When it comes to roofing manufacturer warranties, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that no two are the same. Some transfer from one homeowner to the next, some don’t. Most are pro-rated, though a few are not. Some begin depreciating after a set time period has elapsed. Exactly which products are covered and for how long also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and from product line to product line. Some warranties are only honored if installed by “credentialed” contractors, which generally means those whose installers have been trained by the manufacturer on how to do the work. One result is that contractors who install the products often view product warranties as deliberately ambiguous. (These roofing warranty comparison charts from Tamko and GAF offer a quick view of warranties on different products by different companies.)

“The [roof] depreciates so quickly, none of [the warranties] cover labor, and the companies hassle the people who try to file a warranty claim,” says Dale Brenke, president of Schmidt Siding & Window Co., in Mankato, Minn. When selling, Schmidt Siding reps show customers a chart that the company has assembled comparing manufacturer roofing product warranties. That said, Brenke is happy to note that the Gerard stone-coated steel shingle product that his company installs is an exception. Gerard’s warranty, he says, “is our biggest selling tool” when it comes to persuading homeowners to buy a metal roof.
Yes, Homeowners Want to Know About the Warranty
Yet if contractors are dubious about some manufacturer warranties, homeowners are less skeptical. They like the idea even though they don’t know what it involves, says Tania Goodman, president of Majestic Exteriors, in New Jersey, which began offering a 40-year workmanship warranty two years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. “[Customers] say: Tell me about the warranty,” says Gary Kearns, vice president of Kearns Brothers, in Dearborn, Mich., which is why warranty information is smack in the middle of a Kearns Brothers proposal. But the warranty package offered by Kearns extends well beyond merely replacing defective materials. Not only does it include a 50-year warranty by GAF on that company’s architectural shingles but it also includes a lifetime workmanship warranty by the installer.

A new roof can wear out in less than 15 years, depending on climate and roofing material. So how could a roofing company warrant its work for a lifetime without being eaten alive by service obligations?

Kearns Brothers didn’t start with a lifetime warranty. In 1992 the suburban Detroit roofer began offering a five-year warranty; a few years later it converted to offering a 10-year warranty. Four years ago Kearns Brothers moved to a lifetime warranty—transferable for a fee to one subsequent owner—but only after carefully assessing its installation practices. The thinking went like this: If the manufacturer commits to a 50-year non-prorated warranty, why should the warranty on installation not be at least comparable?

The company could only consider offering a lifetime workmanship warranty because it had few problems with defective installations and has been in business long enough to know how long its roofs last. “If we didn’t install the roof properly, or the flashing, or the underlayment, we’d just go out and fix it,” Kearns says. “The beauty is that our crews are so good and our installations are so good that we don’t have those problems.”

The Last Roof You'll Have to Buy
Many construction companies would love to be able to warrant their work for as long as the owner owns the home. It’s a potent promise to make when selling a job. What you’re telling the customer, says Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing, in Tacoma Park, Md., which also offers a lifetime workmanship warranty, is that “this is the last roof they’re ever going to have to buy.” That’s a promise that many—upper-end homeowners especially—are willing to pay for. But before Maggio Roofing, which installs both flat roofs and steep-slope replacement roofs, switched to a lifetime workmanship warranty a few years ago, the company stepped up the materials it uses. “We realized that we had to build a better job,” Siegal says. The company did several things:

  • It switched to using a different membrane product for flat roofs, Fibertite
  • On steep-slope roofs, it upgraded to a 50-year non-prorated shingle.
  • It switched from using 30-pound felt paper to using synthetic underlayment.
  • And it began specifying as standard extensive ice-and-water shield, using metal in the valleys and ice and water shield under the metal.

The goal: a roof that will last 40 years. Let Me Show You How Our Roofs Are Different
Upgraded materials added anywhere from $400 to $700 to the cost of a re-roof by Majestic Exteriors, but without that additional cost there’s no way that the company could have extended its workmanship warranty from 10 years to 40. “The warranty thing never dawned on me until [Superstorm] Sandy,” Goodman says. After the storm that struck the Jersey coast in the fall of 2012 came a different deluge, this one of phone calls to roofing company offices, including Majestic’s. Many callers were homeowners desperate for someone to come fix or replace their roof.

The 40-year workmanship warranty has proven to be a potent sales tool when selling against one-truck operators whose only promise is to “get it done in a day” and who never mention any kind of warranty. Goodman says that she makes warranties central to her value proposition. And that means explaining exactly how the roof is different.

“I take [the homeowners] out to my truck and I show them a roll of Deck Armor and what this underlayment looks like as opposed to generic felt paper,” she explains. “I show them the pipe flanges we use. I could use a $4 pipe flange, but the ones we install are $20 and they’re reinforced with polycarbon to last a lifetime. We install ice-and-water shield under the siding and underneath step flashing. How could it leak?”

Since launching the 40-year warranty, Goodman says that she’s had five or six post-installation calls but has sold far more work for offering it. “It gives me the upper hand right off the bat,” she says. “I remind homeowners that, yes, you’ve got four other estimates and mine may be higher, but whatever contractor you go with at this point, you want to be sure they’ll be there when you need them.”

Being Proactive With Roof Inspections
Extended workmanship warranties presuppose a superior installation. Otherwise the service obligations would quickly put a roofing company out of business. When Maggio Roofing, in the Baltimore-Washington area, replaces a roof, the lifetime warranty that the company offers comes with twice-yearly roof inspections (built into the price).

It takes a Maggio tech 45 minutes to an hour to walk the roof, check the attic to ensure that ventilation is functioning properly, and to take note of anything that might look out of place or potentially problematic. If a problem develops that has nothing to do with the company’s installation—say a satellite dish installer opened a small tear in the roof membrane—there is a charge to fix it. “But at least you’re aware of it,” Siegal says. “We are proactive, and it keeps us in front of the customer.” Customers sign off on the results of roof inspections, and the form goes in their file.