Roof Warranties: Words of Advice

Feb. 7, 2006

Follow these 10 steps to select the warranty that matches your needs

Lost, forgotten, and voided: Hopefully, these three words don’t describe the state of your building’s roof warranty. The investment in a new roof is significant, and with the hopes that it will last 10, 20, or even 30 years, it’s important to hold on to the warranty protecting it. Unfortunately, knowing where it is located isn’t enough to comply with its guidelines.

When shopping for a new roof, the menu of warranty options can be as daunting as the roof systems available to you. You might be wondering how something so simple could be so confusing. “There’s really nothing typical about a warranty. There are so many different types,” explains Thomas W. Hutchinson, principal, Hutchinson Design Group Ltd., a Barrington, IL-based roof consulting company. The three most common types of warranties issued today are material warranties, material and workmanship warranties, and full-system warranties (which cover the entire roofing system and its components). There are monetarily limited system guarantees and no-dollar-limit (NDL) roofing system warranties as well. First and foremost, buy the right roof for your application. Secondly, select the warranty that most closely matches your needs.

The following 10 steps may help:

1. Read the warranty. Understand the terms of coverage.
When the words “read the fine print” are uttered, it typically makes the listener feel guarded and nervous. In the case of roof warranties, this advice is applicable because the conditions provided in warranties can differ greatly. “There are two parts to any warranty - the promises and the disclaimers,” says Hutchinson. You must be aware of both to have a clear and realistic understanding of what your - as well as the manufacturer’s - responsibilities are.

According to the Rosemont, IL-based National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) in its roofing warranties advisory bulletin: “There is a common misconception by roofing consumers that long-term warranties are all-inclusive insurance policies designed to cover virtually any roofing problem, regardless of the cause or circumstance. Roofing warranties typically do not warrant that the roof system will not leak or is suitable for the project where it is installed.” Don’t convince yourself that your roof is invincible because it is guaranteed. The results could be disastrous - not to mention costly.

Review in detail the restrictive provisions, exclusions, and terms of coverage. Once you’ve reviewed the warranty, ask questions. Are leaks, or the things that result in leaks, covered? “Is [the warranty] covering additional things such as blisters, which may not leak? While it may be an aesthetic issue, if it’s not leaking or won’t result in a leak, some things won’t be repaired or replaced,” explains Helene Hardy Pierce, executive director, contractor services, GAF Materials Corp., Wayne, NJ.

Also, make sure that the terms included are clearly defined. For example, if the warranty includes wind coverage, question what the speeds of “gale-force winds” are.

2. Consider the length of ownership when shopping for the right warranty.
You may or may not know whether the building you are re-roofing will always be in the company’s real estate portfolio, but if you suspect a sale in the near future, make sure the warranty contains a transfer clause. “Most warranties are not assignable by the owner. However, under certain conditions, many times a manufacturer will consider the issuance of a new warranty for the remainder of the original term to the new building owner after certain conditions are met,” explains David Schick, warranty program administrator, Mule-Hide Products, Beloit, WI. Without the clause, transfer of building ownership will likely void the warranty.

Review the clause carefully to make sure it specifies the number of times the warranty can be transferred and what is required to do so (e.g. re-inspection of the roof, a clerical transfer fee, etc.).

3. Request addendums and inquire about additional coverage.
If the warranty you are offered doesn’t contain a transfer clause, ask for one to be added. “If there is no clause, the property owner should request clarification to be written in the form of an addendum,” says Hardy Pierce. A roof consultant can serve as an independent third party between the manufacturer and owner if there is a dispute. They can also help an owner request further clarification and determination of coverage by submitting addendums that are agreeable to both the owner and manufacturer.

Warranties typically contain exclusions regarding damage from hail and wind as well as other “acts of God.” “If you’re in an area where wind is very prevalent, there are add-ons to guarantees that can be part of the warranty ... for an additional charge,” explains Joe Smith, group manager, roofing services, Johns Manville, Denver. These types of add-ons are not available for every roof. Manufacturers will only offer these with select systems that are manufactured, designed, and installed to perform under these conditions.

4. Recognize that longer warranties and extensions come with conditions.
The 30-year warranty has come onto the scene and is raising more than a few eyebrows. According to the NRCA: “Manufacturers who use long-term warranties as marketing tools have found themselves compelled to meet or exceed warranties of competitive manufacturers. In some cases, the length of the warranty may have been established without appropriate technical research or documentation of in-place field performance.” If you suspect a lengthy warranty is nothing but a false promise, Hutchinson recommends asking how long the product has been in service. If the warranty length exceeds the number of years it’s been in use, be wary. “The true test is time,” he concludes.

If you purchase a system with a lengthier warranty, expect a bigger expense. “The longer guarantees will be more expensive - not just because of the guarantee charge, but they’re also typically more premium systems,” explains Smith. Do your homework. The warranty may specify that it be renewed periodically, and during those intervals the owner may be responsible for additional expenses. “Typical [warranty] lengths are 10 to 20 years. Warranties that exceed these lengths may have very specific requirements and costs associated with them to realize their advertised length,” Hardy Pierce explains. “There are 30-year advertised warranties available that require renewal every 5 years during the 30-year term, or they are voided.”

As opposed to this type of warranty, some manufacturers offer an extension of coverage. For example, a 20-year warranty might be extended an additional 5 years at the end of the term if an annual inspection and routine maintenance are performed according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

5. Make sure the company issuing the warranty has the financial means to fulfill its promises.
A warranty is just a worthless piece of paper if the manufacturer doesn’t have the ability to make good on its promises. A little research can help you determine the company’s financial capacity. Hop on the Internet and find out if the manufacturer is a publicly traded company, how long it has been in business, etc. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. “When you purchase a warranty, that money should go into a reserve,” says Hutchinson. “If you’re purchasing a 30-year warranty, you certainly want to make sure that the company you’re purchasing it from has a separate warranty account that’s used for nothing except warranties. You want to make sure if they go bankrupt, the money’s there.”

6. Recognize the correlation between quality of materials and workmanship and warranty length.
Manufacturers are not likely to guarantee a system for longer than its life. A longer warranty (or a full-system warranty) typically results in a better installation. “As the warranty length goes up, the quality of the contractor required by the manufacturer (in most cases) is going to also rise,” says Hutchinson. Manufacturers provide training and certification on varying levels to contractors, and the job is only issued to an elite member of their list when the system and warranty require an absolutely error-free installation.

7. Ask your contractor to guarantee its work.
“Roofing contractors typically issue a 2-year labor warranty so that they are responsible for labor defects for the first 2 years of the warranty. This also coincides with their typical commitment to the material supplier for labor defects when a roofing system guarantee is issued,” explains Hardy Pierce.

Speak up. If it’s not offered, then ask for it. When contractors are vying for the job and costs are scrutinized, the warranty might not make it in the bid. “If you don’t request it of the contractor, you can’t expect it. Everything is too competitive nowadays,” says Hutchinson. Make sure you perform regular inspections before the end of this 2-year term so that any errors can be corrected while the roof is still under warranty.

8. Perform roof maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction and warranty guidelines.
A warranty is no reason to neglect your roof system. In fact, lack of maintenance can sometimes void the warranty. Hutchinson explains: “It’s an owner’s responsibility to perform yearly maintenance and document it. Not only is it a good idea, but if the claim was large enough, a manufacturer might call you on that.” When the warranty is issued, it typically accompanies a care manual detailing upkeep, inspection, and repairs. Design your preventive and routine maintenance program around these specifications, document efforts, and keep a log of all individuals that are on the roof. This ledger can be helpful in pinpointing the cause of problems resulting from technicians who, in repairing rooftop equipment, inadvertently damaged the roof system. “By the letter of most warranties, the manufacturer would not be required to repair that,” says Mule-Hide’s Schick.

Read the terms and conditions related to maintenance in the warranty so you understand your obligation. “Some warranties have a burden for proof, and others may require that specific steps be taken, such as coating or annual inspections be performed for a preset fee,” says Hardy Pierce. For example, a warranty that dictates you recoat the roof every 5 years could be voided if this action isn’t performed - regardless of whether it was necessary.

Also, be aware that what you’ve been asked to sign might not be a warranty at all. “You shouldn’t have to sign a warranty. What you’re signing might be a service agreement,” explains Hutchinson.

9. Communicate problems in a timely manner.
When you discover a roof problem, it’s necessary to notify the manufacturer. “Any time you make a modification to your roof system, normally the warranty’s going to require that the manufacturer be properly notified,” says Schick, “and that a contractor eligible by that manufacturer be employed so that the modification is properly done.” Failure to notify a manufacturer of a problem in a timely manner could void your warranty. Small problems can, over time, become catastrophic. Manufacturers are not likely to replace an entire roof that could have been repaired 2 years earlier.

10. Inquire about who will perform any necessary inspections.
If the manufacturer stipulates that inspections will be performed, inquire about who will be performing the inspections. “Owners may be very interested to know that some roofing manufacturers don’t have independent professionals doing their roof inspections, and instead it’s being done by a representative from their sales force,” says Hardy Pierce. “That may be a conflict of interest.”

Make a wise roofing purchase, carefully review the warranty that accompanies it (if necessary, run it past an attorney), and maintain the roof through routine inspections and repairs: That’s a strategy anyone can guarantee will be successful.

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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