You’ve been noticing all summer that the roof is beginning to look a little rough. Or you’ve been cleaning the grit and granules out of the gutters and are beginning to wonder what’s still left there protecting the shingles. Or there are some stain marks appearing on the ceiling of one or more rooms. Or a kind gentleman knocked at your door and told you that you need urgent roof repairs as it’s about to fall in on you (and by coincidence, he has a crew just around the corner and can take care of it immediately).
Assuming you didn’t fall for that last solicitation, you’ll need to address the roof maintenance upkeep and repair issue sooner or later, so what should you do?
There are a number of steps to getting a “good” quote for your roof.
- Inspect. Find out the current state of the roofing system,
- Diagnose the causes for any problems that are found,
- Evaluate. Decide on the scope of work you want to get quotes for,
- Prioritize. What are the key points that must be met by the work,
- Search. Find the contractors that have the credentials, experience, skill and general approach to meet your objectives,
- Investigate the marketing claims, promises made, track record of the contractor, and the references given.
The first step is to inspect what you have. A good starting point is to have a detailed inspection of the roof structure, both from the outside, and from the underside (attic or crawlspaces). An experienced inspector will be looking for some of the following things:
- Degree of damage and wear-and-tear of the roof covering,
- State of caulking and sealant at all flashings, roof penetrations, and features,
- Uneven wear on the roof surface,
- Damage to the roof covering caused by water, ice, snow or wind,
- State of repair of the various flashings (around chimneys, skylights, valleys, endwalls, etc.),
- Examination of the roof structure (deck type and thickness, rafter type and span),
- Examination of the decking for evidence of water penetration, leakage, condensation and related rot or mold,
- Examination of the undersides of all roof penetrations for evidence of water entry and other damage,
- Verification of the amount and type of insulation,
- Verification of the amount of ventilation (entry, channel, exit),
- If the decking is composite (plywood or OSB), whether any damage due to water (including sagging, delamination, or disintegration) is visible.
This inspection will give the raw data to determine what is working, what needs to be fixed urgently, and what may have to be fixed or improved over a longer period of time. If the homeowner doesn’t know how to “read” what they see, they may want to hire a consultant to ensure that all the important points are found and covered. Such a consultant should also be able to indicate what the interrelationships are between the various components, and which elements are the “cause”, and which are the “effects”.
When I do these inspections, I document the inspection with photographs showing what I have observed. At the same time, I will take measurements of the roof, insulation and ventilation to allow me to build up a physical description of the roof system. In addition to the field work, I usually conduct a detailed interview to determine the history of the house and to build up a performance profile of how the roof systems works over the different seasons.
With the inspection information at hand, and with the knowledge of how the roof behaved over the seasons, it is usually possible to determine which deficiencies caused which effects or symptoms. There is still some guess-work involved, as it is not possible to see all parts of the roofing system because they are covered by the roof covering or flashings. With experience, it is possible to figure out what may be going on.
Deficiencies with roofs usually fall into four categories:
- Poor Design (wrong or inappropriate components used for the conditions or situation)
- Poor workmanship (short-cuts, poor execution, lack of attention to detail)
- Poor performance of product (premature wear-and-tear)
- Required maintenance was not done on time
Disentangling which deficiencies were due to which cause does require some experience and knowledge of how things “should” work. For example, is a leakage caused by ice-damming, or condensation, or failure of caulking, or deterioration in the roof covering?
The objective of this step is to identify the deficiencies to be addressed, and to determine the sequence of work that will properly fix the underlying issues.
For example, consider the situation of a homeowner with a McGill split, experiencing periodic episodes of ice-damming, with some apparent leakage showing up as stains on the ceiling of some rooms. The inspection showed that the ice-damming occurs primarily near a bay window installed several years ago, but the leakage was also observed in adjacent rooms. The amount of insulation found in the roof at the bay window was equivalent to only R-12, and there was no apparent ventilation in that area.
The evaluation identified the building of the bay window to have been the trigger for the start of the ice-damming, and the direct causes were insufficient insulation and ventilation in that area. The failure to install appropriate waterproofing membrane underneath the shingles at that location contributed by not blocking the water accumulation.
Once you have an inventory of things to fix or improve, you need to prioritize them. Not every deficiency needs to be urgently addressed, and it is usually possible to break up the planned work into stages that are consistent and can be spread out over time. If you have the money to do everything at once, then that’s great. If you don’t, then prioritizing the deficiencies that have the greatest potential for damage makes more sense.
In the example discussed in the previous section, there were at least two approaches: to install waterproofing membrane at the places where the ice-dams formed, or to upgrade the insulation and ventilation to prevent the ice-damming from forming in the first place. There is also the possibility of installing heating cables along the portion that is experiencing ice-damming, but this solution is a band-aid trying to partially mitigate the underlying problems.
In addition to prioritizing what needs to be done, consideration also needs to be given to the overall performance of the new elements. What is the relative importance of factors such as cost, durability, reliability, resistance to the elements, appearance, maintenance requirements, etc.? Which products would be the best fit for the needs and wants? It’s a good idea to put down these requirements on paper. In more formal settings, these would be in a Request for Quotation, in which the scope of work, the product choices and the relative importance of the various factors are set forth. An experienced estimator will be able to develop a solid Request for Quotation, as well as a preliminary estimate and budget.
e) Search (for contractors able to do the work)
Next step is to find someone to do the work. Actually, that is rushing things a bit. Which companies should be invited to submit a quotation? Which contractors that have the credentials, experience, skill and general approach to meet your objectives? If things go wrong, how accessible and responsible will they be in resolving things?
Ideally, you’d like to have a company that has done the type of work you need done hundreds of time, with excellent results, and with nothing but glowing recommendations from former customers. They should be close enough to you to handle any warranty or repair issues quickly, and be accessible enough to answer your first call without having to be called (or e-mailed) multiple times. They will have all the necessary licenses, permits, insurance, training, and certifications to show that they are responsible, responsive, experienced and skilled in the field. Of course, they should also have a long list of prior work which they can submit to you for verification and references.
Unfortunately, the above does not describe the majority of the companies. As anything involving humans, there is a wide range of capabilities and ethics among contractors, and it really requires diligence on the part of the homeowners to determine who can be trusted to perform work in a proper and dependable manner.
Below are some of the things a homeowner should consider in deciding whether to invite a company to quote. This list is partial, and in no particular order. There may be other factors which also need to be considered for the specific circumstances.
- Where is the company located? Do they have an office that you can visit?
- How long has the company been in business under the current business name and owners?
- Does the company have all the legally-mandated licenses, permits, performance bonds, insurance, and regulatory registrations?
- Does the company have the certifications that show the training of the workers carrying out the work?
- Does the company do its own work and installations, or do they use subcontractors?
- Does the company have experience with the type of issues they’ll be asked to resolve, and with the type of home where these issues exist?
- Does the company have the expertise to install and maintain the type of product you are considering for use?
- Does the company have a portfolio of work (of the type that is relevant for your situation) that they can show you?
To come up with a list of candidate companies, you can use the internet, or the local business directory, or getting referrals from friends and neighbors, or by driving around and seeing the companies that are working in your general area or neighborhood. Keep in mind that if a company appears impressive in their marketing literature, then that may be because the producers of the marketing were very good at their job, not that the company represented is as impressive. Therefore, doing the homework on each company to answer the questions posed earlier, is essential to get to know who you’ll be inviting to quote.
The next step is to invite the companies to quote, and to investigate the information they present in their quote package. It is prudent to let them know what scope of work you are expecting them to do, but it is usually wise not to tell them much about the physical specifics because you want to see how they approach the issue of inspecting and estimating for your quotation.
The list of things the quoting companies should supply in their quote package includes:
- Copies of the licenses, permits, tax numbers, insurance coverage and certifications.
- Copies of the specifications and warranties for the products they plan to install.
- A written work scope that identifies the issues that need to be corrected, and the method(s) they will use to ensure that the issues are resolved.
- List of references going back at least five years, showing where they fixed issues similar to yours.
- Identification of who will be doing the work. If they use subcontractors, then copies of the licenses, permits, etc., for the subcontractors to be used.
There are other items that we recommend customers request from prospective contractors, which we can discuss when we’re hired to provide advice on this area.
Now comes the investigative part. All of the information provided needs to be cross-verified, and the references should be checked in person. At least two former clients should be contacted and their experience should be assessed in relation to your own needs. Why all this effort? Because you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars, and allowing other people to work on your house may expose you to even more potential damage. So you really, really want to be sure the people you are going to hire know exactly what they are doing, and will give you exactly what you ask to be done. Wishful thinking and optimism just doesn’t work here.
(c) 2013 Paul Grizenko
In another article, we will discuss how to analyze the quotation and determine whether it covers all the points that need to be covered.