Time and again, home inspectors hear this story:
A homeowner arranges for an expensive roofing job. His old roof is not leaking yet and he wants to prevent that dreaded outcome. But within days or weeks after the roofer has closed up his ladder and taken the homeowner's check, water starts dripping from the ceiling.
This maddening outcome is hardly uncommon, said John J. Heyn, national spokesman for the American Society of Home Inspectors. "Fifty percent of reroofing jobs normally involve a return visit by the roofer for corrections," he said.
Professional home inspectors say that shortcuts and shoddy workmanship are becoming increasingly common among the 15,000 companies in the roofing trade. They suggest that homeowners take great care first in selecting their roofing contractor and later in assuring that he performs as promised before he is paid and disappears.
"Those who are doing really crummy work are somebody's brother-in-law. They're not findable after the job is done," said Tim Green, a spokesman for the National Roofing Contractors Assn.
Among the most frequent roofing problems: failure to follow manufacturer's instructions, use of staples rather than nails to hold down shingles and improper installation of flashing. Flashing is sheet metal or some other durable material used to seal areas where shingles meet a chimney, dormer or other protrusion from a roof.
"A real sign of skill or sloppiness is how the roofer puts up the flashing," Heyn said. A roofer should carefully cut, bend and tuck the flashing into the chimney or dormer and then seal it with asphalt, he said. But he insists that such workmanship is increasingly hard to find.
"Too many roofers just slap the flashing on and secure it with a strip of caulking. That's temporary. It will last six months, if you're lucky. After that, it will come loose," he said.
Home inspectors say the improper use of flashing is usually the explanation for many leaks that occur right after a reroofing job. They caution that such leaks can prove costly in terms of rotten plywood, discolored ceilings and, potentially, damaged furniture and home interiors.
"You have to be pretty knowledgeable to know how to do flashing correctly. There's definitely a right way and wrong way to do this," Green said.
Problems with flashing can appear within days after a reroofing job is complete--indeed, right after the first rain shower. But other roofing mistakes may take longer to detect. For instance, it can take a good strong wind or storm to rip off stapled or improperly nailed shingles.
Roofers are accustomed to being paid a third of the cost of a job when it is undertaken and the remaining two-thirds upon completion. "I kid you not, when the roofer pounds that last nail in the roof and comes down the ladder, he'll be at your front door asking for final payment," Heyn said.
But Heyn and other home inspectors strongly recommend that homeowners withhold payment on the final third of their roofing bill for 30 days after the job is done. That will give the homeowner time to determine whether the work was properly done and provide leverage with the contractor if corrections are required.
Naturally, a roofer would rather have his money immediately. But Green of the National Roofing Contractors Assn. said that "a reputable, established roofing contractor shouldn't be afraid of his roof going bad in 30 days." Indeed, a good roofer typically guarantees his work for two to seven years, he said.
Some roofing goofs are obvious (especially if water drizzles or spurts into your living quarters). Beyond that, you can use a pair of binoculars to check over your roofer's work. (Inspectors say that it is unwise for most homeowners to try to climb up on the roof, primarily because of the danger of a ladder accident.)
If a homeowner suspects that some aspect of his roofing job was done incorrectly but is not certain, it could be worth the estimated $100 to $150 expense of hiring a professional home inspector to review the work.
This period could be an ideal time to bargain for a good price on a reroofing job. That is because a decline in new housing construction has left many roofers with a less-than-usual level of business.
Before a homeowner pays for a new roof, it is wise to gather enough information on the subject to talk intelligently in the roofer's language. The better informed he is on the subject at the outset, the better his chances of selecting a good contractor and of negotiating a favorable price.
Those in the market for a replacement roof can obtain a free 12-page booklet titled "Buying a New Roof and Getting Your Money's Worth" from the National Roofing Contractors Assn. by calling (800) USA-ROOF.
Homeowners might also be interested in a new book, with a lengthy section on roofing, published jointly by the American Society of Home Inspectors and Consumer Reports Books (affiliated with the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine).
Called "Preventive Home Maintenance," the book sells for $15.95 in paperback and $21.95 in hard cover, plus $3 for shipping. Get the book by writing Consumer Reports Books, 9180 LeSaint Drive, Fairfield, Ohio, 45014.