Technical Articles

Warranties Are Not Guarantees Of Successful Roofs

By Eric Younkin, The Garland Co. Inc.

For facility managers and building owners, one of the most difficult decisions is deciding which roof system will best protect their facility. With so many things to consider from cost to performance to aesthetics, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed at the mere thought of choosing a roof system. Since there are so many things to consider, what are the key things you should think about when choosing your next roof system?

One heavily weighed consideration seems to be the roof system warranty. It makes sense to include the warranty as a factor in the decision making process; however, all too often an undue amount of emphasis is placed on it. It is now common for the length of the warranty to be considered one of the most important factors when choosing a roof system, when in reality it should be one of the last things to consider.

Although warranties provide reassurance that your capital investment should perform as intended, at the end of the day, it is simply a piece of paper. A good warranty should not be a substitute for a properly designed, installed, and maintained roofing system. Most of the evaluation and effort in the development of a roofing project should be placed on the selection of the design professional, material manufacturer, and roofing contractor. Simply put, the warranty should be the bow that is placed on the final package.

Before we take a closer look into what goes into a properly constructed, long-term warranty, it is important to understand some of the common warranty pitfalls that can deceive a building owner by providing false expectations of performance.

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Standing seam metal roofs, such as the one shown here, may require complex detailing that should be reviewed by the manufacturer prior to installation.

Leak-Free Warranties

First, let’s consider the different types of warranties that are available and what’s included in each. “Leak-free” warranties are the most common warranties available today. Nearly every roofing manufacturer provides some type of leak-free warranty. It is important to understand that this is not a guarantee that the roof will not leak. Preventing leaks has nothing to do with the warranty itself, but rather the roofing materials selection and the quality of installation.

Leak-free warranties can also include varying levels of financial responsibility. There are both “Limited” and “No Dollar Limit” warranties.

Limited warranties limit the manufacturer’s financial obligation throughout the terms of the warranty. Typically, the manufacturer’s out-of-pocket expenses are limited to the initial cost of the manufacturer’s materials on the original project. Therefore, the manufacturer’s warranty obligations cease as soon as their incurred expenses in stopping leaks or correcting product failure equals the material cost of the products they supplied for the initial roof system installation. Once this occurs, the manufacturer has fulfilled its obligation under the warranty and is not required to perform any additional repairs.

No Dollar Limit warranties, on the other hand, have no financial limitation. This ensures that the total cost of leak repairs will be covered under the warranty for the entire warranty term.

Material Only Warranties

Another common warranty is material only warranties – meaning the manufacturer’s sole responsibility is to provide replacement materials should the original materials be defective. Material only warranties do not provide any labor or corrective action to mitigate leaks or rectify product failure; the responsibilities of those costs are assumed solely by the building owner.

Other Considerations In Reviewing Warranties

In addition to understanding the various types of warranties that are available, it’s also important to know how to determine the worth of a manufacturer’s warranty. After all, the goal of any roof installation is not to get the longest warranty, but rather to achieve the maximum service life from your roofing investment.

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Pitch pockets require routine maintenance and should be considered as part of a preventive maintenance program.

Manufacturer Considerations

Since most roofing manufacturer’s warranties are written with similar terms and conditions, it is important to understand what to consider when comparing manufacturer’s warranties. Working with a reputable manufacturer that is involved in all phases of the roofing project, from design to project close out and issuance of the warranty, ensures the best protection against leaks. It also eliminates the “finger pointing” that can result after a warranted issue arises because the manufacturer has not been involved in each step of the installation of their products.

In finding a reputable manufacturer, one of the first things to consider should be the manufacturer’s stability. Has the manufacturer been in business for at least the number of years as the warranted term? Relying on a 30-year warranty from a company that has been in business for 10 to 15 years does not seem to make sound business sense. Although the proposed roof system may last 30 years, the manufacturer does not have a 30-year track record of product performance to back it up.

Another recommended tool in reviewing financial stability is the manufacturer’s Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) report. If the company is not financially sound, there is a possibility they may not be able to financially honor their long-term obligations or that they may not be in business when an issue arises. If your warranty is with a company who has not been in business that long or is not financially stable, you may be taking an uncalculated risk.

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A modified bitumen roof, such as the one shown here, typically has a 20 year manufacturer’s warranty.

Contractor Considerations

All warranties typically exclude issues resulting from the design and construction of the roof system. It is critically important to make sure that the intended use of the roof system products being installed on the roof are in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines. This means that the roof system must be designed per the manufacturer’s recommendations or any resulting roof related issues may not be covered under the warranty. Building owners can protect themselves by working with a manufacturer that is involved in the design and material selection for the specific roofing project because a manufacturer cannot use this exclusion if they recommended the roofing system.

After the roof system is properly designed, the quality of the installation becomes the next most critical factor in ensuring the long-term performance of the roof. Without proper installation, even the best roofing materials will not perform as expected. In order to make sure your roofing installation is performed properly, there are two things to consider:

First, manufacturer approval of the installing contractor is critical. If you use an unauthorized contractor, the resulting roof system may not be warrantable.

Secondly, manufacturer oversight throughout the installation process protects the best interests of the building owner. If unforeseen issues arise during the installation, having the manufacturer involved can provide protection from illegitimate charges or unnecessary change orders. In most cases, it’s not beneficial to wait until the roof is completed to have it inspected by a manufacturer. There could be installation issues throughout the performance of work that may not be visible once the project is completed or may not become evident for years down the road. Since roofing contractors typically only provide a two-year workmanship warranty for their labor, it is important to catch potential issues upfront before they become major problems. When the contractor’s workmanship warranty expires, the manufacturer takes on the responsibility for the roof system. If the manufacturer determines the roof was not installed properly, they may try to pass the responsibility on to the building owners. It is best to obtain the manufacturer’s approval throughout the project all the way through completion.

The Importance Of Long-Term Maintenance

Once the roof is installed and your warranty is issued, you still have to consider a long-term preventive maintenance plan. A building owner should look at roofing maintenance in the same light as performing oil changes on a new car if you do not change the oil, the engine will not be warranted should something happen. All roofs require preventative maintenance to ensure they will perform as intended.

Very few manufacturers assist building owners in developing a preventive maintenance plan. Some that do, charge for the preventive maintenance plan upfront before the warranty is even issued. Since newly installed roofs require minimal maintenance in their first several years, this type of program is not always the most effective use of maintenance dollars. Before signing on to such a program, you may want to consider whether you are paying for unnecessary maintenance in the roof’s early years…and watching your payments increase in size as the roof ages. Another factor to consider is who will be tracking preventive maintenance service delivery, as facility management personnel change over the life of the program. It may make more sense to partner with a manufacturer that can develop a preventive maintenance program specific to your roof, which can be paid for as services are needed and implemented by your own maintenance team or with the help of an authorized local contractor.

Conclusion

In summary, using a warranty as the deciding factor in the selection of a roof system may not provide the protection you’re seeking. When you consider your next roof purchase, remember that although the warranty is important, it will not prevent leaks or other problems from occurring. A good warranty is not a substitute for a properly designed, installed, and maintained roofing system.

Eric Younkin is Operations Manager for The Garland Company, Inc., a Cleveland based manufacturer of high-performance solutions for the building envelope. With over 12 years of experience in the roofing industry, Younkin has been involved with product development, product management and customer service. In his current position he oversees Garland’s warranty and approval programs while managing cooperative and group purchasing programs.

About Garland

Garland logoThe Garland Company Inc. is one of the worldwide leaders of quality, high-performance roofing and building envelope solutions for the commercial, industrial and institutional markets. For over 120 years, Garland has continually developed unique product and service offerings that have raised the bar of performance while exceeding the individual needs of customers throughout the world. Today, Garland's network of over 200 local building envelope professionals is strategically positioned throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to provide quality building envelope solutions for single and multi-property facilities. The Garland Company Inc., headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company. For more information about Garland, visit www.garlandco.com or call 800-321-9336.

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