DIY Roofing – Can you? Should you?

Starting with this post, I will discuss the experience we have had with people contemplating doing the roofing themselves.  This topic will be explored in a series of posts, after which I will edit them into an article section.  If this topic is one you are considering, please send in your comments and questions, and I will incorporate those conversations into the articles.

There are some people who think they can “do-it-themselves”.  In some cases, it’s a good idea, while in other cases it’s a disaster.  If you’re considering going this way, here are some of the things to think about:

  1. Your reasons for doing this.
  2. Your ability & agility
  3. Your roof (Structure, complexity, condition, location)
  4. The product and its peculiarities
  5. Timing and effort required.

Let’s start by  looking at the reasons.  In my experience  people who want to do the roofing themselves are generally considering one of the following:

  • Cost-saving
  • Quality
  • Lack of available labour
  • Knowledge

We will start this post series looking at the Cost-saving as a reason to DIY (Do-It-Yourself).

Labour is a major part of the cost of doing a roofing installation.  If you’ve ever watched a roofing crew, it’s not uncommon to think “Really, how hard is this?  Doesn’t look like they are doing anything special”.  It’s true – roofing is not a highly esoteric  trade that requires years of diligent study and careful apprenticeship.  There are many DIY videos and downloadable instructions on how to do it yourself.  So what can go wrong?  Well, three things:

  • The law of unintended consequences
  • Murphy’s law
  • You don’t know what you don’t know.

When I get called to figure out why something on a roof isn’t working right, I often come across the law of unintended consequences.  The installer got the main technique right, but didn’t consider the way their installation would affect other aspects of the roof.  The roof is a system, and too often, people don’t think through how their actions will change the system.  For instance, one homeowner did a pretty good job installing a metal roof, but didn’t understand the way condensation can form under such a roof – and ended up losing a lawsuit to the purchaser of the home where he installed the roof.  Ouch.

We also know about Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong, will”.  While this can happen to anyone, it tends to happen to people who have not planned the project and are not ready with a plan B, with redundancy in either the work or the tools or the available help.  Tools break.  Helpers get sick or are needed elsewhere.  Weather doesn’t cooperate.  You discover hidden problems and defects.  Suppliers are shut down by any number of issues.  While it’s true that you can’t plan for everything, there is some basic planning that needs to occur, and some important risk analysis that should be done.  Knowing what the normal process is for doing this kind of installation, what kind of things can go wrong, and how things can fail will go a long way to reduce the havoc that Murphy can cause you.

The famous last words “Really, how hard can it be?”  or “What can possibly go wrong?” are all based on the fact that when we’re doing something new, we just don’t know what we don’t know.  When the potential consequences are minimal (such a trying out a new recipe or learning to use a new camera or computer program), it’s fun and it’s educational.  When the potential consequences are death or loss of your primary investment, then it’s really not a very good idea to proceed.  At least, not until you’ve made sure you have learned as much as possible.  Even then, having an experienced mentor or coach can keep you from making really expensive or damaging mistakes.

A side note about the advice contained in the on-line videos and articles:  as with everything on the internet, there is some very good stuff, some not-so-good stuff, and some really misleading stuff, and it is not always obvious why some technique or advice is either wrong or inappropriate for your situation.  As well, if the techniques illustrated work well in Austin, Texas, they may not translate to the environment in coastal Maine, or to an area like Quebec, because the ambient environment may be very different.  Be also aware that usually in the interest of keeping the videos short, the context is often glossed over – why is the technique illustrated the best one for the situation and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the technique?   

You can realize very significant cost savings IF you know what you are doing, IF you are capable of doing the necessary work safely under the prevailing conditions, and IF you have considered the roof as an integrated system.  We have trained and guided about 85 homeowners in the installation of metal roofs on their homes and cottages, and have had very good results, but ALL took the time to learn about how their roof system operates, how the product had to be installed, and how to do it in a safe manner.  If you want to benefit from this knowledge, give me a call – it may be the best investment you can make.

Next Post:  when “Quality” is the driving force behind the DIY installation.

(c) 2014 Paul Grizenko