There’s No Such Thing as a Roofing Guarantee: Why Building Owners Must Understand Commercial Roof Warranties

John Maxwell

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Few systems in the average commercial building are more critical and more expensive than the roof. Exposed to the elements for decades on end, a roof is under attack throughout its entire life cycle. What can building owners do to protect their investments? Although there is no such thing as an unlimited roofing guarantee, a roof warranty can protect a building owner against certain types of damage, as well as flawed workmanship or materials. There are different kinds of warranties, however, and it is important to know what these warranties do and do not cover before signing on the dotted line.

Manufacturer vs. Contractor Warranties

Manufacturer warranties cover the building materials provided by that same manufacturer, and often the workmanship of the installation. Contractor warranties, on the other hand, cover workmanship and installation.

Manufacturers are much more likely to issue warranties than contractors, and for much longer periods of time. Most manufacturer warranties are guaranteed for 20 years, with some covering up to 30 years. By contrast, contractor warranties usually extend for one or two years. The primary reason for this difference is that workmanship or installation issues usually become apparent soon after the work takes place. Problems with manufactured materials, on the other hand, often take much longer to surface.

Types of Manufacturer Warranties

Manufacturers offer different levels of warranty coverage, each of which comes with varying levels of protection, including:

  • Material warranties: Guarantees only that the material was shipped with no defects, but not that it will perform well. For example, material warranties don’t protect against leaks or wind damage.
  • Material and workmanship warranties: Covers not just the materials but the installation of the materials as well. This provides coverage against problems like leaks and wind damage, provided they can be traced to defects in workmanship or materials.
  • NDL warranties: No dollar limit (NDL) warranties do not enforce a limit on the monetary amount of coverage, usually covering defects in materials and workmanship.
  • Total system warranties: Covers the roof itself, as well as the insulation and any other underlying elements provided by that manufacturer that could comprise the roof.

Beware: Warranties Don’t Cover Everything

Warranties provide peace of mind and protect building owners in certain situations – but a warranty is not a silver bullet. They can have some drawbacks which are sometimes serious. Hence, it’s vital that building owners and managers conduct thorough research and become deeply informed before relying on a warranty. Some common issues or complaints owners have with warranties include:

  • Most warranties are not automatically transferred from one owner to the next when a building is sold.
  • Statistics show that most owners lose the warranty after a few years, and the manufacturers know it.
  • Manufacturer’s warranties could be void if the materials are not installed correctly.
  • Manufacturers can also void warranties if they feel the owner has not maintained the roof adequately.
  • Some warranties come with many limitations, such as exclusions against cracked sealants, punctures, hail damage, lightning strikes and damage above the roof’s wind-speed rating. These exclusions may leave the owner financially burdened should these issues or damages occur.

The Hidden Dangers of Relying on Warranties

Over-reliance on warranties presents problems beyond just gaps in coverage.

Warranties are promises. When customers place more value on a promise than they do on quality and workmanship, they expose themselves to depending on a promise that may never be delivered.

Fly-by-night contractors may offer a warranty — even a lifetime warranty — and then disappear or morph into a new company. Even a shoddy roof can last for five years. But by that time, the work is done, the money is paid and the unscrupulous contractor is impossible to track down. He or she used the promise of the lifetime warranty to make a sale, but then does not fulfill the terms of the warranty – leaving owners and managers on the hook.

Commercial roofing warranties are not a roofing guarantee. Owners and managers must be committed to researching, comparing, and analyzing potential warranties before making a purchase decision. They should understand, however, that no warranty is a substitute for a trusted, experienced, reputable contractor.


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