Is Your Roof Warranty Really Protecting You?

Jan. 22, 2014
Read the fine print or risk voiding your coverage.

3 Keys to Avoiding Pitfalls
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.


Alice in Warranty Land: A Cautionary Tale
It’s time to stop using warranties as sales gimmicks

By Dick Fricklas

“The warranty will protect me,” said the Mad Building Owner.

“The warranty will protect me,” said the Rabbit Designer.

“The warranty does protect me, said the Shrewd Materials Manufacturer.

“How can this be?” cried Alice.

“In the roofing world, anything is possible,” explained Consumer Advocate. “It can be what you wish it to be, as everyone lives happily ever after – unless there’s a problem!”

What did the Building Owner wish for? A warranty that would take care of the roof for a wondrously long time, without the responsibility of keeping the drains free of debris or controlling rooftop abuse, and at a low price too.

Our Designer wished for a warranty that covered any errors of product selection, design, specification, or quality assurance. After all, if the Manufacturer warranted it, surely responsibility shifts to the Warrantor. Besides, we can tell the Owner what he wishes to hear – a warranty that lasts just about forever.

Our Manufacturer, after careful consultation with Mouse Lawyer, gleefully issued his warranty with exclusions covering materials, workmanship, weather, acts of God, and as an afterthought, indemnification so that the roofing contractor would have to pay all legal fees should anyone be rude enough to sue because of said exclusions.

The Manufacturer’s sales department wanted to join the party too. Their own technical department was a fussy bunch of nitpickers. They had the nerve to tell Sales not to take just any old roof condition. They want a sound substrate, dry insulation, and slope to drain. Now Sales could sell that job anyway, because the warranty would convince the other partygoers that everything would be just fine no matter how bad the actual conditions were, wouldn’t it?

Consumer Advocate wondered how logic could get so twisted. How could each party expect the warranty to supplant their own responsibility?

A Call to Arms
We are supposed to be roofing professionals with accountability to our roofing community. Why are we hearing of manufacturers accepting re-cover on projects where the covering should have been replaced and the deck rehabilitated as well? They assure us that everything will be fine because their warranty will take care of it.

Why are owners so willing to believe them? To complete the self-deception, the owner doesn’t even read the warranty. Why will contractors take the job, rationalizing that if they won’t, somebody else will?

Isn’t it about time for us to bring to a halt the practice of using the warranty as a sales gimmick? Perhaps we need to drop back to short-term warranties of five years from the manufacturer and one or two from the contractor, rather than the “super-warranties” of today. It makes it more likely that the roof system will be selected on its technical merit rather than promoted on its warranty length.

Even better, perhaps we should build quality into every roofing project by prequalifying good contractors, manufacturers, and inspectors. After all, it was a good roof that Alice was seeking, not a piece of paper with the Queen of Hearts’ picture on it, wasn’t it?

Over the last decade, there have been multiple reports of small surface blisters (rash blistering) appearing on asphalt shingles installed shortly before the blistering began. In some cases, the shingle manufacturer refused to furnish the specified warranty and claimed that the blistering wouldn’t affect the roof’s life.

Is it possible that roof life won’t be affected? Is it possible for the manufacturer not to say “If the roof life is affected, we will take care of it”? What does this do for the owner, who paid for a first-class roof and doesn’t have one? Or the general contractor, who is committed by contract to furnish a long-term warranty?

We sure hope Alice has a good lawyer.

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