So you’ve made it to the estimate phase. You talked to your relatives and neighbors, found yourself some reputable roofing contractors in the area, and now you’ve narrowed it down to the final three. The only problem is, you have no idea what a good estimate looks like over a bad estimate. Sure, you probably want a good price, but just going with the lowest bid could end in disaster too. So here’s the rundown – from an actual roofing company – on what you should be looking for on those estimates, and what to question each contractor about.

What to Compare

Let’s start with your main comparison points. While you could break it down all the way to the last cent, we’re just going to split your estimates up into four basic categories:

Warranty: While most asphalt roofing shingles come with a manufacturer’s warranty, you want a roofing contractor that stands behind their work, offering their own warranty that covers installation and materials. A really good contractor will usually offer a warranty that’s similar in length to the warranty of the shingles, in most cases 25 years. It’s also good to take into account the location of each contractor. If they all offer the same warranty, you might want to choose someone that’s close, because it will be easier to get ahold of them to schedule any necessary repairs in the future.

Materials: If your roofing contractors don’t send you an itemized estimate, you should ask for one. This will give you a better idea of where your money is going, and to what. When you get this itemized estimate, make sure that all materials are already included in the estimate. Obviously, most roofing contractors will include the shingles on the material list, but you’ll also want to make sure they include all supplementary materials, like sealants, additional plywood, and the felt that underlays your roofing shingles on the estimate. Some contractors leave certain things off, like plywood replacement boards, because those don’t need to be replaced unless they’re rotting. The problem occurs when they do have to replace them, and they charge you an exorbitant add-on fee for any boards they had to replace. That’s why you want to know the potential cost of supplementary materials before you sign anything.

Not only does an itemized estimate give you a better idea of what you’ll actually be paying, but it also gives you an idea what kind of quality you’ll be getting. For example, there’s two standard weights of felt underlay, 15 lb and 30 lb. While 30lb is more expensive, it’s a lot thicker, which might be a better option for you. So while one contractor’s estimate might be much higher in the material section, it could be because they’re using higher-quality materials, not because they’re overcharging you. That’s why you need to know what each portion of the estimate accounts for.

Labor: Again, an itemized estimate will give you a better idea of which contractor is giving you the best service for the best price. The labor section of your estimate is a really important part. Some people think that the labor is likely to be the same across the board, a relatively fixed hourly wage, but to us this is really the make or break section of the estimate. Most of the time, a contractor who charges more for labor has more skilled workers. A lot of people shy away from estimates from high labor costs, but typically higher wages mean more experienced laborers. And if you want a great roof, you want experienced workers.

Incidentals: This is one that some dubious contractors try to hide certain fees. Definitely check each of your competing estimates to make sure that they include incidentals. “Incidental” is kind of the blanket industry term for services like cleanup and waste disposal. You don’t want to hire someone who is going to leave you with a mess of old shingles and roofing nails all over your yard, but you don’t a contractor who will charge you last minute to do those services either. If you don’t see a spot for incidentals on one or more of your estimates, you should ask a few questions.

What to Ask

Now that you know what you’re comparing, you probably have a better idea of who gave you the best estimate for the roof you’re looking for. Before you put a pen to paper, make sure you ask your current favorite a few questions like this:

What types of insurance do you have? Absolutely make sure they have insurance in at least two forms. First of all, they have to have workers’ compensation. That means that if any of their workers are injured while working on your roof, the contractor is responsible for paying those medical bills, not you. Additionally, they should have general liability insurance. This protects you in the event that something happens to your home while they’re working on your roof. Say they accidentally crash through your whole home or catch your house on fire; so long as the contractor has liability insurance, none of the repairs will come out of your pocket. But if they don’t, you’re looking at some hefty repair costs to your home, through no fault of your own.

Are you licensed? Ask about their license, and ask to see it. Make sure that they’re licensed to work in your state, and double check that their license is up to date. Each state has different code requirements, so it’s necessary that your roofer be licensed for your state, or it’s possible that your roof won’t be up to code for your state, and then you’ll have bigger problems later on.

How long have you been in the business? This is a good way to make a decision if you have two or three fairly similar estimates, but don’t know how to choose. Ask your roofer how long they’ve been in the business. This will give you a little bit of insight on the quality of work they do. It’s tough to stay in the industry as a small business owner, especially if you don’t do quality work. Most roofing contractors that have been around for a while have all of the kinks worked out, and know how to put together a quality roof.

Will you obtain the proper permits? If your roofing contractor doesn’t say anything about obtaining a permit, definitely ask. It should be included in the estimate, but if it’s not that should be a major red flag. You want the contractor themselves to obtain the permit, because that means if they do a shoddy job, the responsibility falls on them, not on you. If you get the building permit, and your roofing contractor and his workers build a terrible roof that isn’t up to code, you’ll end up paying all of the fees and fines, instead of them.

Will you remove my old roof? This is an important question to ask, and you may have already addressed this before you even got to the estimate phase of choosing a contractor, but it matters enough that we’ve included it here in case you haven’t had that conversation yet. You should ask your contractor if they’ll be removing your old roof, and how much that will cost you. While it’s cheaper, and definitely an option for them to just re-roof on top of your old roof, that’s not always the best choice for the life of your home. If they just roof over, that adds weight to your roof, and more importantly, it doesn’t allow for repairs of the structure itself. If you have boards or underlay that are rotting away, it’s likely that you won’t know until it’s too late if you just have a re-roof done. A good contractor should be able to tell you that they can remove the old roof, and start over.

Do you plan on hiring subcontractors for this project? The last really important question you should ask your potential roofing contractors is if they plan on using subcontractors for any part of your roofing project. If they say yes, run. Well maybe don’t run, but certainly question. The problem with subcontractors is a). You can’t control them, and b). They’re likely to raise your costs. If your contractor hires a subcontractor, you have no way of knowing if they have the proper permits, license, or insurance, and essentially, you’ll be paying your contractor to find someone else to do the work, which you could easily do for yourself, and probably for less money.

Once you’ve asked these questions, and any others you may have come up with, you should be able to determine a good estimate from a bad one. Now you can decide which estimate and contractor is right for your home, and you can hammer out the details from there. While it might seem like a long, arduous process, it’s really just about knowing exactly what you’re paying for. Once you’ve asked all of the right questions, you’ll feel secure in the fact that the contractor you’ve thoroughly vetted will build you exactly the roof you need to last you decades.

If you have more questions about roofing estimates, or if you’re looking for an estimate for your home, give the experts at Werner Roofing a call. With more than 20 years experience in the West Michigan area, we’re your first choice for asphalt and metal roofing! Give us a call at 616-844-5382 or request your free estimate online today!

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