The Roofing Shell Game

The roofing industry is broken, and warranties are often used as a “shell game” to create a false sense of security for the consumer.

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.” You’ve likely 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.”

Our extensive research shows that 50% of roofs that need to be replaced aren’t actually broken. In fact, the roofing industry has been plagued by problems for years. Some of the most common issues have persisted, while others have worsened.

What Happened?

Part of the change was due to a need for more regulation and oversight. In the past, there was more brick and concrete construction, which gave buildings stability. However, over time, building trends have used 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. These factors have all contributed to the increase in the number and severity of building collapses.

There are suddenly many more manufacturers and different types of roof systems. With their diverse associations, they’re compelling. At one time, the contractor and the consumer determined the roof system for their building. Now, the manufacturer and/or contractor are in charge of the decision.

The result? The roofing industry has become very problematic for the federal government and schools because their roofing projects are always put out to bid. Public entities often get trapped in the “low-bid pitfall” without a genuine warranty. They found that roofs last five to seven years, a considerable decrease from 20 years or more than the average lifespan used to be. 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 it won’t last 10 years.

The most crucial factor regarding warranties is that they usually have exclusions. This means that the manufacturer and contractor aren’t responsible for specific issues. For example, the main problems with roof system installations are 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 around 90% of roof leakage occurs through flashings. Another area that should be covered is the movement of the building. Those are just a few examples of the many possible warranty exclusions. A piece of paper will never keep a roof system performing and watertight.

So, if the problem is not the materials, but the application, why not hold the contractor responsible? This is how the shell gets removed from contractors: A contractor may have a contractual obligation to the manufacturer for two years after installation. If the roof fails 2-1/2 years later, the contractor is home-free, and the 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 a 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 wants to avoid being 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 the 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 a failed roofing system is often replaced without diagnosing what went wrong.

An example is an insufficient slope to drain the water from the roof (which means the new system will fail similarly). 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.

How can schools and municipalities protect themselves from liability and avoid costly mistakes when managing roofs? One option is to have the school’s lawyer comb through the warranty. Another option is to have an inspector make sure every aspect of the application is done correctly. This is why roof consultants like RAM USA are being called upon more often to oversee entire roof system installations from beginning to end.

An unbiased, objective opinion of an RCI-approved Registered Roof Consultant (RRC), such as RAM, can alleviate roofing concerns. The roof consultant works as the consumer’s advocate to provide the proper design, materials, and installation for their particular needs. An RRC has the technical credentials and experience 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 plans will specify the proper materials for a roof system.

Next, the consultant can use its tight specifications and experience to create “apples-to-apples” contractor bids and help in the bid analysis and award. This guarantees fair competition and provides the best value for the consumer, not simply awarding the lowest bid.

Finally, the RRC can manage the project. Complete on-site quality control and project monitoring to make sure everyone is successful. Studies have shown that proper project monitoring can double the life of a roof! Along the way, the roof consultant can always be honest with the parties involved in a roof installation. They can prevent the shell of responsibility from being passed around and promote accountability. Even after the project, an RRC can do maintenance to make sure the roof is in good shape and compliant with the manufacturer’s warranty.

You can also work with a cooperative buying agency like the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) to buy roofing systems more affordably. Not only that, but you can get your services much quicker. Some solutions offer surprise-free installation, the best value, and make you feel safe with your roof system.

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