat from escaping in the winter).

There are some very important things to consider when updating your ventilation as well. I have posted on this topic before so I am just going to place a link to it here. Read it. It may really help keep you from letting a roofer do something stupid to your house, like install a ridge vent and leave the old turbines or power fans.

Who Should Be Installing My Roof?

Isn’t this the mother of all questions? Because if you get the right contractor, won’t everything else fall into place? So how do we know who the right person is? Make sure you put as much research into the Contractor you are hiring as you do the shingle he is installing! Here are some things to look for and questions to ask:

  • Do they have a permanent place of business?
  • Do they carry insurance and is the coverage adequate?
  • Are they a licensed, registered contractor and in good standing with the trade association and Better Business Bureau?
  • How long have they been in business as the same company? (a lot of roofers close down due to complaints and lawsuits and open up under another name)
  • What is their record for complaint resolution?
  • What is their workmanship warranty? (don’t believe a 10-20 year warranty when the company isn’t even that old)
  • Do they provide sufficient details for the project being performed?
  • How do they handle unforeseen or unknown extra costs?
  • Can they provide references for you to talk to?

How Do I Know The Price I’m Paying is Fair For What I’m Getting?

Unless you buy roofs all of the time, and you might, how do you know the roofer is not trying to rip you off? You would think getting multiple estimates would help, and it could, but usually, you end up with 4 estimates ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 and they are all doing something different. So there really is no way to compare on price, which is hard because comparing price is all we as consumers know how to do. If everything were equal; the specifications were the same, the insurance was the same, the shingle was the same, then comparing on price is easy, but that just isn’t the case very often.

Here are some questions to ask and/or things to look for when deciding if the price you are given is fair for the job they are doing:

  • Has the contractor done work in the neighborhood? Nothing will spread faster through a neighborhood then someone ripping people off. If they haven’t worked in the neighborhood then talk to people, with a house like yours, that he has worked for.
  • Has the contractor done houses similar to yours? Here in South Carolina, like most areas, we have neighborhoods that are twenty-five years old and some that are a hundred. Make sure the contractor has a handle on the specifics of houses like yours or he could be estimating it too high or too low, both are bad.

Make sure you know what is included and what isn’t. Get a price per linear foot or square foot (whether it is a board roof or a plywood roof) up front so you know what to expect if they find something rotten around the chimney. Be leery of roofers who say all of the woodwork is included. Think about it…how is that possible unless they have a crystal ball?

What happens if they find more woodwork than they expected? Basically, you get screwed because he won’t be doing it.

Now obviously following this list of things to look for won’t ensure you have a problem-free roofing experience, but it should be pretty close.

Roy Bauer

Bauer Roofing

If you are looking for a Columbia roofing company, please call (803) 994-9498 or complete our online request form.