The Truth About Shingle Warranty

( aka Is It A Reliable Indicator of Quality? Spoiler alert: its not!)

"No one at Ace Roofing is a lawyer, not has anyone read every line and stipulation of every shingle warranty on offer. This article is based on a mixture of knowledge, experience, reading, and common sense. For exact and specific stipulations and clauses, please refer to the warranty information provided by the manufacturer in question, and feel free to consult an actual lawyer. Use this article as a very general overview of shingle warranty in the real world, and not as a legal text or legal foundation for any action other than the careful consideration of the product and company used to complete your roofing project."

In no way do I say this in a “holier-than-thou-art” tone, but as I go about doing estimates I come more and more frequently across individuals that have “educated themselves” on the subject of roofing, and have thereby fallen prey to marketing and propaganda, making themselves more misinformed and, even worse, less open to experience and professional opinion. This, I believe, is a misfortune, to one and all.

Shingle Warranty Is a Poor Indicator of Quality

When it comes to shingles, I find nothing more misleading than peoples perception of shingle warranty, and it being used to justify the application of a cheaper brand as compared to a relatively more expensive one. And this is truly a bit of a sore spot for me, because I completely understand that very few people need to be knowledgeable and informed about shingles, and so I am quite flustered with the marketing techniques used to sway the populace towards one brand or another. As soon as I hear one of the following questions, I know I've got a bit of educating of my own to do:

  • How many years of warranty does this shingle offer?
  • If both shingles have “X” years of warranty, why would I pay for the more expensive one?
  • Why should I be concerned about bad shingles if they are warrantied for “X” years?

And believe me: its not that I mind explaining. As a matter of fact, I seize this as an opportunity to show my perspective client that I have both knowledge and experience in the field, and more importantly that I am interested in providing a service and product that will minimize OUR risk of problems down the road.

My generic speech on the subject varies very little from the following:

“The number of years of warranty that a brand of shingle offers should not be used as an indicator of shingle quality. Shingle warranty is primarily a marketing tool for the manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, the installers. Secondarily, it is a warranty, but one with tons of fine print and requiring a lot of reading between the lines. When I started roofing, and for the majority of my roofing career, 30 year shingles were the standard up until, just a few years ago, one company decided to give themselves a marketing advantage by offering 35 year warranty on what had always been marketed as a 30 year product. Without any changes in quality or innovation, the warranty period was extended by five years as a marketing ploy, so that when it came time to compare one brand to another, theirs offered a better warranty. Ironically, however, their product was one of the lower end products, and something Ace Roofing had stayed away from almost completely (except where explicitly required by subdivisions, contractors, etc). As soon as this happened, the other manufacturers had to respond, and before you knew it everyone was running the numbers on the warranty game (or as I prefer to call it, the warranty scam). Today, almost all, if not all local shingles are being offered as “limited lifetime” shingles, a beautiful little buzzword/jingle that often lulls homeowners into an all too lackadaisical trance. Yet the products differ slightly, if at all, when compared to the same products being sold only a few years ago. And this is the first part of my explanation for not taking shingle warranty length too seriously.

The second part concerns the warranty itself – that is to say, the actual words on paper. I have to be honest, I haven't addressed the “legalese” of these documents too closely. Even though I am a roofing professional, I feel that I don't have to. Why? Because I have read enough of these documents to know they offer little protection and security to the end-user; I don't feel I need to read every part of every one. I say this with both confidence and disappointment, but my conclusions are obvious to me. Here are just a few of my thoughts on the general legal aspects of shingle warranty:

  • Where there is any significant amount of money involved, a corporation has the choice of fighting the case to dismiss it due to some mundane stipulation or (probably the more likely tactic) to shift blame to the actual installation of the product (nails are not all nailed in flush) or to blame some other aspect of home construction (for example, insufficient soffit ventilation, or none whatsoever). I am fairly confident that if a shingle manufacturer really and truly does not want to pay, they will find a way out most of the time, or they will drag the legal aspect out long enough for most people to give up.
  • If a shingle manufacturer actually decides to pay out to the homeowner, shingle warranty is actually pro-rated, meaning that the amount of money you get from the manufacturer is less and less as time goes on. For example, if your “30 year” shingles fail after 10 years, you are eligible to receive a maximum of 66.7% of the cost of the shingles back. After 20 years this number drops to 33.3%.
  • In the event that a shingle manufacturer pays a home owner out in full (pays back all of the money for their shingles, or offers materials for a new roof) shingle warranty does not in any way include the cost of shingle removal, shingle disposal, shingle delivery, shingle installation, nor any of the other materials required to re-roof a home. In my approximation, if a manufacturer offers free shingles, this would cover approximately 30-40% of the cost of re-roofing your home. That means that the homeowner has to pay the remaining 60-70% out of pocket.
  • Of course, this is all assuming that you even qualify for the warranty at all. For example, some warranties are transferable from seller to buyer, others are not. Some require extensive documentation, and preregistration. Will you have the receipt after 10 years? 20? Will you be living in the same home? Will the roofing company be around to verify any required information?

As one can see, years of warranty are a poor indicator of security against a bad roof and a bad product."

shingle warranty is not an indicator of shingle quality

How We Choose the Products We Install (As You Should)

But my speech is not all doom and gloom. I am a strong proponent of asphalt shingles, but only the right ones! Combine good shingles with the right quality and quantity of supporting products, and a good installer, and I believe that shingles will offer the best bang for your buck, and a relatively good set of style and colour options as well.

My shingle warranty speech is composed of a second part, and it goes something like this:

“What are often times referred to as fiberglass shingles, are only in small part fiberglass. As the shingles are being manufactured, the starting substrate is a thin sheet of fiberglass. Onto this fiberglass are plastered, layer upon layer, of asphalt and limestone. The correct ratio of asphalt to limestone is key, along with the quality of the asphalt, which comes in different qualities. Limestone makes shingles fire resistant, but it also makes them weak. With enough asphalt, and asphalt of the right quality, this limestone can be incorporated into shingles without making them brittle or stiff. The right ratio of asphalt to limestone will allow shingles to have a certain level of flexibility and, perhaps more importantly, a better granule retention rate. This is key! Because if there is not enough asphalt to hold the granules to the top of the shingle, they will fill your gutter instead of protecting your roof. Shingles without granules break down extremely quickly; they are also prone to curling, cracking, moss growth, and being blown to pieces by wind. Shingles without granules also do not stick together, and therefore lose their self-sealing quality.

And herein lies the secret: when you pay for more expensive shingles, you are paying for more asphalt and/or better quality asphalt. That means products that are more likely to self-seal and retain their granules, and less likely to crack and break. In my experience this first became a huge deal with the oil prices issues of 2008, and many companies seemed to have experimented with the composition of shingles. It would appear that the aim was to minimize asphalt cost, and there are two obvious ways to do that with shingles: use less asphalt, and use lesser quality asphalt. Unfortunately, it seems that most companies have found the sweet spot: a shingle crummy enough to be cheap, but attractive enough because of low pricing. And so manufacturers profit by saving money on asphalt, and large scale suppliers such as lumber yards (most) increase their profit margins by offering the cheapest shingles they can find. At Ace Roofing we do not cater to this kind of business. To us it makes no sense to offer a top quality installation service, but install poor quality materials. So everything that we implement in our installation has to meet our high standard of quality. Everything from the quality of the felt right down to the quality of shingle matters to your home, and so it does to us.”

poor granule rentention on cheap shingles

The Conclusion, As We See It ;)

I understand how some individuals may believe my statements may be biased, especially when they are contrary to some of the marketing and other roofing installers out there, but I encourage people to use their logic and, if necessary, do some follow up research. At Ace Roofing, and unless specifically requested, we prepare quotes that offer a higher than average material quality, and an installation that exceeds building code requirements. We strongly feel that the difference in our pricing versus our competitors, though usually more expensive that some of our competitors, is actually more than fair: dollar for dollar we are confident you will get a much better deal by hiring our experienced and quality oriented roofing crew and using one of our preferred shingle products. After all, we've been doing our homework for a very long time now ...