“Lifetime” shingles and other common myths
Residential roof warranties can be confusing, and there is some basic information that homeowners need to know – and questions to ask a contractor – before committing to one of the largest renovation expenditures.
Warranties can be complex, as well as misleading. Installing “30-year shingles” on your roof does not necessarily mean your roof will be replaced or even repaired if there is a problem, even if something happens within as little as 10 years.
Once you understand how roofing warranties actually work, you won’t get caught up in a sales pitch about warranties and end up not receiving the coverage you believe you paid for.
There are two parts to the warranty: the materials warranty, which is supplied by the manufacturer, and the labour warranty, which is provided by the installation contractor.
Most manufacturers only warranty the product, not the installation. This means that if their product does not perform as it is supposed to, and the manufacturer has determined that it was a materials defect and therefore covered by its warranty, it can do one of two things:
1. Replace the shingles: In this case, the manufacturer will back its truck up to your house and drop off new shingles. It will be up to you to install them. If you have chosen your roofing contractor well, and he is still in business 10 years after your roof was installed and he has given a long labour warranty, you may be able to convince him to come back and install the shingles at no charge to you.
2. Payout: Some manufacturers’ warranties don’t replace the shingles, but will pay you money instead. This sounds good until you discover that the amount is pro-rated, which means it decreases proportionally over time. The usual procedure is for the manufacturer to pay the full amount for five years and then prorate amounts after that. This means that if your 30-year roof fails in 15 years, the company may pay you 30 per cent of what you originally paid for the shingles. The price it pays out will probably not be adjusted for inflation.
Even “lifetime warranties” are pro-rated and may not be of much value in 15 to 20 years.
The last bit of bad news about warranties is that most are “performance-based,” which means the definition is based on whether the shingle stands up and performs the way it is supposed to perform. The majority of manufacturers base their warranties on “water infiltration.” So even if the shingle falls apart, the warranty does not apply. It only applies if there is a manufacturing defect and the roof leaks. This means that if all the granules or other protective coverage washes off your shingles, or if they curl and fade, but no water gets into the home, then you don’t have a valid warranty claim.
Here are some key questions to ask your roofing contractor.
- Does the contractor automatically give you a labour warranty in writing with the quote?
- How long is the warranty for?
- Does the warranty cover installing new shingles, if there is manufacturing defect?
- Will the contractor come back in eight or 10 years and install new shingles at no cost to you, even if it is the manufacturer’s shingle that breaks down?
If the roofing contractor can’t answer these questions, it’s an indication that he or she probably don’t have a standard warranty policy.
You should, therefore, choose a roofing installation company that provides a labour warranty and choose a company you believe will likely to be in business at least 10 years from now.
There are excellent roofing contractors and some very good manufacturers’ warranties. Here are some suggestions to help you make the right decision.
- Find out if the manufacturer’s warranty includes installation cost or just the cost of materials.
- Determine if the warranty value is based on the original purchase price or on today’s replacement cost.
- Find out if the materials warranty is performance-based or based only on water infiltration.
A performance-based warranty will provide more extensive protection.
Also, keep in mind that if the installers don’t install the roofing materials as per the manufacturer’s specifications, the manufacturer will void the materials warranty. Some sources for reliable roofing contractors include the Better Business Bureau, the Roofing Contractors Association of British Columbia and RenoMark renovators who are members of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association.
Doug Kerr is president of Absolute Roof Solutions and president of Kerr Construction Ltd. in Vancouver. He can be reached at
Originally published on Home Makeover, August 2009: