Quality matters more in roofing

A cheap roof always costs more.

By Kevin Froeter, Sterling Commercial Roofing

Are you a business that often goes with the low bid?

In roofing projects, that’s usually not a good idea. Because in my experience, fixing problems caused by poor quality often costs more than the money you saved originally by going with the lower price.

A well-built roof should last 20–25 years. 30 years or more if you maintain it properly. But how do you know if the roof you just had installed is quality work? Looks fine from here…

And that’s the point. Even if you get up on a ladder, it’s hard to tell by looking whether your roofing contractor did a good job. There are some clues, like shoddy-looking corners, curling seams, exposed nails, but the hard fact is, there’s only one true way to measure roof quality.

When it starts leaking.

A poor-quality roof starts leaking well before the twenty-year mark, sometimes within a few years. And unfortunately, you don’t always notice it right away. Water may be collecting between the roofing material and the decking, causing mold, mildew or rotting before the dripping—and the resulting damage to equipment, furniture, carpeting, computers, product inventory—starts.

A cheap price is a red flag. How do they price it so low? Often they’re paying their people less. Which means they may be less experienced, less conscientious and less skilled at their craft. The bidder may be cutting corners somewhere in their materials, whether it’s in the underlayment, or the adhesive, or the flashing, or the roofing itself.

And a lower price almost always means lower service levels. During the job, do they show up consistently when they say they will? Do they complete the project without delays? If there is a problem in a few years, you’ll need it addressed right away. Will they return your calls? Will they respond quickly? After 40-plus years in the roofing business, I can tell you that with many of the cheaper contractors, too often the answer to these questions for customers is a very frustrating “No.”

It’s true in life and even more true in roofing: You get what you pay for. The higher bidders are almost always the higher-quality contractors. They tend to care more about the quality of their work, using the best available products and materials and installing them the right way, the latter of which provides you maximum assurance that manufacturer’s warranties are in full force during the life of the roof.

The better contractors’ people tend to be better paid, better trained and many if not most have longer tenure at the company. They tend to be more professional, arriving at the worksite when promised and working quickly and efficiently to complete the job without delays. All key factors in customer satisfaction.

Safety is important, too. Critically important. Aside from any liability issues, no one wants to see someone hurt on their business premises. Making worker safety a top priority is a mark of the best contractors.

Ensuring that you’re hiring a reputable roofing contractor is a matter of a little due diligence. Request references and check them. Ask how long they’ve been in business. Ask about their safety record and EMR Rating, which insurance companies use to determine risk based on a contractor’s accident rates.

Ask for proof that they have the appropriate licenses, certifications and insurance. If they hesitate, not a good sign. Leading roofing product companies like GAF ( maintain a webpage for checking a roofer’s credentials. A little homework today can avoid headaches tomorrow.

One more thing. Even if you hire the best, it makes sense to have your roof inspected annually. That way, any developing problems—wind damage, bird or rodent nests, water pooling—can be addressed inexpensively before they become big, expensive problems. And your 20-year investment has a great chance of becoming a 25- or 30-year investment.

Kevin Froeter is President of Sterling, Illinois-based Sterling Commercial Roofing Co., serving customers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. He is Second Vice President on the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association (CRCA) Board of Directors and serves as Co-Chair of the CRCA Health & Safety Committee.