For many homeowner associations, this year will bring new roofs. Roofs, of course, come in many variations, designs and materials. Some can last a hundred years like tile, or a few decades like flat hot tar buildups. With longevity comes increased cost, although many higher priced options are better values. Architectural composition shingles are very affordable and carry 30 to 50 year warranties. For flat roofs, rubberized membranes offer better durability and ease of repair than traditional hot tar varieties.

While improvements in roofing materials is great news for consumers, the best roof invented can be your worst nightmare if it's not installed properly. Installing a roof is a technical exercise that requires special training and attention to detail. Since roofs are intended to last many years, selecting a roofing company that will likely be around for years is also extremely important. Here's how to get ready for a proper roof job:

  • Hire only licensed roofing contractors that specialize in the kind of roof you want. If you have a multiple year roofing repair schedule, it's very important to use the same roofing company even if it costs a bit more money. When different contractors are used, sorting out repair, maintenance and warranties becomes nearly impossible.
  • Get at least three bids from qualified contractors.
  • Check contractor licensing with the appropriate state agency. Most states keep licensing and insurance information plus a history of complaints made.
  • Call at least three references from each of your bidders to inquire about performance.

Unless the roofing job is straightforward (remove and replace with no repairs), invest in a roofing consultant (not a contractor) to prepare detailed specifications which can be bid by the contractors. Those specifications should include:

  • Removal and disposal of existing roof.
  • Repair of damaged sheathing.
  • Protection of landscaping, decks, etc.
  • Properly installed sheathing if required.
  • Proper underlayment.
  • Proper attic ventilation.
  • Adequate insulation, if applicable.
  • Selection of the right roof system.
  • Proper flashing.
  • Gutters and downspouts, if necessary.
  • Rain protection during course of work.
  • Regular debris clean up.

There are building code and product specifications that need to be considered. Code allows no more than two roofs over a dwelling. Regardless, it's recommended to remove the existing roof system so that the roof deck can be properly inspected and repaired. Also, some manufacturers will not warranty their product when it's installed over an existing roof. Finally, a roof installed over another never lays down properly and detracts from curb appeal.

If a new type of roofing is being considered that is heavier than the original, like tile or slate, a structural engineer should calculate the weight load requirements. It may require structural enhancements to carry the additional load.

Since a roofing project is always costly, it's worth hiring an attorney to prepare a contract which includes the manufacturer's installation specifications. Besides getting the work done properly, getting it done within a certain time frame is important. This is done by including a per day dollar penalty for non-weather-related delays.

The payment schedule is extremely important. DO NOT enter into an agreement that requires prepayment for labor or materials. This is a red flag for a contractor that is financially strapped or using your money to pay for other bills. Making several progress payments is normal but the payments should be based on actual work completed. Of course, never tender final payment until all work is completed and the contractor provides a properly executed lien waiver. Finally, assemble a roofing file which includes the contract, product information and warranty.

Getting ready for a roofing job takes time, money, scheduling and expert input. You will live with the results, good or bad, for many years. Take your time and the advice of Rambo the Rottweiler: "Roof! Roof! Roof!"

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