Annemarie Earhart, of Sterling Heights, Mich., could hardly believe it when she found out that she was getting a new roof. Overwhelmed with medical bills in the aftermath of an auto accident, the disabled mother of three had already been notified by her insurer that it would no longer cover her home if the roof were not fixed. In September she got a roof for free from Macomb County roofer Ridgecon Construction, as part of the company's annual No Roof Left Behind initiative.

For the last three years, Ridgecon has replaced the roof of a worthy resident in its service area at no cost. Candidates for that free roof can be nominated by anybody except themselves on a page the company has set up on its website.

Nominations — which the company accepts from April through July — include roof photos as well as information about the particular homeowner and his or her circumstances. After some investigation, a four-person panel selects the three worthiest candidates among the nominees. The choice among those three is then thrown open to online voting. In effect, the community selects which of the three gets the roof, with ongoing voting posted online.

Blue Tarps

Plenty of home improvement companies have joined forces with Habitat for Humanity or other philanthropic groups, donating services or coordinating the efforts of subcontractors or volunteers to render assistance to community members. Ridgecon co-owners Matt and Jay Elie got the idea for their No Roof Left Behind program from talking to their clients. Lots of people who couldn't afford it needed their roof replaced. "We kept seeing blue tarps go up," Jay says. "And then, six months later, the blue tarp would be replaced with another blue tarp."

In 2009, Michigan became the first state in 25 years to suffer an unemployment rate exceeding 25%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That rate has since declined to 9.8% (as of November 2011) but unemployment in the Wolverine State is still higher than the nation as a whole. Heavily dependent on the auto industry and ancillary businesses, people in Michigan saw recession first and have watched its effects linger.

With that many people out of work, there were, and are, many homeowners with a roof that had worn out or worse. "We got pictures of roofs with tarps," Jay says. "Some had holes in them. Sometimes the holes were patched." Some photos of water-damaged interiors were also submitted. Nominees must live in Ridgecon's service area and be current on mortgage payments. Previous winners of No Roof Left Behind included a small-business owner who had suffered a stroke that left him buried in medical bills, and a family dealing with both medical bills and unemployment. In evaluating who the top three candidates might be, Ridgecon looked at "the physical damage, the homeowners' circumstances, and how much of this was out of their control," Jay says. In each case, the company sponsors an "installation celebration" — in effect, a block party — on the day the free roof is installed in the fall.

Pulling It Together

Putting together a year-long program like this has proved more consuming of time than of money. It takes work to line up sponsors and other support, to evaluate nominations, and to arrange the install. Ridgecon vendor CertainTeed supplied shingles for each free roof that Ridgecon has installed. Other vendors, such as Metro Sanitation, which offered free use of a Dumpster, donated additional supplies. And non-construction businesses donated their services to winners as well. Ridgecon donated its labor and, more importantly, its ability to make the project happen by coordinating the efforts of others.

This year the Michigan roofing company will sponsor No Roof Left Behind a fourth time. Jay says that he'd like to see more roofing companies donate a free roof a year to some worthy person in their communities. He says that initiatives like No Roof Left Behind have the advantage of focusing attention on the contractor who actually does the work rather than on a TV show or its sponsors. The program has elevated Ridgecon's profile in the area. Calls from homeowners and contractors in other states have Jay thinking about trying to take the program national. (You can contact him at [email protected].) A free roof a year, he says, "will focus attention on the contractor, where it belongs."