Not All Warranties Are Created Equal
You can often learn a great deal about the quality of a particular roofing product by how well its manufacturer stands behind it. Never forget, however, that it is just not cost-effective for a roofing manufacturer to aggressively cover product defects if it is likely that their product will develop defects.
Warranties are usually thought of in terms of protecting the building owner. While that is true to a certain extent, what if I told you that warranties are actually more geared toward protecting the roofing manufacturer than they are in protecting the building owner? It may seem a bit counterintuitive , but it's true: Roofing manufacturers pay thousands of dollars to pay lawyers to write long-winded jargon that ultimately is designed to limit the liability of the roofing manufacturer should something go wrong with their product. So the more their coverage is lacking, the less confident that roofing manufacturer is that their product will outlast the warranty term.
Why You Need to Know
Too often roofing warranties provide a false sense of security for all involved; for the architect who specifies a particular roofing system, for the facility manager who often is involved in choosing the type of roofing system to be installed, and for the owner who is the one ultimately footing the bill. It can be very tempting to choose a roofing product simply because it offers what appears to be a warranty with significant, long-term coverage or one that offers a warranty with a fancy-sounding name, like NDL. To make sure that you are getting the warranty you think you are, you must be able to confidently and completely answer the following questions:
- What type of warranty is it?
- What does the warranty really cover?
- What are the owner's responsibilities as it relates to the warranty coverage?
- What is the real warranty term?
- What does the warranty not cover?
First, let's tackle the various types of roofing warranties.
This is not intended to provide you with an exhaustive list of all the warranty types available. But it does highlight the warranties that you are most likely to encounter. Even for those warranty types not listed, the ones explained below will allow you to look at any type of warranty with a more critical eye, as many warranties with different names still contain much of the same verbiage.
- LABOR-ONLY - A warranty where the terms and coverage are restricted to the labor required to address the defect. There is no coverage for product failures. Any additional materials, supplies, and/or accessories needed to address the defect are not provided for under the warranty. These are usually offered by the installer and generally have shorter terms than Material-Only or Labor and Material warranties.
- MATERIAL-ONLY - A warranty where the terms and coverage are restricted to the materials required to address the defect. There is no coverage for installation mistakes. The labor needed to address the defect is not provided for under the warranty. These are usually offered by the manufacturer and generally have longer terms than Labor-Only warranties.
- LABOR AND MATERIAL - A warranty that provides coverage for both the labor and materials needed to address the defect. There may or may not be workmanship coverage for this type of warranty. (See sidebar "The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage") These are usually offered by the manufacturer and often have many exclusions. The terms are often comparable to those of Material-Only warranties.
- NDL - Whereas some warranties are prorated or simply limited to the original cost of installation, an NDL warranty does not have this monetary limitation. NDL stands for No-Dollar-Limit, meaning that there is no cost limitation to a covered warranty claim. Most NDL warranties cover both labor and material defects. Some also cover workmanship. (See sidebar "The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage") But it is possible to have an NDL Material-Only warranty, too. So be sure to check the fine print.
- PRO-RATED - This type of warranty can come in many different "flavors." But what they all have in common is that the warranty does not cover 100% of the monetary costs to fix defects in the roof throughout the entire warranty term. Some pro-rated warranties are hybrids that include NDL coverage for a portion of the warranty term and then switch to pro-rated coverage throughout the remaining term. For example, a 20-year pro-rated warranty may offer 100% NDL coverage for the first 10 years. However, at year 11, the coverage may drop to 80%; in year 12 to 60%; in year 13 to only 40%, and so on. Some pro-rated warranties are pro-rated from year one. This means that even if you were given a 40-year warranty, at year 5 you will have already lost significant coverage. Generally speaking, a shorter term NDL warranty is almost always better than a longer term pro-rated warranty. Many long-term warranties are pro-rated and easily fool people into thinking they are getting better coverage than they actually are.
- RESIDENTIAL-ONLY - These are warranties that are only written for places of residences and do not cover labor. Often, Residential warranties are tantamount to a Material-Only warranty.
- SPECIALTY - These types of warranties are usually added as riders to another warranty as specified above. They cover so-called "Acts of God," like hail or high-wind. Coverage is usually very specific with extensive exclusions. They are often at an additional cost. Some manufacturers provide hail or high-wind warranties only to satisfy an architect's specification or simply to offer what their competition does. But just because you get a 'hail warranty,' for example, doesn't necessarily mean you're getting significant hail protection coverage.
The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage
There is an inherent difference between workmanship coverage and labor coverage. Workmanship coverage relates directly to rectifying defects in a roofing system that can be attributed to installation failures. Labor coverage relates to the costs of the labor required to repair or replace a defective roof that is covered under the warranty claim.
Most warranties have labor coverage, meaning that if a defective roof is found to be covered under the warranty, it will cover the labor to fix it. But if the defect was in the installation and not in the product itself, then there would be no coverage provided, unless that particular warranty also had workmanship coverage.
Making sure a warranty includes workmanship coverage ensures that whether the defect is in the product or in the installation (workmanship), the entire cost to rectify that defect – labor and materials – would be covered under the warranty.
Including workmanship coverage in a labor and material NDL (No-Dollar-Limit) warranty is usually the best of all worlds.
Warranty Terms - Coverage Verse Term Length
This was already partially addressed with the description of a pro-rated warranty above. But at the risk of seeming redundant, it is important to understand that there is a real divergence of cost benefits to a building owner by going with a pro-rated warranty versus that of a true no-dollar-limit (NDL) warranty that extends 100% coverage for the entire term.
To better understand this, let me set up a scenario. Let's say you are offered a choice of a 20-year pro-rated warranty and a 15-year NDL warranty. Twenty years is better than 15, right? Well, look at the facts. If the 20-year warranty only offers NDL coverage for the first 10 years, what happens to the remaining 10 years? It may be as follows:
- 11th year: 80% coverage
- 12th year: 60% coverage
- 13th year: 40% coverage
- 14th – 20th years: 30% coverage
A well-installed roof will usually last for the first 10 years. Let's say the roof fails at year 14. Well, in a pro-rated warranty, you'd only be getting 30% coverage – 70% of the coverage you started with is completely thrown out. With the 15-year NDL warranty, however, you would still be getting 100% coverage. Another point to keep in mind is that material costs continue to go up. Fourteen years down the road material costs will be more than they are now. In a pro-rated scenario, while your coverage is dropping, the costs of the materials are rising. Does your warranty cover the costs at the time of the repair/replacement or is it covering the costs at the time the roof was originally installed? NDL warranties are by design not limited to the original cost of the installation, whereas other warranties – including pro-rated ones – often are. Knowing what your particular warranty covers and does not cover can literally mean thousands of additional dollars out of your own pocket.
The above scenario is often even more skewed when you get into your longer-term warranties, like 25-, 30-years, or higher. This is not to say that every manufacturer offers warranty terms like that described above. In fact, some pro-rated warranties are pro-rated from year one; having no NDL coverage at all. But when you are evaluating a product and the warranty that is supposed to back it up, it is important to look at how time affects the amount of coverage you are actually getting. Don't be fooled by the term length.
Owner Costs and Responsibilities
Many warranties require an annual inspection. This inspection may be required to be done by the roofing manufacturer and at a fixed cost. Additionally, the original roofing contractor used to install the roof may be required by the manufacturer to be used for the inspections. In some cases the building owner can do the inspection themselves, but then they must provide the inspection report on the manufacturer's pre-designed paperwork and according to very specific guidelines. A failure to address any of the above may void the warranty.
Oftentimes, after any storm event, a written inspection report must be filled out by the building owner within a very limited period of time. This is designed to ensure that any damage caused by the storm is found and addressed early. What is ironic about this is that if damage is found and it is determined to have been caused by the storm, it is often not covered by many warranties anyway. But even if no damage is found, if the owner does not provide that inspection report within the required period of time the warranty is voided. Not all manufacturers have this requirement, but some do.
You need to know because the time and effort required to do these inspections isn't free – you're paying someone to do it. This is an indirect cost of choosing a particular roofing product with its respective warranty. Be sure you know what you are getting into. There are a lot of voided warranties out there and the owner doesn't even know it. It will only be discovered once there is a problem that needs addressed, which is the absolute worst time to find out that you've inadvertently voided your roofing warranty without even knowing when or why.
If repairs are made, the owner must make sure that they are made by contractors that are authorized by that particular roofing manufacturer. Doing otherwise will void the warranty. Therefore, having your local "repair guy" or "handy-man" do the repairs is not recommended. The owner needs to be very careful and take the time to learn what type of roof they have installed and who they choose to do any of the required repairs. A quality roofing contractor will alert the owner if they are not authorized to make repairs on their roof so as to keep the warranty intact. Unfortunately, some contractors who are not authorized by the manufacturer to make the repairs will do so anyway, collect their fees, and walk away – leaving the owner with a voided warranty. So choose your contractor wisely.
Another owner responsibility relates to warranty transfers. Most manufacturers allow warranty transfers, but often at an additional cost to the owner and with tedious and potentially expensive compliance requirements. For example, those manufacturers that do allow warranty transfers often require that any and all repairs deemed necessary by the manufacturer must be addressed at the owner's expense before they will authorize a warranty transfer to a new owner. This would include failures evident in the roofing system that would or could turn into a warranty claim in the future. This allows the manufacturer a way to "bail out" of their warranty obligations. A manufacturer that allows warranty transfers without such expensive restriction can actually add value to your building instead of being a liability in the event you choose to sell it.
When having a roof installed, many owners assume that they are getting a quality warranty with quality coverage. After considering the above, it is apparent that such is not always the case. To further demonstrate the differences in manufacturer warranty coverage, it is important to identify those items that are usually never covered. In fact, that's the best place to start in determining what roofing product to choose; namely, determining what their warranty does not cover. Here are some common examples of what is usually not covered:
- PONDING WATER - There are many definitions as to what ponding water is, and ultimately it is what the manufacturer says it is that counts. But usually it is understood to be any water that remains on a roof 48 hours after the most recent rains have stopped. A warranty that excludes ponding water will not cover any problems that exist at those areas. Most manufacturers exclude coverage for ponding water. (See "Why Don't They Cover Ponding Water?")
- CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES - Consequential damages relate to those items in a building that are damaged as a result of a roof failure. For example, a defective roof that causes water to infiltrate the building and damages carpets, walls, computers, etc. is consequential damage. Almost all manufacturers do not provide consequential damage coverage; it's just too expensive and the manufacturer does not have real faith in their product. (See sidebar "The Best Warranty in the Roofing Industry")
- "ACTS OF GOD" - These are things like hail, high winds, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. These items are not covered and are typical of all warranties.
- ILLEGAL REPAIRS - This was addressed above under Owner Costs and Responsibilities, and refers to repairs made to a roof by anyone not authorized by the roofing manufacturer. This is typical of most warranties, especially workmanship warranties.
- REPLACEMENT - Many warranties do not cover roof replacement, only the repairs necessary to stop a leak.
Comparing Roofing Products by Their Warranties
Like the roofing products themselves, not all roofing warranties are created equal. But you can often learn a great deal about the quality of a particular roofing product by digging into the warranty; what does it cover and for how long? Maybe a more important question to get the answer to is "What does the warranty not cover?" If the manufacturer is hesitant to stand behind their product, why should you? If the manufacturer has built into their warranty unreasonable clauses that invalidate their responsibility to you, why would you want to use their product?
The Best Warranty in the Roofing Industry
Believe it or not there is a roofing manufacturer that offers long-term, NDL warranties that provide coverage for both ponding water and consequential damages. Their NDL warranty covers everything (labor and materials) required to fix any covered defects – including workmanship – up to and including complete roof replacement.
Furthermore, they do not require additional costs or require inspections in order to transfer the warranty to a new owner. They also offer high-wind and hail coverage riders as previously discussed in this article. This manufacturer truly stands behind their product, which tells you something about its quality.
Who is it? Call us today at 970-593-1100 or use our flexible contact form to find out more.
Remember, it is not in the manufacturer's best interests to go out on a limb to protect their product, especially against those things for which they have absolutely no control. Like all warranties, it is important to look at the fine print. You may be surprised at how many "outs" a manufacturer gives themselves so that at the end of the day they are not on the hook for anything, and if they are, for as little as possible.
With so many issues related to which roofing product to use and which warranty best covers your interests, it can feel like an overwhelming effort to get and stay informed. Unfortunately, many building owners and facility managers acquiesce to the whims of their architect or designer. Even worse, they at times may unwittingly accept incorrect and misleading information from their chosen roofing contractor who has a vested interest in selling one product over another. So how can you be sure?
RTN Roofing Systems has established itself as one of the premier roofing contractors in the industry. By our honest, educate-the-customer approach, we have been able to arm our clients with the information they need to make an informed decision regarding the design, installation, and care of their roof. Whether new or old, your roof is unique and must be looked at accordingly. We offer and install a vast array of roofing products. However, we have strategically chosen to promote the specific products that we know offer the best warranties, the best quality, and ultimately the best value to our customers. After all, we have to stand behind the roof too, and using an inferior product does not help anyone in the long run.
Give RTN Roofing Systems a call today at 970-593-1100 and schedule your commercial roof inspection and evaluation. Let us help you develop options and a win-win scenario that will put you in the driver's seat.
Why Don't They Cover Ponding Water?
A warranty that does not cover ponding water tells you something about the manufacturer's belief in their product, or the lack there-of, as the case may be. Think about it: isn't the whole point of a roof supposed to be that it protects against the elements, especially water?
Make no mistake, a quality contractor will install a roof with positive drainage so as to limit any ponding water. This is the required code in most locations. But the real reason to get water off the roof is not to protect the roofing material. It is to prevent excess weight or the establishment of plants and nesting birds that can cause damage to the roof. Furthermore, ponding water can generate mold, which is a real potential danger. So while there are good reasons to prevent water from ponding on a roof, it is not to ensure the roofing product can hold up to it.
Manufacturers that do not cover ponding water in their warranty tip their hand as to the quality of their product, saying, in effect, 'This product will not hold up under ponding water – you're best to choose a product that does.'