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Comparing Roof Estimates


Calling roofing contractors and asking for estimates is the easy part, now you need to compare the estimates you received and decide on a contractor to use. Always ask for a detailed estimate in writing. It is impossible to make an informed decision if you are not given all of the information. Before you begin comparing roof estimates, call the customer references provided by each contractor and have your notes from the ensuing conversation handy as you review each estimate.

Although the bottom line is important, never compare estimates only by the overall cost to you. As you review your estimate, here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:

  • What type of material is included in the estimate? Is it a commodity-roofing product (cheaper, but lower quality), or a quality product?
  • How much is included in the estimate for labor and transport of materials? Is there any provision made in the estimate for potential problems?
  • What was the response from the customer references you called?

Materials: Price versus Quality

Look carefully at the amount that the contractor has allocated for materials. If the estimate does not contain a detailed breakdown of materials and labor, call the contractor and ask him what type of material he included in his estimate. To bring in the lowest bid, your contractor may have priced your project using a commodity-roofing product. While these are not necessarily bad roofing systems, the likelihood of your roof needing repairs within the next few years is higher when you use a thinner, lower-quality roofing system. It is always necessary to weigh the benefits of quality versus price when you are reading estimates. It may be worthwhile in the long run to pay extra now and save hassle a few years down the road.

Also pay close attention to the type of insulation and sealants that are budgeted for your project. Although the cost differential is not high between a thinner insulation product and one with more layers, the quality of the product will directly affect your costs after the roof is installed. If you use a thicker insulation, the amount of heat or cold that seeps into your home will be significantly lessened, thus lowering the amount you will be paying for air conditioning or heat. If you live in a moderate climate, this may be an area where you could save a small amount of money by using a thinner insulation. Sealant also can be down-graded, which would result maintenance headaches and problems in the future. Some lower-quality sealants include the use of pitch pans instead of metal flashings or lapping the joints in a gravel top instead of installing covering plates at the seams. Again, sealant and insulation are both an aspect of the job where paying a little more will translate into significant quality increase.

Although it is not recommended that you climb up and measure your own roof to determine the amount of material needed, look closely at the estimate from your contractor to make sure he has accounted for the amount of material recommended, and how he arrived at that number. If the contractor has never measured your roof, but offers a decisive amount of materials to be used, ask him to justify his number. Be sure that you are paying only for the amount of material you need, and not financing material that will never be used, or accepting a bid based on price and quality of materials only to find it did not include enough material to complete the job thus running up significant unexpected costs.

Labor and Incidental costs

If the amount budgeted for labor and "pass-through" costs such as the transportation of materials seems high, dig deeper and determine where the cost comes from. A good contractor will often charge a bit more for labor because he has the extra cost of providing training and salary to quality workmen, but be careful because oftentimes higher cost will equal a higher profit margin for the contractor and not better quality for you.

Sometimes, the contractor with the lowest bid will have the highest cost for labor and the lowest for materials. If you fail to review a written estimate carefully, details such as these could get lost in the shuffle and come back to haunt you at a later date.

Customer References

Weigh the responses you receive from the customer references carefully, these are the people who were so pleased with the contractor they were happy to have their name given as a reference. You may want to ask them how they heard of the contractor, or if they had referred anyone else to him. If they have, try to find the person they referred and talk to them as well as the original reference. Have your list of questions handy when you interview a reference, and take note of their answers.


Take detailed notes as you review each estimate. List your questions and summarize the overall bid and response from the customer reference for each contractor. Once you finish a detailed review of each estimate, take your notes and compare the estimates. Only then will you be able to get a true comparison of what is being offered.

If you are happy with the price quoted for labor, transportation of materials, and the references given for one specific contractor, but would like to upgrade the materials used, contact the contractor directly and ask him for a revised bid. Be specific in the type of roofing system you are interested in, and you will receive a more accurate quote. Once you have all of the revisions you requested in writing, review the estimates again, and make your final decision.

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