Some roofing jobs can be completed by knowledgeable and brave homeowners. Others should be left to professional roofing contractors.
Nailing down a shingle or two, renewing old caulk, or replacing roof vents are jobs you can probably pull off if you want to do them. However, roofing is dangerous work, and should probably be left to pros in most cases.
People who spend their working lives on roofs develop skills, expertise and intuitions that amateurs lack. They’re also typically given training and equipment that reduces their risks of falling.
Even so, in 2010, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels noted, “Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction … Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof.”
And things aren’t getting any better: fatal falls for professional roofers climbed more than 25 percent in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here’s what you, a homeowner, should take away from these grim figures:
When you’re deciding whether to hire roofing contractors or do the job yourself, your safety should be your first thought. That doesn’t mean you should always go with a contractor. But you should carefully weigh the risk implications of your decision. And you should act with extreme caution when working at height.
Most roofing repairs are pretty straightforward. Search YouTube for “how to replace a shingle” and you’ll find dozens of instructional videos. Vary your search terms for the task you need to perform. Spend an hour watching a selection of relevant programming and you’ll likely have the knowledge you need to carry out your repair.
Don’t rely on just one video, no matter how authoritative it seems. Another presenter may cover a problem not addressed by others.
Now you have the knowledge, you need to ask yourself whether you have the skills and temperament. Some of us can’t paint a wall or assemble an Ikea flat-pack bookcase without messing up. If that’s you, you’ll need help from a friend with real home-improvement skills.
Don’t try cutting corners with tools. For example, invest in a roofer’s “flat bar” (a.k.a. “pry bar”) if you’re replacing shingles.
As you’d expect in the world of tool nomenclature, flat bars are rarely if ever flat. But that doesn’t stop them being incredibly useful. Might you get by with a large screwdriver and pincers? Possibly. But you can get a decent flat bar for less than $10 and it’s made for the job.
Before you climb the ladder to begin work, make sure you have all the tools, nails and specialist glue you need. It’s not only irritating when you have to keep going up and down to get things you forgot. You’re most at risk of falling when you’re moving around.
Thirty years ago, Tim, a surgeon friend of this writer, told him he could teach him within about 20 minutes to perform an appendectomy. The procedure involved a short series of steps that were so easy a trained monkey could do it opined the doctor. (Yikes. Thanks for that, Tim).
You may draw your own inferences from the fact that Tim didn’t volunteer to be your correspondent’s first “patient.” The point here is that it’s not always wise to take on important but seemingly simple jobs, not least because complications arise too often.
True, you’ll be in less trouble if your roof project fails than if your friend botches your appendectomy. But you like having a roof over your head.
After years of experience and training, good roofing contractors should:
Of course, not all roofing contractors are good. So get recommendations from friends and neighbors, ask for references and check them out, search online for complaints and ratings, and generally make sure you’re working with an established, trustworthy and reputable player who has the skills you need.
If you’re scared by your contractor’s quote, you might think of asking whether you could reduce the final bill by providing some of the labor yourself. Be sensible when talking this through.
During the skilled part of installing a new roof, you’re almost certain to be a liability rather than an asset. The people working on your roof will be used to operating as a team. Someone strange and unskilled blundering around is going to hinder more than help.
However, your contractor might be willing to let you strip off the old roof so it’s ready for the replacement. Be sure to take advice over the time that’s likely to require, and any temporary waterproofing measures you should take.
Ask your contractor to bring their wheeled, oversized magnet (or rent one yourself). You’ll be pulling out thousands of nails, and you don’t want to be picking them out of your lawn mower’s blades and kids’ body parts for years to come.
Collecting those is part of the roof-removal phase, and that’s something for which you’ve taken responsibility.
If you’re planning to get friends in to help you with a do-it-yourself repair or replacement, understand your potential liability. Your homeowner’s insurance will normally cover you if part of your roof accidentally falls on a visitor’s head. But it may be different if your visitors are scrambling around on the roof at your request.
That’s why reputable contractors carry worker’s compensation insurance. So check your policy. Better yet, talk to your insurers. They may refuse cover completely, leaving you to decide whether to shoulder the risk yourself. Or they may impose restrictions.
Smart homeowners ask their roofing contractors for insurance letters before work commences. This is a letter from the insurance carrier addressed to the individual homeowner confirming that the contractor has all the coverage needed for general liability and workers’ compensation. Don’t be shy about asking for this; you won’t be the first.
At this point, you should have at least two other documents. Make sure you have a building permit (where required) covering the project and a detailed quote/contract from the contractor outlining precisely what you’ll get.
If you’re doing a small repair yourself, you could replace a few shingles for less than $200 in materials, including your non-flat flat bar. But if you need a whole new roof, you could easily be looking at $5,000 to $14,000 — or considerably more, depending on where you are, the type of roof you want and the size of your home.