Metal roofing snafu
January 12, 2018 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Is our roofing company taking us for a ride?

We are new homeowners so are pretty ignorant in general about house-related stuff, so hopefully this question won't be too indecipherable.

We knew we needed to replace the roof of our 1910-built 2-storey house when we bought the place.

We decided to get a metal roof so that we never need to replace it again. We chose a company that is reputable and had good local reviews. They gave us an estimate from eyeballing the roof from the ground. They said there were 2 layers of asphalt shingles. We gave them the 1/3 deposit, and after a few months' wait, they came to get started this week.

Once they went up on the roof, they discovered that there are actually 3 layers of shingles, so there is an extra fee for dealing with that. OK.

But they also said that there is some issue with the boards underneath the shingles, which constitute the actual covering of the house. (Sorry, I don't know all the terminology!) It is not an issue with the integrity of the material itself. They say that the metal roof will not be able to be securely fastened to this material and they need to lay down a layer of plywood on top of it, and install the metal shingley things thereon. This plywood and the associated labor will cost about $6500. That is an extra ~20% on top of the price of the job! (And that is not including the additional fee for the extra layer of shingles.)

I am ruminating about this and worried that we are being somehow taken advantage of, so I come to you for a reality check.

Should a roofing company who does specialty roofing (ie, that might have special requirements, especially in an area of older houses) have gone up on the roof to evaluate, prior to giving an estimate? We didn't question the estimate at the time, but of course we had no idea what pitfalls there might be. I guess we thought it was a more cookie-cutter kind of project.

And is that amount of money for the plywood work in a reasonable ballpark? (I don't know the size of the roof, so this might not be answerable, but there are no complicated shapes or gables or anything to work around. It is a 2-family house with top/bottom units of ~1100 sq ft each, if that helps. We are in Boston area.)

I know the rule of thumb to expect unexpected happenings and rising costs in home renovation, but it seems like this should not have been a surprise in the way it is, like they should have been able to tell us about this requirement up front, and the $$ seems inordinate. I would love to learn that I am just being paranoid!
posted by tentacle to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my very limited experience, low-balling an estimate is very common.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:01 PM on January 12

What you've described is what I'd call a typical re-roofing experience. You just don't really know what to expect once you pull off the old shingles. You can have a good idea, but there's alway the potential that you'll need to address the roof's structure. That estimate seems reasonable enough. To have it not be a surprise in any way, is expecting too much. Being unfamiliar with the process, that's perfectly understandable.

You could always get a second opinion and go back to the current sub with that if it's better.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:15 PM on January 12

Should a roofing company who does specialty roofing (ie, that might have special requirements, especially in an area of older houses) have gone up on the roof to evaluate, prior to giving an estimate?

Probably, but estimates take work, and accurate estimates take more work. Work costs money, which may not be recouped.

Think about finding another roofing company and getting a quote or estimate with the new information.

We decided to get a metal roof so that we never need to replace it again.

All roofs require maintenance. Poor or neglected maintenance, or improper installation, can affect the lifespan of the roof. My experience with warranties for metal roofs was that the material was warrantied for 30 to 50 years, while the workmanship was warrantied for 2 to 3. I would recommend paying attention to the warranty language.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:34 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Did you get multiple quotes on the job? You should always get multiple quotes to help you understand what the parameters of the job are and to help reinforce the message that you want an accurate quote, not a lowball.

But this seems like it's not a scam, just bad estimating, which does happen.
posted by GuyZero at 12:37 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

The cost and problems encountered sound reasonable unfortunately. However they absolutely should have gone up on the roof and looked in your attic when they gave you the quote, especially given the age of the house. I'd be very unhappy about that and let them know why I was unhappy and that their quote was totally inadequate and see if you could get a discount. I'd also get a second quote from another company at this point, but another good company. And don't tell them what Company 1 quoted you.
posted by fshgrl at 1:01 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

There are often problems with the subroofing, which is the wood platform that your roof is built on. I believe most modern jobs install plywood, but our 1970's era house had 1x4 (?) boards and the crew came prepared with about a hundred feet of new replacement boards included as part of the job. Much of the existing subroofing was fine, but we had had some leaks and a skylight that needed replacing as part of the job, so it's fair to say they knew they'd be replacing some of the boards. We had Decra metal shingle installed and they were able to install on the boards after laying down whatever underlayment and ice barrier was needed.

If the existing subroof is over 100 years old, that could mean that there have been quite a few roofing/tearoff cycles. It isn't entirely clear from your description, but if they haven't torn off the roof and they're noticing that the deck is clearly subpar just from walking on it, that doesn't seem unreasonable for them to raise the issue. Yes, it would have been nice for that to have been taken care of in the estimate, but it is hard to know if this was an unreasonable oversight. Either way, if the roof is subpar, putting a new metal roof on it will not fix it, and may cause it to be weak.

However, you said it isn't an issue of the integrity of the material, so at that point we're in the realm of needing expert opinions.

It is totally normal to get into some sort of renovation or remodel work and to be blindsided by some stupid problem, and it's usually expensive, or time consuming, or (my favorite) both. Ideally someone should have walked the roof and looked in the attic, but that's time, expense, etc., which doesn't always happen. Further, our experience is that the roofing company might be "able" to do the job, but in the end it turns out that only one guy is actually certified for doing the installation work, and he isn't the guy doing the quoting, so you get a guy quoting who isn't really familiar with it all. This, by the way, is a real hazard, and I encourage you to find out what size crew will be installing your roof, and how many days it will take.

Don't feel too terrible about complaining about this, and/or getting a competitive quote from another company, in an effort to gain some negotiating power.
posted by jgreco at 1:12 PM on January 12

Your house, like mine, is pretty old, so its plausible to find all sorts of crazy things once you actually start tearing off the old roof. In my case, the roofing was supported by narrow boards, as jgreco describes, but with huge gaps between them. There's no access to the attic or any way to see what's there from the inside (without busting through plaster) or peeling up the old roofing. It's also a faux pas for estimators to *damage* your house, and in my case we talked about the fact that they didn't know what they'd find.

So I don't think its unreasonable to have found out about this once the job started. It's less OK that they didn't warn you, given the the age of your house.
posted by janell at 1:20 PM on January 12

Please, please get some more input from quality roofers in the area. If $6500 represents 20% of the job cost, that's an incredibly expensive roof to begin with. The failure to do more than eyeball from the ground to work up a quote is a red flag, too. Somebody should have been up on a ladder, as well as inside the attic, to check on the old roof's condition. This is particularly true since some jurisdictions allow you to reroof with metal over two layers of shingle, but nobody allows you to go over three. Just guessing that there are only two layers isn't good enough for a job this integral to your enjoyment of your home.
posted by bullatony at 1:27 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your input. I feel better about the situation although still in sticker shock. I think we will push back a little about the fact that they didn't do better due diligence in the estimate phase and see if they will reduce the price.

We did get another estimate at the start of this process - it was slightly higher but in the same realm. Also done as eyeballs from the ground. Both companies are specialists in metal roof installation - as in, that is their main thing - so I am not worried about their installation skillz. The plan from the beginning and included in the estimate was removal and disposal of 2 layers of shingles, so they were up front and responsible about that quality measure.
posted by tentacle at 1:42 PM on January 12

Metal roofing is expensive and you are going to pay higher labor, since it's a finicky job compared to shingling, that's why we didn't go with it, although it would have been my first choice.

Get another estimate. My neighbor got five of them, and all of them varied by quite a bit. They went with a guy that got up on the roof and showed them pictures and explained what and why. He was slightly less than half the cost of the big name dude, but had references and photos and a good rep.

I've helped do the scut work on several places taking off shingles. It's not a fun job, but it's not rocket science. It's not that much harder to take off two layers than one, and I'll bet your three wouldn't be that big a deal, since the first layer is ancient. They're charging a lot.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:02 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

The idea that someone who will be replacing your roof wouldn't actually determine the state of that roof before giving you a price to replace it is horseshit. Yes, they'd have to get a ladder off the truck, but when they got done they'd be able to tell you about the job that was needed, not the one they hoped to do. I'm heading your way with my crew of Amish 12 year-olds.
posted by bullatony at 4:22 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

In my own experience, I had read so many stories of additional costs for plywood replacement that I got every estimate as a low-to-high -- how much if none of the plywood needs replacing, and how much if all of it needs replacing.

Every company I spoke with tried to convince me that I didn't need to worry about it, but I worried, and obtained a per-square-foot cost from each so I could calculate the worst-case scenario. In my case, the roofer I chose had to replace less than their standard minimum no-charge replacement, so it was all good, but at least I was prepared.

Perhaps you can ask them how that $6500 breaks down, in square-foot or linear-foot terms, and then call other roofers to quickly find out their square-foot/linear-foot costs to see if they're in line?
posted by davejay at 4:42 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I just put a metal roof on my house, and I think this cost is probably part of the pain. These roofs are expensive, but in the end you want it done right. Replacing these boards, usually plywood, is very common even with asphalt shingles. You are going to be paying for the matetials and the labor. That is what I would ask them about, break down the costs and show me.

The roof is usually made to order after you agree to a contract. The metal manufacturer usually has a rep that comes and measures it out to fit.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:20 PM on January 12

Better metal roofs I know of are secured at the eaves with solid fasteners and held in place by the Cap on top which is also solidly fastened down , there are no screws used in between because of the thermal expansion of the panels .
posted by hortense at 8:00 PM on January 12

We recently replaced the flat roof on our 1909 rowhouse. Our house had old metal roofs - the best I understand, the construction is: lumber, then a sheet of metal that's nailed down to that lumber, and originally they'd mop hot tar over it, then as technology developed they'd use coatings like the aluminum fiber coating, and they'd do this layer by layer over the years.

I got several quotes, and each of the guys got up onto the roof to do the inspection. I generally tried to get up there and join them and make them walk through and explain to me where the problem areas they saw were, and asked the same questions to them all, refining and building questions based off the previous walks.

I don't think I would trust a Roofer who just eyeballed it, nor would I singlehandedly decide that a metal roof is all id consider without talking first to other roofers with other options.
posted by Karaage at 8:19 PM on January 12

Better metal roofs I know of are secured at the eaves with solid fasteners and held in place by the Cap on top which is also solidly fastened down , there are no screws used in between because of the thermal expansion of the panels .

I don't think that's correct.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:48 PM on January 12

"With a standing seam system the roof movement is allowed from eave to ridge. There are many proprietary designs but all standing seam roofs float above the supporting structure as a steel membrane via clips. These clips are attached to the panels by tabs that are seamed into the panel seams the tabs are attached to a base that allows the tab to move independent of the base, the base is fastened to the supporting structure with screws."
posted by hortense at 10:58 PM on January 12

there are no screws used in between because of the thermal expansion of the panels

the base is fastened to the supporting structure with screws

This is way off topic, but: Standing seam metal roofing is screwed down (through slotted holes) along one edge and clipped or crimped to the previous panel on the other edge, hiding that panel's screws. There are most definitely screws between the eave and ridge, and if your roofing contractor tells you otherwise, run away as fast as possible.
posted by bradf at 6:27 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

It's very unlikely that anyone but the most fly-by-night operator would install a standing seam metal roof over an existing shingle roof, so pretty clear we're not talking about standing seam. The contractor looked at the OP's roof from the ground, thought that he could install an exposed-fastener roof over that roof without having to do a tearoff, finally got around to really looking at the roof after bidding the job and discovered the three layers of shingles. That would rule out going over, so he needs an additional $6500 to do a complete tearoff and re-deck. That could be a reasonable amount for the additional work; the question about whether to stay with this contractor arises because the problem could have easily been discovered at the outset.

Standing seam roofs are fastened from ridge to eave by crimping the roofing to clips that are screwed to the deck or to purlins.
posted by bullatony at 6:57 AM on January 13

the base is fastened to the supporting structure with screws.

I understand standing seam systems, as I do many other metal roofing systems. Your assertion that there's no fastening in the field, therefore with a "better metal roof" the condition of the roof structure isn't an issue, is incorrect. And IMO, it's also quite nieve, therefore probably not the best advice. Sorry to bicker.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:49 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

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