Roof Warranty: An Extra Layer of Protection

Finding the ‘right’ warranty includes reading and understanding the fine print

By Michael S. Violette, P.E.  

The process of specifying a roofing system must cover an array of issues. While the goal is to find the most appropriate system for the facility, maintenance and engineering directors must not lose sight of the importance of understanding the system’s warranty.

The best specification strategy is to select the right roof for an application and then identify a warranty that most closely matches the facility’s needs.

Warranty Basics

Selecting a warranty begins with understanding what warranties are, as well as what they aren’t. What guarantees does a warranty provide for maintenance and engineering directors and their organizations? How can workers keep a warranty in effect? What, if any, coverage exclusions should directors be aware of?

A 20-year warranty means a roof will last at least that long, right? Possibly. But to improve the likelihood of it occurring, managers must address and clarify a number of warranty issues.

Years ago, built-up roof systems were limited to low-slope systems, and manufacturers issued bonds to compensate customers should problems occur. But as roofing materials and technology have improved, the options for low-slope roof systems have increased greatly. They now include rubber, plastics and modified asphalts.

At the same time, manufacturers have offered a range of different warranties. Manufacturers’ warranties have become a marketing tool and are used to promote longer coverage periods, often up to 20 years, for materials with unproven track records for long-term performance.

The Fine Print

Warranties differ greatly throughout the roofing industry. Now, both manufacturers and contractors offer them.

Material-only warranties typically provide that the manufacturer will furnish replacement material but won’t cover installation labor. By contrast, material-and-labor warranties often demand customers pay a premium based on the square footage of the roof.

System warranties covering the complete roof system and its components have become more popular. Warranties also are available with monetary limits and no dollar limits. Even comprehensive warranties covering materials and workmanship limit the manufacturer to repairing leaks resulting from specific causes identified by the limitations and exclusions.

To select the most appropriate warranty, managers must read the fine print for coverage exclusions, which commonly include ponding water, excessive traffic, natural disasters or acts of God, failure of metal work, failure of building components, and wind.

Water can destroy roofing systems, and their design should properly remove water from the surface. Managers also must be sure that the warranty clearly defines exclusions for wind, such as “hurricanes and wind speeds of X mph or higher measured X feet above the ground.”

The exclusions for wind should be specific, and they will depend on the wind uplift design of the particular roof system. Most warranties exclude consequential damage to a building’s interior finishes and equipment. These damage costs can be far greater than the cost to fix the roof problem.

A close reading of the fine print also will reveal acts or omissions by technicians that can render the warranty null and void. The warranty might be voided if the customer makes alterations, modifications or repairs to the roof without properly notifying and obtaining written authorization from the manufacturer. Not using a qualified contractor can lead to the same result. Placing structures, fixtures, utilities or equipment on the roof without first receiving written authorization from the manufacturer will void the warranty.

Finally, the warranty might be voided if the owner fails to use reasonable care in maintaining the roof system. Manufacturers often outline the care and maintenance requirements when issuing the warranty.

Warranties’ fine print also contains notification requirements customers must meet to avoid nullifying the warranty. Besides the notifications and requests mentioned above, owners and managers must provide written notice within a prescribed time of the discovery of any leak or roof problem. Most roof warranties require notification within 30 days. This clause aims to protect manufacturers from a prolonged roof leak that goes unreported and leads to far greater and more costly damage that could have been prevented by reporting it in a timely fashion.

One final but important item in the fine print is whether the warranty is transferable should the owner sell the building. Most warranties are not assignable or transferable by the owner.

When it is transferable, conditions must be met, such as additional manufacturer inspections and fees. Transferability can be important, depending on the length of building ownership, and it might be a selling point.

The Benefits

If a problem does occur and the manager has adhered to the warranty’s terms, the warranty can provide remedies for leaks. Often, the manufacturer alone selects the remedial action that will be taken to correct the problem.

Actions might range from fixing the leak to removing and replacing the entire system. Roof consultants can provide a third-party opinion if a dispute arises regarding the appropriate course of action.

Long-term warranties by their nature improve the quality and performance of the system. Manufacturers that issue such warranties require that the system be installed according to their specifications and details. They also require inspections, since their reputation and pocketbook are at stake.

A roofing contractor approved by the manufacturer also can perform the installation. Long-term warranties often come at a premium, not only because of the guarantee charge, but also because the system uses premium materials.

Long-term warranties can be beneficial, unless they lead owners and managers to develop an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. This attitude often creates a reactive approach to roof problems. The best warranty might be the one that is never relied upon to remedy a roof problem.

Supporting a Warranty

The goal of a warranty is to ensure a quality roof installation that provides long-term performance. But a warranty alone has never kept a building dry.

The best way to guarantee long-term performance once a roof is in place is to develop a comprehensive roof management plan. An effective plan includes periodic inspections, maintenance, and repairs, and it promotes a proactive approach to guarantee long-term performance.

Consider this: Roofs with no maintenance last seven years on average, according to the National Roofing Contractors Association. And a properly maintained roof system will provide service life that is nearly double the time of a one that is not.

Roof management programs should include establishing a historical record, performing regular roof inspections, establishing routine maintenance programs, and developing policies and procedures to implement the program.

The historical record should include:

  • drawings
  • material specifications
  • documentation of inspections, maintenance and repairs
  • documentation of alterations
  • warranty documents.

Managers should know the location of their warranty documents and refer to them periodically. Many manufacturers figure that 50 percent of managers either lose or forget about written warranties.

Regular roof inspections can identify small problems before they develop into leaks or become catastrophes. Manufacturers often recommend inspecting roofs at least twice annually. The roofing industry also recommends additional inspections following major storms.

Most manufacturers will identify routine roof-maintenance tasks that customers should perform. At a minimum, directors should schedule time for technicians to:

  • keep drains and roof surfaces clean and free of debris
  • refasten metal flashings and seal them when necessary
  • refill pitch pans if they must be included
  • reseal failed sealant joints at terminations and building walls
  • reseal open flashing or membrane lap seams.

The final key to protecting a roof is being aware of workers on the roof and their activities and, ultimately, limiting roof traffic. When workers must access the roof, they must document work locations and follow up to ensure they did not damage the roof.

This process is especially important when workers use the roof to access other areas of a building, such as exterior facades. Written policies and procedures can outline these requirements to both in-house engineers and outside contractors.

Like any other contract, a warranty is subject to negotiation. If the terms are not acceptable or do not include language a manager needs to see, amend the contract. Managers should be wary of signing any warranty and should thoroughly review the terms and conditions with an attorney.

A warranty includes both limitations and benefits, but it is not a substitute for proper roof design, quality installation, and a proactive roof management program.

Michael S. Violette, P.E., is a senior consultant with Gardner James Engineering Inc. He has more than 20 years of experience in diagnosing and developing repairs to address building-envelope problems. He is a member of the Roof Consultants Institute and has presented at facility management conferences on roofing topics related to roof performance.

What a Warranty Is — and Isn’t

A warranty is a written guarantee of the integrity of a product and the manufacturer’s responsibility for the repair or replacement of defective parts. But contrary to what many building managers and owners believe, a warranty is not an all-inclusive insurance policy that covers all roof problems.

It also is not a bond that will demand payment by a third party in case of loss. A warranty does not assure satisfactory performance, and it does not warrant against leaks. A warranty does not even indicate that the roof system is suitable for the building on which it is installed. A warranty also is not an insurance policy.

A warranty is a legal contract between a roofing-materials manufacturer or contractor and a building owner that defines the limits of liability the manufacturer or contractor assume, should problems arise. Managers must understand that a warranty is a contract written by attorneys for the benefit of the manufacturer. This contract defines specific requirements a manager must fulfill to keep the warranty in effect, so read it carefully.

— Michael S. Violette

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  posted on 6/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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