Commercial roofs represent a significant investment. Let us be honest: they are not cheap. So, when you are looking at replacing your roof, its easy to be tempted to go with the lowest bid, or the cheapest alternative. But as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”. A bad contractor, questionable materials, and shortcuts are a recipe for a roof that becomes a money pit for your business. 

Here are five major reasons that a cheap roof can fail due to poor workmanship and inferior materials. 


The number one reason we see roofs fail is because moisture is trapped in the roof. This problem occurs when an overlay is proposed rather than removing the existing roof to the decking. An overlay (putting the new roof on top of the existing roof) can be an acceptable alternative under the right conditions. But frequently, if the roof has been leaking, all an overlay does is to trap moisture that has been absorbed into the insulation. Your new roof is compromised from Day One. While removing the old roof to the decking and adding new insulation costs more than an overlay, usually the energy savings from the upgraded insulation will pay for itself over time. 

Roof Edging

Edge metal or parapet coping is critical to the success of your installation. Insurance industry studies say that 75% of all commercial claims are attributable to roof failures; and that 69% of those roof failures are caused by the failure of edge metal and parapet coping systems. A cheap bid probably does not call for designing and installing new edging systems. Often you will see the old coping system reused, or worse still, the membrane is just wrapped over the edge of the building. Wind uplift is the strongest on the edge of a building and using old edging or not having any edging will almost guarantee future problems. 

Attention to Details

“The devil is in the details” is a saying that has applicability to your roof installation. Learn about how penetrations are handled by your proposed system; a penetration is already a weak point on your roof and not using proper materials or techniques ensures that you will have problems down the road. Transitions from the roof to a wall are another important consideration, as is the treatment of HVAC units, satellites, and other collateral equipment on your roof. Details can take almost as long as the rest of the roof takes to install, and a poor-quality contractor will often hurry through this labor-intensive phase. 


Selecting the right option and the right materials for your new roof should be considered carefully. Elastomeric coatings are a good example. Given the right circumstances, a coating can be a cost- effective solution. But doing a coating properly takes considerable work and preparation which translates into labor which translates into cost. A coating done properly is often more expensive than an alternate system; while a coating done improperly will fail, often just within a year or two, leaving you the expense of doing the job right the second time around. 


Do not be fooled by a contractor’s warranty. Many companies will offer a five-year, ten year or lifetime warranty when the reality is that they have given you “a taillight warranty”: the warranty is only good until you see their taillights disappear. The sad fact is that 96% of all roofing companies are out of business within ten years. A reliable contractor will always include a manufacturer’s NDL (no dollar limit) warranty. These warranties are backed by the manufacturer, and before the manufacturer will commit themselves to this financial obligation, they send a representative to inspect the quality of the workmanship. If your contractor does not offer a manufacturer’s NDL, you can probably bet their workmanship would not pass muster. 

The Bottom Line 

No one system is the right solution for every owner and every building. But choosing the right system to begin with, making the correct decision between a re-roof or an overlay, insisting on new edge metal, quality materials that match your expected life for the roof, and a manufacturer’s warranty that guarantees quality workmanship and the backing of a major company are all ways that you can avoid “the bitterness of poor quality.”

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