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Roofing consultants can help homeowners nail down better work and trim time, money and headaches

June 16, 1996|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; John Morell is a Woodland Hills free-lance writer

Rick Johnson believed his La Puente home would look nice with a red Mexican tile roof, but he still wasn't sure that tile would be a good choice. Tile weighs considerably more than the asphalt shingles he had, and Johnson didn't know if his house could support the added weight.

"I didn't want to have thousands of tiles crashing down on my family in an earthquake," he said.

After getting estimates from a couple of roofers, Johnson found he still had some questions. "I just had a sense that these guys wanted to sell me roofing; it didn't matter to them whether my roof would collapse or fall off a few years down the road," he said.

On the advice of a friend, Johnson hired a roofing consultant to see if any reinforcement would be needed before a tile roof could be installed. The consultant found that Johnson's roof could take the weight of tile and wrote specifications for the job so roofing contractors could bid.

"Bringing in a consultant gave me some confidence in dealing with roofers," Johnson said. "I know a lot about taking care of a house, but I'm ignorant when it comes to roofs. I wanted the job done right, and this helped make it happen."

Although hiring consulting roofers, also called forensic roofers, is commonplace for owners of large commercial and apartment buildings, homeowners haven't traditionally used their services. Besides inspecting old roofs and writing specifications for new ones, consultants can supervise roofing projects and review completed jobs. These abilities can make hiring a consulting roofer a wise decision, especially for those who have been burned (or soaked) by bad roofing in the past.

"I'm often hired by people who live in a housing tract that's a few years old and find they all have roof leaks," said Robert Byrd, a roofing consultant based in Big Bear Lake. "I'll examine what's gone wrong to see if they have a case against a builder."

If you have an unusual roof or one that seems to have repeated problems, it may not be a bad idea to have a consultant examine it, especially if you're interested in changing roofing materials.

"It means spending an extra $400 or $500, but if you're planning on an expensive reroofing project, it pays to have someone tell you how to do it right," said Paul Konzelman of Allied Roofing Consulting in Canyon Country.

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There isn't any formal training for a roofing consultant, but most have spent years in the roofing business as contractors or as employees of companies that make roofing materials. The Roofing Consultants Institute, based in Raleigh, N.C., gives an accreditation to consultants who pass a test that covers the dynamics of roofing and causes of roof problems.

"The great majority of leaks occur because the roof hasn't been installed properly," said Roy Clonts of National Roofing Consultants in Encino. "I've checked roofs that have been pelted by baseball-sized hail and seen minimal damage. Roofing materials are pretty tough, as long as they're on the roof correctly."

Most homeowners don't do an up-close inspection of a new roof, preferring instead to get a good look at new shingles from the safety of their driveways. "Most people don't know what to look for when looking at their roof," Clonts said. "And many general contractors don't know what to look for either. There's a lot of mystery that surrounds roofing, which is unfortunate because a bad roof can cause a great deal of damage."

Many roofing problems can be traced to contractors who may not be qualified. "You might hear about a friend of a friend who'll do your roof for $500 less than a contractor's estimate, but you're taking a risk if you go with him," Konzelman said. "With someone who's unlicensed and not bonded, you don't know who they are or where they'll be if you have a problem."

Leaks can be caused by honest mistakes or outright fraud by the installer, says Clonts, which makes the presence of a forensic roofer watching over the project a valuable addition.

"On hot asphalt roofs, the asphalt is often overheated, which means that when it dries, it becomes brittle and deteriorates faster," Clonts said. "A consultant at the site will carry a large thermometer and test the asphalt in the kettle and as it's applied to make sure it's within the right temperature boundaries."

In an effort to save money or time, a roofer may spread the number of tiles to be laid on the roof too thinly, or he may not use as many nails as he should. The result is usually roofing will be blown off by the wind. "If you want to have the manufacturer's warranty, the roofing materials have to be installed properly," Konzelman said.

During a downpour, as water drips into spare pots and pans on the floor, many people believe they have to reroof as soon as the clouds clear up; however, a complete reroofing job may not be necessary. A forensic roofer can provide an independent appraisal of what needs to be done.

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