3 Keys to Avoiding
Mistakes can invalidate your warranty, so
understand requirements from the inside out
By Janelle Penny
When was the last time you checked to see what the warranty from your roof system manufacturer covers?
If you haven’t recently suffered a leak, the answer might be never – and you may have an erroneous idea of what your warranty actually says.
“Except for sophisticated owners who manage a lot of assets, most clients assume ‘I’ve got a warranty, so I’m covered.’ That’s far from the truth,” explains Tom Gernetzke, president of RCI, an international association of consultants, architects, and engineers specializing in roofing, waterproofing, and exterior walls. “For example, many people believe that loss of use or damage to contents are covered, but unless you have an unusual arrangement, manufacturer warranties generally cover only stopping the leak.”
1) Understand Your Coverage
A typical warranty covers leak repairs caused by defective materials or poor workmanship by licensed contractors, explains James Hoff, vice president for research for the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing, a not-for-profit organization promoting sustainable roofing.
Warranty exclusions commonly include extreme weather, acts of terrorism, and damage from ponding water or poor maintenance. However, this section will occasionally include certain demands that you may not anticipate. Gernetzke, for example, noticed an unusual exclusion in the warranty for an off-brand modified bitumen sheet good.
“The strangest exclusion I’ve ever seen had to do with how long the material sat on the shelf prior to installation,” explains Gernetzke. “If the material passed the shelf life, even if it was approved by the manufacturer to be installed, there would be no warranty.”
Clauses like this underscore the importance of reading the warranty with your new roofing system before you buy.
“Get a sample copy of the warranty up front and look at what the document says when you’re making your buying decision, not at the end of the job,” says Mark Graham, associate executive director for the National Roofing Contractors Association. “Different manufacturers have different exclusions. Evaluate those just like you evaluate bids – put them side by side and take a look.”
As you compare, be sure you also have a handle on what’s required to keep your coverage, Gernetzke recommends.
“To maintain the warranty, building owners have to perform and document maintenance inspections,” explains Gernetzke. “Sometimes manufacturers will require you to use their maintenance people to maintain the warranty. With extremely long warranty durations, you may pay for the first 5 to 10 years up front, pay the manufacturer to send an inspector out every five years, and then pay for any work that they prescribe to get the next five years of warranty.”
2) Use Requirements as Leverage
These warranty stipulations nonetheless help ensure roof maintenance work is done by a qualified professional. Those rules provide strict requirements that contractors should account for when they bid on your project, covering everything from material thickness to flashing techniques. Once you’ve narrowed down the field, Gernetzke recommends double-checking their qualifications.
“Call the manufacturer and make sure the contractor is authorized. I’ve seen several occasions where a contractor claimed to be licensed by a certain manufacturer but wasn’t,” Gernetzke explains. “The manufacturer didn’t approve the contractor or the project, so when the owner went to collect his warranty, there was nothing available.”
Also make sure that the warranty itself is coming straight from the manufacturer, not from the contractor, adds Ric Vitiello, president of Benchmark Services, a forensic roof consultancy and asset management company.
“A contractor can write a warranty that looks nearly identical to the one from the manufacturer and will verbalize it to the owner by saying ‘There’s a 20-year warranty on this roof’ so that the owner assumes it’s from the manufacturer,” says Vitiello. “By doing that, the contractor is free to install the roof any way he wants. For example, the manufacturer may specify that fasteners be placed in 1-foot increments, but the contractor might install one fastener every 2 to 3 feet to save on labor and material costs.”
Vitiello also recommends retaining the contractor’s final payment until the roof inspection is completed.
“The biggest benefit of a warranty is that the roof is inspected by a manufacturer’s representative,” Vitiello notes. “Don’t make the final payment until you have the warranty in hand.”
3) Reduce the Likelihood of Needing Your Warranty
Don’t stop at making sure your contractor is licensed by the right manufacturer. Obtaining licensure means the contractor has been vetted to some extent already, but consider including additional quality indicators to make sure you’re getting the right contractor for your project.
“Many roofing manufacturers have developed rating and recognition programs for contractors where they provide quality detail reports or tiers of recognition to their contractor network,” explains Hoff. “Most of the manufacturers also have tiered approaches and will actively provide information about contractor performance.”
Be sure to ask how long the contractor has been licensed by your chosen manufacturer. Membership in the Better Business Bureau and roofing-related professional organizations is a good sign, Vitiello adds, as are references.
“Don’t end up with a contractor who’s completed the job only to find he’s not licensed and the manufacturer won’t issue the warranty,” says Vitiello. “A project that starts properly has a better chance of ending successfully.”
Janelle Penny is senior
editor of BUILDINGS.