A Tale of Two Roofs

I do not want to hire another roofing contractor.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this one. The day I started writing this post I could not stop clenching my jaw and my stomach was upset. I was literally sick the previous night with the repercussions of an upset stomach from our latest experience with a roofing company. If anything, I am even more determined: I want to reroof my own house/rental/shed/dog house the next time it is necessary. I do not want to hire another roofing contractor.

We tried to get the best one we could. We called out three contractors and had a choice between three bids and write-ups. Our criteria was not based on cost. Instead, we tried to base our opinion on the appearance of knowledge and their response to our special requests ahead of time.

Why did we hire one?

My husband is building a remediation business in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and I have full time employment. We needed speed because all the work on this house is done on my vacation time, the house is 1,200 miles away, and I’m five months pregnant. The decision to hire out the work on the roof was an attempt to prevent additional stress on what was already a more than full week with additional foundation work on two separate houses.

I can’t say I had high hopes for a great experience with a roofer that cared based on my last experience.

I get it.

The roofing company hires a roofing crew and the crew is paid by the square (100 square feet of roof). 99.9% of homeowners only care about speed and price. They may pay lip service to quality but really, they wouldn’t be caught dead on their roof. Even if they did they wouldn’t know what to look for.

Since *you* are reading this article–congrats!!! You are in the 0.1%.

So what happens?

An entire industry is based on cost, speed and low quality.

This blog post isn’t going to change the roofing industry. While I would love it, my more realistic goals are as follows:

  1. Give roofers hope that some homeowners appreciate their hard work and give a shit.
  2. To educate homeowners why they should give a shit.
A tale of two roofs

I am going to take you on the latest experience with the roof we replaced two weeks ago. However, I’m going to first contrast it with what would have been if we were not hands on people who give a shit.

Scenario #1: Eating Bon Bon’s.

The roofing crew surprises you by pulling up in your yard like the first day of Yard Crashers at 7:30 AM. You immediately panic and worry if a tree just landed on your neighbor’s house because you know one did not come crashing down through yours. At least someone volunteers they are the roofing crew a day early. They start tearing off the old materials off the roof decking. A “project manager” from the office stops by. He may or may not bother talking to you if you are not outside.

The crew stops once they do the basic tear-off they normally do on every other house. It’s only about 10 am. The new roofing materials are not delivered by Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menard’s/McCoy’s yet. They sit and wait with a lunch break in there somewhere.

I have no idea what would happen regarding your broken skylight since apparently this roofing company does not consider it to be part of the roof. Put it back on?

At 2 PM the materials arrive and the crew jumps into action. The new drip edge, tar paper, shingles and whirlybirds are slapped on and thy finish by the end of the day.

Scenario #2: We are up there working with them as the real project manager (not a salesman).

The roofing crew surprised us by pulling up in the yard like the first day of Yard Crashers at 7:30 AM. We immediately panic and worry if a tree just landed on our neighbor’s house because we know one did not come crashing down through ours. At least someone volunteers they are the roofing crew a day early. They start tearing off the old materials off the roof decking. A “project manager” (not ours) from the office stops by. I meet him where I am standing in the front yard with my two year old on my hip. First, I ask where are the new materials. I follow up that question by inquiring what plan is in place if it starts to rain since the sky looks like it could break out into rain any minute.

Unfortunately, my husband is on a run to Home Depot to grab a new Velux skylight kit since the roofing company did not respond to our calls last month to verify the size and type of the old broken skylight. Otherwise he would already be on the roof.

Old broken skylight. The caulk repair job was not done by yours truly or my husband.

Old broken skylight. The caulk repair job was not done by yours truly or my husband.

The “project manager” leaves without going up on the roof.* My husband returns and goes up to inspect the exposed decking, facia and shingle mould. He and the crew foreman identify cracked, dry rot, and water damaged areas of the decking, shingle mould and, unfortunately, trusses below.

A tale of two roofs: would this be fixed if the homeowner was not sitting in the foreground?

We find out the skylight is not a curb mount which is the only kind that you can buy off the shelf. This “small” oversight and lack of response from the roofing company from our calls previously mentioned turned out to be a HUGE problem.

Because they were unresponsive and now they say they are not responsible for replacing the skylight (my last roof included skylight replacement) we had to scramble to come up with a temporary fix. My husband and I agreed faux decking was the best of the bad answers. At a later time he will have to saw through the seamless roof, repair the drywall, install the deck mount skylight, and probably buy more shingles since the “project manager” will probably not follow up as he said he would with spare shingles. We will have to finish the roof on our own despite paying full price.*

Installing support scabs to go under the faux decking.

Installing support scabs to go under the faux decking.

 

Faux decking waiting for a new skylight.

Faux decking waiting for a new skylight.

 

You can imagine: the tenants are thrilled. I actually do think it is an improvement over the finger paint caulk job.

You can imagine: the tenants are thrilled. I actually do think it is an improvement over the finger paint caulk job.

This is a real problem. Now we have to pay for my husband to fly or drive back to Texas. Even if he flies there is an additional drive of two hours east of Dallas. On top of that all that time is unpaid time from another job. The roofing company only had to return one phone call and make a quick trip to measure the old skylight . For a minuscule cost to the roofing company this is a cost of thousands for us. Yet there is no concession on this mere hiccup to them.*

As you can see in the diagram below from the Velux website the shingles have to go over the flashing. So how is this not part of the roof?

Even better, the “project manager” was pushing us to replace the crappy plastic dome skylight with the same exact crappy skylight. If it ended up looking like the old one why would I put the same garbage back on when I could have a luxurious see through, low-E glass skylight exactly like the kind that have held up beautifully in two bathrooms of my own home for the last 8 years? Even better, the price is pretty much the same. Why would I want a 1971 flame throwing Ford Pinto when I can have the latest Lamborghini for the same price (totally ignoring the difference in insurance)? On top of that the “project manager” said he had never installed a glass skylight.* So much for the apparent knowledge when we interviewed him for the job.

The crew removed the bad wood after my husband made further structural inspections but still stopped once they finished the basic tear-off they normally do on every other house. It’s only about 10 am. The new roofing materials are not delivered by Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menard’s/McCoy’s yet. They sit and wait with a lunch break in there somewhere.

My husband, crew foreman, another member of the crew, and eventually our originally expected “project manager” stops by and brainstorm ideas to fix the bad trusses.* At least the crew, while initially reluctant, are not made of divas who insist on a carpenter to repair the trusses and patchwork for the bad decking and shingle mould.

However, the “project manager” also balked at replacing the shingle mould (a small strip of wood outside of the fascia board). He said the shingle mould is outside of their scope of work.* Hmmm…the metal drip edge plays the role of protecting the fascia board from rain. The shingle mould is more of an aesthetic than anything, but it is attached on the fascia board. The drip edge is properly attached under the tar paper/ice and water barrier on the eave edges as well as underneath the shingles. This happens to be right on the shingle mould (pictured below). I can see the argument if the shingle moulding is not already on the roof, but it is–around the entire house! So how is shingle mould not part of the roof?!?!

 

How to install drip edge over shingle moulding.

Second, how can you install the drip edge properly if it is not done now before the shingles are installed?!?! You can’t.

It was a bullshit attempt at copping out for yet another part of the roof.

I finally get a first look at the roof once our daughter voluntarily went down for a nap in the car (as opposed to the house where hammering and nailing will surely ensue as soon as materials show up). My husband is all over the necessary repairs. So, I picked up a pry bar and started pulling nails and staples the crew was going to be more than happy leaving behind sticking out up off the decking.**

To be clear, I was not digging out nails and staples firmly embedded in the decking. I’m talking about removing the obvious ones that were sticking up and easy to catch with a prybar. These nails and staples were sticking up 1/8″ to 3/16″.

The scene when I arrived to start pulling nails and staples left behind by the roofing crew.

The scene when I arrived to start pulling nails and staples left behind by the roofing crew.

Pulling out staples and nails.

Do you know what happens when a lady (much less five months pregnant) gets up on a roof and starts working? It is pure motivation for the crew. Two other guys on the crew picked up their hammers and started pulling nails. Do I think we got to all of them? There is no way in hell. No one touched the front side of the house. I needed another day.

Not only did a few find motivation to help with the extraordinary effort (both from a lady wielding a hammer on the roof and the fact that they were pulling out nails and staples they would not pull out of 99.9% of other homes), but you KNOW every one of the members of the roofing crew knew these homeowners are different. And maybe they understood while we want quality which in direct competition with their speed to move to the next job, just maybe we also appreciate their work.

I triage’d the most important parts of the roof since there was no way I would get to it all. Areas most likely to have problems later include the skylight, a roof mounted A/C unit, along gutters, near the valleys, and the top ridge line. By tackling these areas myself I know if someone steps on these areas later they are not going to step on an old nail, rip through the ice and water barrier, tear a shingle and start a leak.

At 2 PM the materials arrive and the rest of the crew jumps into action. The holes where bad decking was removed were patched. Bad shingle mould was replaced. The truss fix continued on with a table saw provided by my step father-in-law and our circular saw. The drip edge was installed on the now 100% good shingle mould. Rather than tar paper we explicitly called out ice and water barrier across the entire roof.

For some reason this is when three of the “project managers” showed up to laugh at the apparently ridiculous amount of ice and water barrier going up. Perhaps they do not know what it is like to have a low pitched roof have problems with rain coming down sideways? For only an extra $300 and some laughter from sales people my husband and I now have peace of mind. And so can the next homeowners.

Ice and water barrier roof decking underlayment applied across the entire roof.

I stayed on the roof pulling nails for about two hours. My husband continued on the rest of the afternoon assisting with the fix to the rotten trusses and decking. Afterwards he continued pulling nails and staples until they asked him to move to put on the ice and water barrier, sealing up the last part of the roof before it might rain overnight.

The last man pulling nails and staples: the homeowner who gives a shit.

The entire front and part of the back roof had shingles by the end of the day. The other wing of the house was covered in ice and water barrier.

The crew came back the next morning to finish the job. One of the members of the crew started installing the whirlybirds. From the ground I could see the top of the whirlybird, which you might guess, should be pointed at the sky. I motioned for my husband to go over to level the base. Apparently the guy was a newer member of the crew and had not installed too many, if at all.*** So, my husband pulled out the instructions and showed him how to level the bases.

The “project manager” said they had installed thousands of these and leveling is not necessary.**** My husband ended up installing them all himself. The same way he did on my first roof with another roofing crew.

What happens when the "project manager" says you do not have to do something the instructions clearly state: the paid help is retasked.

A special thank you to the roofing crew

I will give some props to the roofing crew itself. The last time I reroofed my house the crew pulled the diva card and said they needed a carpenter to fix the pieces of bad decking. This crew made it happen!

They were also stuck between what the salesperson wanted (not to do the fascia and shingle mould) and what we and the insurance provider wanted and were willing to pay (a safe, solid surface to cover the house). They backed us and we backed them.

The delay in materials were a blessing to us (not the crew) since we were able to complete more work during the downtime. We know we were a pain. We slowed them down despite the delay because we wanted the work done right. They were still patient.

The similarities and differences between the two scenarios.

Unless you are EXTREMELY lucky, if you are up on your roof checking it out with the roofers you WILL find some problems with the surface. Plan on having a little extra cash cushion WHEN (not if) you find problems–it is much easier and therefore cheaper to fix while the roof is open.

For full disclosure, our new roof was part of an insurance claim from the storms that rolled through in the spring. Tornadoes were in the area and the low slop of the roof along with sideways wind forced water up under the shingles. In addition, we were thoroughly stumped as to why nails popped up in a few places from the decking up through the tar paper and shingles. Apparently this is a real phenomenon from fluctuations of the temperature and not enough ventilation. A nail can slowly work it’s way out!

Recall, upgrades are not covered by insurance. However, we wanted to make sure we prevent a repeat of the situation even if it is out of pocket:

  • Installing ice and water barrier across the entire roof instead of tar paper would address water coming up under shingles. The difference in materials is like a forgiving elastic waistband versus the button popping off your pants after Thanksgiving dinner. Surprisingly, covering the entire roof with ice and water barrier was only an additional $300.
  • We added an additional whirlybird to beef up the ventilation across the attic. Tack on about another $75 for the whirlybird.
  • The additional truss and fascia board repair was an additional $550 (covered by a supplemental extension of the claim). Even if it were not covered it is well worth the additional cost.

To me, the additional ~$1000 is a “similar” cost to the first scenario where the problems are covered back up. Of course, as you find issues, the price only goes up, but the point and pay cost of a roof is well into the four figures if not five. $1000 is only about a 10% difference.

If the truss problem was covered up and fails in a few more years I have no idea how much the fix would cost. $550 would probably be a pipe dream. The same goes for nails popping up through the shingles again. Despite the short term unexpected costs in the long run it can be MUCH cheaper. A small payment now is much less than an entire roof later!

However, the quality is vastly different. The full roof coverage of ice and water barrier ensures a sideways driving rain does not pull up singles and allow water below the surface of a low slope roof. Pulling out the nails and staples prevents walking from punching holes all the way to the outer surface. Non existent nails have a guaranteed zero chance of working their way out of the decking from temperature changes.

There is also no rotten decking waiting for a foot to punch through into the attic. ANY rotted material on a roof should be replaced because that material is

  1. the structural nailing substrate
  2. already compromised and likely to leak despite having a new covering

It was claimed that insurance companies “do not normally cover this kind of work”. Incorrect. If the insurance company is called and notified as soon as possible of the additional damage, they MAY cover. There may be some push back about “maintenance”, but the claims department will admit that there is a greater liability and cost of not addressing the problem immediately. They do not want to pay for a roof AGAIN because a failure point was left in place! Case in point: our additional find was covered.

The foreman on my first reroof thoughtfully apologized for his initial reluctance to pull out all the staples. He noted, “I realized we will be less likely to have unpaid follow up service visits to this house, your warranty will be solid, and you are extending the life of your roof.” We have a convert to goal #1 listed above!!! Given my husband and I had an extra day in there to pull the staples out ourselves, but a win is a win. He not only understood the difference in quality, but also on the longer lifespan and solid warranty.

Stress is another factor. The first roof job scenario has virtually no stress by the time you sign off on the roof just after completion. However, the first time another contractor goes up to service your A/C or you go on top to clean out your gutters, step on a popped up nail hidden under the tar paper, and the next rainstorm pours down water into your living room–your stress skyrockets!

In the second roof scenario the stress is during the actual installation of the roof. Slowing down the crew to care and arguing with the salesperson what needs fixing is incredibly stressful. Afterwards, you have peace of mind, but it takes a huge amount of effort, sweet talking, and sweat equity with the crew.

My conclusion: DIY Scenario #3

All of that being said, I don’t want to deal with scenario #2 again. Forget about wanting to hire another roofing contractor. I also know myself well enough to know I will never be the homeowner in scenario #1. Next time I want to do it myself. Yes, it will be slower, but it will be so much better and stress free than hiring any roofing company.*****

 

*I would NOT recommend AVCO Roofing in Longview, TX. Perhaps we had a bad “project manager” aka salesman. But we are feeling the repercussions and still have to fix the skylight next year. It was understood we would pay for the skylight out of pocket once they told us what to buy, but they were to install it. This is one of the reasons why we paid them as professionals–to plan ahead and tell us what to buy. We attempted to call, but they did not return our calls the previous month so we incorrectly assumed it would be similar to what is installed on our primary residence.

The roof should be complete at this point, but it is not. The amount of push back, reluctance to do repair work despite payment from us and the insurance company, and lack of knowledge was incredibly and unnecessarily stressful. In fact, I sent my husband with the checkbook to the roofing company office to make sure we had the itemized list required to submit to the insurance. If I have to buy shingles to finish the roof myself despite hiring this company to do the work, I’m not trusting them to send me a detailed list after I pay them to finish out my claim.

**Unfortunately, if my husband and I work with you we truly apologize. We go against your fast-paced money making tendencies. We do advertise this ahead of time during the interview process.

***This is one point against the crew. Show your team members how to do their job right the first time. I understand everyone has a job to do and they were all doing something else. Don’t allow your teammate to do something they do not know. Or speak up if you don’t know how to do something. It is pretty bad when the homeowner ends up doing the instructing.

How to install a whirlybird 101. Brought to you by the homeowner. Why hire another roofing contractor when you have to do it yourself or have it installed wrong?

****You mean to tell me you have installed thousands of whirlybirds out of level, but never a glass sky light? Velux is the market leader and these glass skylight products are ON THE SHELF at home improvement stores. I even bought two off the shelf at Home Depot 8 years ago. How is it that you have never installed a glass skylight? There is certainly no law in east Texas that says skylights can only be shitty opaque plastic domes. Something doesn’t add up…

*****No, I’m not in the roofing business, but I might be with the right offer and if the location and weather is nice. Am I really saying that after the last post? 😉

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