Stripping is a good thing. Really.

Roof stripping, that is.  This is the process of getting rid of the old roof covering material, down to the deck.  In the process, if done correctly, you’ll learn a lot of things about what worked on your roof and what didn’t.  As all things that are good for you, there are costs and inconveniences involved, aspects which are exploited by those contractors who don’t have your best interests at heart.

What are some of the typical reasons you’re given why leaving your old roof on and going over is/are acceptable?  They include:

  • You’re saving money.
  • It’s more ecological (no landfill waste!).
  • It’s more secure.
  • It provides another layer of protection to your roof.
  • It’s recommended by the manufacturer.
  • There’s much less residual mess to clean up.

So many great reasons why you should just leave the old roof on, and go over!  And yet, pretty much all of these are false, based on the homeowner’s lack of knowledge of how the roof system is supposed to work, and compounded by the contractor’s desire to get the job done as fast as possible, get paid, and move on.  If you are presented with the suggestion that leaving your old roof on is an acceptable strategy, there are a number of things you should be aware of before you agree to this.

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Planning for a new (re-) roof? A checklist of things to consider.

It’s winter, and you’re thinking about perhaps getting a new roof in spring.  Why?  Well, it could have been looking a bit worn and shabby in fall.  Perhaps you’re tired of living with the ice dams and icicles.  You could have been in the attic and noticed some condensation on the nails and wetness on the wood.  Or you may have been “stretching” it out as long as possible, and you’re getting afraid that this time it really won’t hold up any more.

So, let’s pick up the phone (or more likely, turn on the computer) and get three estimates.  That’s what we are usually told to do as a prudent way of getting a quote.  However, I will suggest to you that this approach is flawed, partly because it depends on the people doing the quoting actually caring about whether they will be doing the right thing for you (or not).  If you are lucky, you will get three knowledgeable, experienced and ethical contractors who will evaluate your situation, determine your needs, and tailor a solution appropriate to your situation.  Uh huh.  What do you think your chances are? 

What is somewhat more likely is that you’ll get a salesperson who needs to fill his or her quota.  They may (or may not) know their product, they may (usually not) know how the product is installed and they may (but almost certainly not) know what kind of things can go wrong.  Will they do a proper inspection?  Will they try to understand what is working (or not) in the current installation?  Will they pick an appropriate product for the situation or will they sell the product they have (whether it is appropriate or not)?  How will you know if the company will do the necessary preparatory work?  Unless you’ve done some homework ahead of time, you don’t.

Let’s review what you need to know.

The first step is to know what you have – that takes an inspection.  (see the blog post about inspections: https://consulting.prsroofing.ca/2014/01/03/roof-inspections/).  If you’re not sure of what you need to be looking at, the article “Components of a sloped roof system” (https://consulting.prsroofing.ca/articles/components-of-a-sloped-roof-system/) may  help.  If you’re not comfortable doing such an inspection, you could consider hiring us (see the “Contact Us” form here:  https://consulting.prsroofing.ca/contact-us/).

The rest of the process is described in the article “How to get a good quote for your roof” (https://consulting.prsroofing.ca/articles/how-to-get-a-good-quote-for-your-roof/) located in the Pages/Articles/ section.

When it comes to choosing the contractors to give you the quotes, you want to use those who have the track record of good performance of work.  To find them, you could use the information in the article “How to choose a contractor in Quebec: (https://consulting.prsroofing.ca/articles/how-to-choose-a-contractor-in-quebec/).

If you go through the articles I referenced, you’ll find that there’s quite a bit of homework to be done before you choose the best quote.  And that’s the point – it may look like you’ve got lots of time to spring, but doing the homework takes time, and the good guys that you’ll want to hire are going to be fully booked by the time the season starts.  Better put this on your to-do list. 

(c) 2014 Paul Grizenko

How assumptions lead us astray

“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

― Miguel Ruiz,  The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Assumptions.

We can’t live without them.  That’s just a fact of modern life.  We can’t possibly fact-check everything we come across, or hear, or read.  So as a convenient short-cut, we make assumptions that allow us to move onto whatever it is we’re trying to do.  If those assumptions were wrong, then most of the time, it’s usually not a big issue, as we probably didn’t make life-altering decisions based on those wrong assumptions.

Assumptions are the ground upon which we build the structure of our thinking.  Just as most times you don’t probe the ground in front of you before taking a step, you don’t check every bit of information about something before thinking about it, or making a decision, or taking an action.  Most of the time, that’s perfectly fine, because we’re usually in familiar territory and we’ve passed this way and that way many a time without any negative consequences.

When we venture into new areas, we need to be a bit more careful.  Unfamiliar territory “may” be just like what we already know, or it may not.  If it is not, then how will you make sure that it is safe, or that you are making the right decisions?  How do you know that the “rules” in this new place are the same that you are familiar with elsewhere?  The reality is that you don’t know.  And making the wrong assumptions can start having serious consequences.

What does all this have to do with roofing?  Lots, as it turns out.  Roofing is a field of expertise that is alien to most homeowners.  Dealing with contractors, especially if you’re doing it the first time, is also a form of altered reality.  When we get called to figure out a problem, we start by finding out the situation beforehand, what was requested in the contract, what was delivered, and how the result differed from expectations.  As we peel away the various layers, we almost always find that at the base, the problem started with the wrong assumptions being made, which then allowed the wrong decisions, and wrong actions.  We have traced unsatisfactory results to assumptions made by homeowners, by the contractors, and by the workers.  Even inspectors are not immune to this type of fault.

What are the assumptions that lead us astray?  There are, unfortunately, many.  The ones below are probably among the more common, however the list is definitely not exhaustive.

A.    Assumption:  Buying a roof (or renovation) is just like buying a product like a car or a fridge.

Ah.  A very common assumption, which could be true IF all homes were constructed in the same way, had the same history, had the same environment,  were used in the same way, and were installed to the same standard.  However, the roof is not ON the house, but is PART OF the house, and interacts with various elements in the structure.  Since every home is somewhat different, the way the roof needs to be built and integrated with the rest of the structure is different for each situation.  When you add to this the differences in the performance expectations that the homeowners may have, then it should be obvious that doing a re-roofing project is much more involved than just replacing the roof covering.

Another common fallacy is that the specs are sufficient to make a decision.  When you compare products, you usually get the specs and compare them – what’s the performance, fuel efficiency of energy efficiency, operating costs, capacity, etc.  However, the specs for a reroofing project are usually much more poorly defined.  If you are relying on contractors to tell you what needs to be done (as part of the “free estimate”), you actually have no clue about what they will actually deliver, and if they have determined what needs to be done in a thorough and correct manner.  If you don’t know which questions to ask, then you also do not know if your needs expectations (whether expressed or not) will be met.

It’s should therefore not be a huge surprise that the estimates can vary all over the place – and the assumptions made by the contractors are also not explicitly identified, so the “real” scope of work that will be done is very variable.  In fact, when comparing estimates, we often find that the price for doing the visible part of the work (putting on the roof covering, for instance), is very close, but there is wide variation in the preparation and detail work.

If you DO want to make the comparison of quotes consistent, then YOU have to give the bidders a comprehensive spec which identifies the work to be done in detail, and references the products and quantities that are to be used.  This spec is known as a “Request for Quotations” document, and identifies exactly what your expectations are.  This is common for commercial work, but unusual for residential installations.  And yet, without this kind of information, how do you know what you are buying?

B.    Assumption:  The marketing information is accurate.

We all love poring through the nice shiny advertising brochures, looking at the attractive models and locations, and imagining ourselves having some of that good fortune.  Of course, there’s a little game being played here – we’re being invited to project ourselves enjoying the benefits of the services or products.  To help us in this fantasy, to allow us to rationalize it to ourselves, the advertisers list the various attributes that should allow us to agree that this product or service will deliver.  This is known as marketing copy.  It is, if done properly, very seductive and persuasive.

However, we all know that in real life, we don’t usually get only the benefit.  There are trade-offs, side-effects, compromises, and other consequences that don’t get mentioned in advertising copy.  Where do we find out about those?  That’s where the hard work of research has to come in.  Some of the ways to verify advertising claims include:

  • Reading the warranty or guarantee information, and most importantly, the exclusions,
  • If test results are being quoted, then looking up the tests done, and understanding under which conditions the test results are applicable,
  • Checking reviews by (hopefully) independent sources,
  • Seeing actual performance of products over time.

In other words, we need to find out under which conditions the marketing claims have the possibility of being realistic.  Otherwise, we’re just buying into a really nice fairy-tale, and expecting the “living-happily-ever-after” to happen to us.

C.     Assumption:  The warranty is there to protect me.

Or course it is.  That’s why it’s written by lawyers hired by the company supplying the product or service.  That’s why it’s written in easy-to-read fine print, and in easy-to-understand legal language.  That why there are clauses saying that the warranty is in effect only if the product is used as intended by the manufacturer.  And of course you will ONLY use it in the way it was intended, and ONLY under the conditions under which it is warranted.

Warranties, when referenced by advertising, are in fact marketing documents.  They also are a legal limitation of liability by the company, intended to keep their obligation to the consumer/user of the product at a minimum level.  They can’t totally escape all obligations – our various laws prevent for the most part that kind of escape, but they can limit the consequences to themselves.

There is a class of warranties that are wonderful to read in the scope of benefit they promise.  However, keep in mind that the warranty is in effect only as long as the specific entity that issues the warranty exists.  Therefore the most generous warranties are written with the expectation by the issuer that they won’t be in business when the warranty claims start pouring in.  Those companies that DO stand behind their warranties are usually very careful to limit their liability to ensure that they can deliver on the promises made.

However, stuff sometimes happens even to the best companies.  When those companies disappear, or get bought out, the warranty promises evaporate.  It turns out that the best warranty is the knowledge that the product or service is well built or delivered, and that there is no need for a warranty claim in the future.  When it comes to roofing, the best warranty is a contractor who knows what he or she is doing.  Which brings us to the next assumption.

D.    Assumption:  The contractor knows what he or she is doing.

This is a natural and normal assumption.  After all, the company wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t know their trade, right?  That’s true for the good contractors.  However, the fact that they are in business doesn’t mean they are good, just as the fact that a person is breathing and alive doesn’t make them a “good” person.

So how do you know if a contractor knows what he or she is doing?  There are ways to find out.  I’ve covered much of this in the article “How to choose a Contractor (in Quebec)”.  However, it is also important to know that the workers or subcontractors also know their trade, and that is where most people fail to dig deeply enough.

Another aspect of this assumption, is that the contractor also has a degree in mind-reading, and knows what your expectations are even if these are not voiced or written down.  If the expectations ARE fully expressed, it is an assumption that he or she will understand exactly the same thing you are meaning (if you doubt that, then you were never married or had a close partner).

Therefore, when the work is under way, it is very important to check in periodically with the contractor, or the crew chief, or the foreman to verify that what is being done DOES conform to your expectations.  If they know what they are doing, they’ll have no problem explaining what, how, and why they are doing something.  If they can’t or won’t explain, then that’s a big red flag.

E.     Assumption:  The contract doesn’t have to cover every detail, because it’s obvious what has to be done.

As was noted in the previous section, what is obvious to you may not be obvious to the contractor, and vise versa.  A good contract should clearly identify all the work to be done, and just as importantly, put limits on the work being done.  This is to avoid “mission creep” when the original project morphs into something else.  This is a particular problem with longer projects, and it can be both very expensive, and very frustrating to all concerned.

We notice that the preparation and repair work often gets a minimum of discussion, if at all, and yet this is where the biggest discrepancies often are found, between what is done, and what should have been done.  On some projects, the prep work can be equal to or even more than the cost of the “main” work.  Since good preparation is the foundation on which the rest of the project is built, skimping on it almost always leads to unsatisfactory results.  And yet, it almost never gets properly discussed and described in the contract.

F.     Assumption:  The building structure is fine.  We checked one part and it should be the same everywhere.

If the original inspection was done in a cursory manner, then this assumption can wreak havoc on schedules costs, and effectiveness of the result.  As noted earlier, a re-roofing project is the blending of the old with the new.  If the insulation is good in one area, but poor in another, you can’t use the same approach in both.  How this gets resolved depends partly on the type of contractor you have.  The good ones will bring the “surprise” discovery to your attention, and propose one or more ways to change the scope of work to accommodate this discovery (at additional cost, of course).  The unscrupulous ones may either use this as an excuse to really jack up the price (especially if they won with a very low bid), or they can pretend that there was no surprise, and work as if it wasn’t there.  In the latter case, you’ll have the surprise down the road, when things aren’t working as they should.

This comes back to the point, that the best way to prevent this kind of surprise is to do a thorough inspection before starting the project.  If there are areas that are hidden, they should be opened up and explored, especially if those areas have been linked to problems.

Summary

It has been said, that wisdom to make good choices comes from experience, and experience comes from bad choices.  The smart person learns from the bad choices of others.  So, be smart, hire us to help you define what needs to be done, and put together a plan to make it happen.

© 2014 Paul Grizenko

To get the right answer, you need to ask the right question.

If you are a parent, you know that already.  If you’re not yet a parent, well… you’ll find out.

The same applies when you’re interviewing someone for a job.  You check the resumé, the credentials, the references, you ask the questions about work experience, ability to work alone or in a group, etc.  Chances are, you know what the applicant needs to know and you can usually tell when someone is b/s-ing you.  However, a good interviewing technique is to ask the right questions.  And when you’re doing the interview for a position in your field, you know enough to know what the right questions are.

Now, you’re about to look for someone to put a new roof on your home, or perhaps to carry out the repairs.  You’re also going to be conducting interviews, but now, the chances are excellent that roofing is not your area of expertise.  In fact, the problem usually is that you don’t know what you don’t know.  So how will you be able to ask the right questions?

There are usually two ways of approaching this lack of knowledge.  One way is to educate yourself, by talking to neighbours and friends, by reading up on the subject, and by poking around on your roof and in your attic to try to understand what is going on there.  This approach will, at a minimum, give you a basic vocabulary, and an idea of how things work.  You still don’t have a lot of experience to guide your ideas of what is truly important and what is not, but you’re building up a base of knowledge.

The other way, is to rely on the good-will and the honesty of the contractors you will invite to quote on your project.  If you are lucky, one or maybe even all, will conduct an inspection, and give you a written quote.  If you are really, really lucky, you may be dealing with an ethical and knowledgeable contractor with many years of experience.  Chances are, you’ll be “pitched” by a sales rep, who will have some nice brochures showing styles and colours, and who will check off an official looking form that lists the type of work to be done on your roof.  Very nice.  But now, it’s time to start asking the right questions.  Such as:

  • What specifically is wrong with my roof, and what is working well?
  • What are the causes of the things that are wrong?
  • What is your evidence that you have got the right causes?
  • What are the weaknesses of the roof?  Which are potential, and which are causing issues at the present time?
  • How will your proposed scope of work correct the causes of the problems we’re seeing?
  • Which materials will you be using, and what is your evidence that these are the proper materials in our situation?  What kind of warranties are being supplied with the materials?  Are there any conditions on our roof that may void these warranties?
  • What is your experience in fixing the type of issues we have on our roof?  Can we have a list of references of prior work that had the same problem?
  • Who is going to do the work?  What kind of training and experience do they have?  How long have they been working with your company?  What licenses and permits do they hold?
  • What kind of warranty will you be supplying on the installation (labour)?  What are the exclusions, limitations, and clauses that may limit the responsibility you have for the installation?
  • What protocol do you follow if you find things after the start of the work, that were not covered in the contract?  How will you assure me that this “extra” work is actually needed, and is not an attempt to increase the profits by doing unnecessary work?

What happens when you don’t ask the right questions?  Well, you get fed a story, and it may be a very attractive story.  But if the story doesn’t address your specific situation, then you’re getting a performance.  Performances can be very entertaining, but at the end of the exercise, you will have paid out thousands of dollars for… what exactly?  You may convince yourself that you have gotten a deal, and that the end result looks pretty good.  But if you haven’t asked the right questions, you may end up with a very expensive band-aid over a problem that was not fixed and will come back again.

Asking the right questions is important.  If you don’t know the vocabulary, we can offer you our expertise.  It may be to do a full and proper inspection to determine the exact state of your roofing system.  It may be to develop a plan to address specific issues in a comprehensive way.  It may be to review the quotations submitted and read between the lines to see what will actually be done.  It’s always a lot cheaper to get it done right the first time, than to try and fix something after the fact.

And it starts with knowing which questions are the right questions to ask.

(c) 2013 Paul Grizenko