Do I Really Need a New Roof?

I have been asked that question so many times since my entry into the roofing industry in 1990.  For most home owners, needing a new roof is something they really do not want to think about because of the cost. New roofs are not cheap and not at the top of everybody’s priority list. New kitchens, bathrooms, floors, windows, landscaping—just about any other home improvement seems to take priority over a new roof.

There are a lot of contractors who will tell you to get a new roof after a certain number of years. I respectfully suggest you ignore them. They don’t know your financial condition, and that is the determining factor. This was borne out in a conversation I had with my son. He said, “Dad, I need to buy a new truck this year.” I asked one simple question: “How much did you spend on your truck last year in repairs?” He said, “Nothing.” I responded, “If you spent nothing on repairs, you don’t need a new truck. If you want a new truck that’s fine, but that’s an entirely different discussion.” And that is the simple answer to whether you need a new roof. You need a new roof when you’ve reached a threshold of monetary pain and you simply cannot bear paying for another repair. This presumes that the repairs are in different spots and you’re not repairing the old repair again and again. If you have not spent much on repairs over the last few years, you probably don’t need a new roof. The deciding factor, however, is not the condition of the roof. It’s the condition of your finances. A good roofing contractor can always fix a leak in such a way that it won’t leak. A new leak may pop up someplace else, but a good repair should last several years. Some of our customers tell us they simply can’t consider a new roof for some number of years, and that is okay. It’s their roof and their money.

So why are some of these roofing contractors so insistent that you need a new roof? Of course it’s about money, but not for the reason you might think. New roofs may be expensive, but that doesn’t make them very profitable. In fact, re-roofing is a hugely competitive business, and installing new roofs has a very low profit margin. The only companies that do really well with re-roofing are those large enough to do several each week. This allows the low profits to add up to something reasonable. However, most roofing companies have only a few crews and the cutthroat pricing of the industry makes it very tough on them. It’s an extraordinarily difficult situation. Re-roofing is hard work. It takes a lot of manpower and equipment, it takes a lot of time, and there is a tremendous liability involved.

The reason these guys are pushing you into something that is hard, time-consuming, full of risk and sells at a low margin is that most of them don’t really know their business. Many contractors are like moths to a flame; they are drawn to the large numbers and think if they work faster and for longer hours, they can beat the other guy’s price and still make money. So the average cost for a new roof is much lower than it should be. I was selling new roofs in the late nineties for the same price they are selling at now, while the cost for materials is about three times what it was back then.  For most roofing contractors, repairs are a nuisance. They peel a few guys off a re-roofing crew to make a repair and expect them to hurry back and help finish the big job. That’s why so many repaired roofs still leak. Very few contractors really supervise repairs. Very few contractors understand that they need a balance in their work and that they should pay attention to the big and the little jobs. A contractor needs a nice mix of big and small jobs to keep their company running smoothly, and all their work needs to be equally supervised. A successful contractor understands that both repairs and re-roofing are good for business, and should be happy to give you a price for just a repair, no matter what condition the roof is in.

So when you’re hiring a roofing contractor and considering a new roof, you want to check the usual things. How long have they been in business? Do they have good online reviews? Are they properly licensed? Etcetera. You’ll also want to ask their price for just a repair. If the contractor is adamant and pushes for a new roof, I suggest you find someone else. Even if you’re sure you’re going to buy a new roof, ask for the repair price just to see what kind of contractor you have. There is almost never a scenario where a repair can’t stop the immediate problem, and a contractor shouldn’t care which way you want to go. Remember, you, and only you, have the final word on when a new roof is needed. You’re the one paying the money, and that means you get to decide when it makes financial sense for you to re-roof.

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