Understanding Roof Warranties

July 12, 2019

When it comes to warranties it is easy to get confused on what is covered and what is not. The purpose of this blog posting is to simplify and explain warranties. Hopefully you will find the  information being discussed useful in navigating any kind of home improvement. First, we need to define a few key terms/words found in warranties which should be better understood.


“Lifetime” - When a warranty includes lifetime coverage it is referring to the duration of the time you, the homeowner, are in possession of the property. This is a fairly straightforward concept but can easily be mistaken for the lifetime of the shingle or product being covered.


“Limited” - When a warranty says something like “15 year limited” or “Lifetime-limited” what it means is the coverage is extended for the 15 years or lifetime (the duration of possession) but is “limited” to whether or not the product was installed as the manufacturer has instructed. If the product was installed improperly by the contractor then there is no coverage issued by the manufacturer.


“Proration” - Proration is when the amount of coverage is decreased as the product ages. Manufacturers will not give the same amount of coverage for a product installed just last week as they would for a product installed 30 years ago. This is easily the hardest of the three terms to understand. It seems pretty straightforward in theory but can become very confusing in practice. 


You can expect these terms to be found mostly in the manufacturer’s warranty but don’t be surprised to see a curve ball or two in the contractor’s workmanship warranty. That’s another thing we will cover, what is the difference between a manufacturer’s warranty and a contractor’s workmanship warranty? How do the two interact when there is a problem with your roof? Does one offer more coverage than the other?    


Manufacturers & Contractors 


There are two parties who offer warranties in home improvement projects; the manufacturer and the contractor. Manufacturer’s warranties cover roof failure if it results from defects in their manufacturing process. Contractors cover roof failure if it results from errors in their workmanship. Contractor’s warranties are always a little different when it comes to their duration but all are almost always included within the contract. Most contractors will warranty their work for around a year, maybe a little longer. So, say you just purchased a roof from your local roofing professional and they installed top of the line shingles from a well known manufacturer. The manufacturer gives you a prorated lifetime-limited warranty and the contractor gives you an 18 month workmanship warranty. 


Terms & Conditions


The terms of the manufacturer's warranty are nonnegotiable


. In some cases, a contractor’s workmanship warranty is negotiable. A rather limited workmanship warranty should be a serious warning sign when choosing a contractor. If you are interested in learning a little more about how to choose the right contractor, then red read through the blog posting “Choosing The Right Contractor”. The manufacturer’s warranty is set in stone, but not the workmanship warranty. 


Length of Coverage


A manufacturer will offer the most coverage within the early years of a roof’s life. Any defects present in the shingles are most likely to be discovered within this time. As the shingle ages the coverage will lessen due to the effects of proration. At the end of the life of a shingle its coverage will have been prorated to zero value. Workmanship warranties can vary from a year to the lifetime of a roof. While the time span of coverage is important, as a homeowner you should also be looking at the span of coverage offered. You want to find out whether the warranty covers only installation. If there were to be a leak that causes costly water damage in the home you may only have the roof repair covered, leaving you to pay for interior damage caused by their sloppy workmanship. Reading the fine print of a workmanship warranty could save you a handsome chunk of change and hours of frustrating dead end phone calls.   




Now that the differences between manufacturer’s warranties and workmanship warranties have been discussed, it is time to talk about what is and what is not covered. Because workmanship warranties can vary so much between contractors it is difficult to say what specifically they cover. They may cover only their workmanship, they may cover damages that occurred due to their workmanship. It is important to you, the customer, to read through their workmanship warranty and ask questions. Really understand what they cover and what they do not. If they do not cover something you think they should, try to negotiate some kind of deal in which they do. Just remember to get anything they promised in writing for your own protection. 


The following information will pertain solely to what is and is not covered by the manufacturer. Manufacturer’s warranties vary not only between brands but also the shingle. Many will offer educational brochures, folders, or e-documents which contain information about their warranties and levels of coverage. Having these great tools and having a thorough understanding of their contents can give you the edge in deciding between products. The level of coverage they offer can tell you the level of faith they have in their own product; understanding this will help you in weeding out the good from the bad.  


Shingle Color Variation


Manufacturers will warrant against shingle color variation. Basically, this means if a shingle or set of shingles was installed and does not match the color printed on their bundle’s label, then it is a manufacturing defect. They will cover this defect as it was an error in their manufacturing or the product.


Stains & Shading


Stains can be caused by the transfer of asphalt oils and back surfacing to the face of a shingle. Asphalt shingles’ bottom layer is coated with finely crushed minerals so they do not stick to each other when in a bundle or the machinery during the manufacturing process. This layer is called the back surfacing. When they are in a bundle, the back surfacing of one shingle can be transferred to the face of another. Staining due to back surfacing is temporary and will normally be washed away given time to see regular rain. For this reason they will ask that you wait at least 180 days before considering a claim. 


Stains can also be caused by algae. Algae eats away at the limestone granules in a shingle and can accelerate the aging process of a roof. Manufacturers will only offer coverage for algae staining on their algae-resistant shingles. These shingles include granules made of copper, which kills and inhibits the growth of algae. 


Shingle Buckling/Distortions 


Shingle buckling and distortion can be caused by so many external forces unrelated to how well the shingle was manufactured that it will not be included in warranties. The most common external forces which cause shingle buckling are as follows: deck movement/failure, telegraphing, nail/staple movement, or de-laminated plywood. 


Deck movement/failure can cause damage and distortion of the shingles. Manufacturers will not cover this damage in their warranty as it is not an error of the manufacturing process. When roof decking is installed tightly against one another they can cause buckling in shingles. Over time the boards can be expected to expand to ⅛ inch greater than they were previously. This expansion can be the cause of the buckling. If the decking is improperly screwed down, screws too far apart or too few, the decking will be loose enough to move. The motion of the loose decking will cause the shingles to buckle at the surface of the roof system. Another concern not warranted by manufacturers is the buckling of shingles due to de-laminated plywood. Plywood will undergo delamination due to exposure of excess moisture.


Telegraphing is another instance in which a manufacturer will not warranty. Telegraphing occurs when a shingle is distorted due to an uneven surface below. A deteriorating decking, wrinkled underlayment or a poorly done roof-over job are typically the cause of telegraphing. When the surface of the shingle buckles from unevenness below the shingle is damaged due to an external force. Therefore it is not covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.  




Ice Dams


Ice dams occur when an attic is not properly ventilated and parts of the roof have differing temperatures. Typically the edges of the roof will be cooler than the center and higher peaks. Snow will melt where the roof is warmer and get caught in the cooler sections of the roof, freezing and creating an ice damn. Water blocked by the ice dam is then pushed under your shingles and on to the underlayment. In some cases the water will become frozen while under the shingle and actually push the shingle up, loosening the shingle and giving a pathway for water to enter the home. Ice dams are easily preventable with the proper combination of insulation and ventilation. Learn more about this topic by reading my article "Why Is Attic Ventilation Important?". Ice dams are not covered by the manufacturer's warranty.



Important Message


Warranties are a tricky mountain of information to climb but with the right information, it is doable. Manufacturer’s warranties are non-negotiable and should be considered as a measure of their own trust in their product. They will not cover any damage resulting from an external force unrelated to the manufacturing process. Workmanship warranties can be negotiated and anything that is negotiated should be given to you in writing.  

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