The Roofing Shell Game

The Roofing Shell Game

If you think your new roof is protected by a warranty, you may be in for a big surprise.

You’ve just spent several hundred thousand dollars on a new roofing system for your building, and you have a 20-year warranty. You feel pretty secure. Sounds good, right? The operative word here is sounds. It’s very likely you’ve been caught in “a shell game,” says Jeff Cacioppo, President and CEO of RAM (Roof Asset Management) USA. “The warranty is offered, by design, to create a false sense of security, in many cases. Only the material is covered by the warranty, not the entire installation. The reality is this warranty is intended to protect the manufacturer and contractor, not the consumer.” Furthermore, while many assume the only recourse for an aging roof is to replace it outright, our research shows that 50 percent of roofs being replaced don’t actually need replacement. The roofing industry has problems, and some continue to get worse.

What Happened?

Part of the change was nobody’s fault. In the past, there was more brick and concrete construction, which gave buildings stability. Over time building trends have been to use more structural metal, which lends itself to movement and stress on the building. Also, more equipment (HVAC, etc.) has been put on the roof, and there seems to be more foot traffic.

This is accompanied by a growth in the number of manufacturers, and different types of roof systems which with their various associations, makes them very powerful. At one time, the contractor and the consumer determined the roof system for their building. Now it’s the manufacturer and/or contractor.

The Result? Roofing has become very problematic for the federal government and schools because their roofing projects are always put out to bid. Many times public entities get trapped in the “low-bid pitfall” without a true warranty, and have found that roofs on their facilities are lasting a mere five to seven years. Decades ago, the National Roofing Contractor Association found that the average longevity for a roof was 20 years. Simply put, the roofing industry is broken. It doesn’t help a consumer to have a “30 year warranty” for a single-ply roof system, if the roof won’t last 10 years.

The largest single factor related to warranties is that they are typically filled with exclusions, and they usually can move the shell of responsibility away from the manufacturer and contractor. The main problems with roof system installations are actually not typically found in the materials, but in the application. This critical labor factor is usually not covered in the warranty. Nor, is flashing, and approximately 90 percent of roof leakage occurs through the flashings. Another issue, not usually covered, is movement of the building. Those are just a few examples of the many possible warranty exclusions. The fact is…A piece of paper will never keep a roof system performing, and water tight.

So, if the problem is not the materials, but the application, why not hold the contractor responsible? This is a way the shell gets moved away from contractors: A contractor may have a contractual obligation to the manufacturer for a period two years, after install. If say, 2-1/2 years later the roof fails, the contractor is home free, and shell has moved from the contractor. So when the facility manager calls the manufacturer, they send out a representative who will say, “This is an application failure, part of the exclusion clause.” At this point, who is left to be responsible?

If the shell can be moved from the manufacturer and contractor, where does the designer of the roof system fit in? Design is critical. However, an architect may put out a one-page summary for bid, or they may specify 50 pages. These summaries detail everything from materials, installation, inspection, and maintenance. This makes it difficult to maintain consistently good roof system designs. Furthermore, when designing a new roof for an existing structure, typically the roof designer does not want be held responsible for existing building conditions. A designer is not likely to accept liability for new construction either. Why?

Public entities are generally required to bid out jobs that cost more than $25,000, and most roofs cost at least that much. About half of states have “Seal Laws” that require sign off by the design professional. The design professional could be an architect, roofing consultant, or engineer. However, the signature doesn’t render the designer liable. We call this the “missing link” in the process. Another missing link is that often a failed roofing system is replaced without the proper diagnosis of what went wrong. An example is an insufficient slope to drain the water from the roof (which means that the new system will fail in the same way). Since the architect/designer is not required to accept liability, they simply won’t. Thus, moving the shell of responsibility once again, leaving the consumer without anyone to hold accountable. The entire warranty process has issues. The responsibility of virtually everybody – from the manufacturer, contractor, and designer can be played like a shell game leaving no accountability.

So how can schools and municipalities protect themselves, and gather the right information for managing their roofs? One option is, having the school solicitor or lawyer comb through the warranty. Another option is having an inspector make sure every aspect of the application is done properly. This is why roof consultants like RAM USA are being called upon more often, to oversee entire roof system installations, from beginning to end.

The unbiased, objective opinion of an RCI approved Registered Roof Consultant (RRC), such as RAM, can alleviate the aforementioned roofing concerns. The roof consultant works as the consumer’s advocate to assure the proper design, materials, and installation are utilized, for their particular needs. An RRC has the technical credentials to accurately evaluate a roof system’s condition, and develop customized recommendations, designs, and specifications. Rather than allowing a manufacturer or contractor to dictate material choices, the RRC’s designs will specify the proper materials to be utilized for a roof system. Next, the consultant can use its tight specifications to create “apples-to-apples” contractor bids, and assist in the bid analysis and award. This can assure fair competition and best value for the consumer, not simply awarding the lowest bid. Finally, the RRC can manage the project/installation. Complete on site quality control and project monitoring can ensure everyone’s success. Also, studies have shown that proper project monitoring can double the life of a roof!

All along the way, the roof consultant can keep the parties involved in a roof installation honest. They can prevent the shell of responsibility from being passed around, and promote accountability. Even after the completion of the project, an RRC can perform routine maintenance to ensure that a roof system is in tip-top shape, and truly in compliance with the manufacturer’s warranty. Additionally, working with a cooperative buying agency, such as the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA), to purchase roofing systems can add further value to the project, by taking advantage of their competitively bid contracts. Not only that, but consumers have the ability to procure their services much more quickly and easily. As you can see, solutions exist that can eliminate the surprises from roof installation, provide the best value for your money, and truly make you feel secure with your roof system.