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Shingle Warranty

Lifetime Asphalt Shingle Warranties?!?

Jason Fox, Bruttell Roofing Project Manager

How do the big shingle manufacturers stay in business while giving away free roofs to people after 20 years (or a lifetime) of use?

The vast majority of the asphalt shingle roofs our company replaces are 15-20 years old. So, how can it be that several of the largest shingle manufacturers are offering lifetime warranties for their entry-level dimensional shingles? The truth is that manufacturers’ warranties are all about the small print. I went ahead and read the small print and found that not all lifetime warranties are the same. I also found that they aren’t really for life.

There are many different manufacturers, styles and grades of asphalt shingles, and just as many warranties. Not all manufacturers’ warranties are the same, even for the same grade of shingle, so the following is a generalization of what is seen in most entry-level lifetime asphalt shingle warranties. Also, the lifetime warranties only apply to single-family homes. With condominiums, apartments and commercial buildings the warranty period is usually reduced to 40 years, but the rest of the warranty terms are the same.

Up-front full warranty period – This usually lasts 10 years and covers the material cost as well as reasonable labor costs to repair or replace shingles which have been found to have manufacturer’s defects.

Coverage– During the up-front period, if you do discover manufacturing defects in the shingle and it is deemed the shingles were installed properly, this is what you get: The manufacturer will pay the reasonable cost of replacing or recovering your shingles. Sounds pretty good. But what’s not covered? Exclusions: some underlayments, metal work or flashings and they will not pay for the old roof to be torn off. So, if you had a dimensional shingle (which should not be recovered), then you are on the hook for the large removal and disposal expenses.

Proration – After the upfront period is over, the warranties only cover the cost of the materials and this is prorated from the date of installation. So only a percentage of the material cost will be paid out if there is a defect.

Installation – The shingles need to be installed in strict accordance with the instructions printed on the shingle wrapper. Something as small as using the wrong fastener can void the warranty.

Exclusions from Coverage – There are many roof-related problems which are not included in most warranties. Common Exclusions: Improper installation, damage caused by improper ventilation, shingle discoloration, or any damage resulting from causes beyond normal wear and tear such as hail, fire or any other “act of god”.

Transferability – some warranties are transferable to a new owner but this may be limited to as little as the first two years from the date of installation. Written notice must usually be provided to the manufacturer within 30 to 60 day of transfer of property ownership.

Limited Wind Warranties – most shingles are warranted to not blow-off up to a certain wind MPH. This is usually 110 MPH for most entry-level lifetime shingles. The shingles must be installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and they need to have had a chance to properly seal together. This means if a roof was installed in cold weather, the wind warranty will not be valid until warm temperatures arrive and seal the shingles.

Warranty Upgrades – most asphalt shingle manufacturers offer upgraded warranties at cost to the consumer. These can range from as little as $50 to as much as 10-12% of the cost of the materials with varying levels of coverage. These upgraded warranties can extend the upfront full coverage period to 12-15 years. They also often have more liberal transferability rules and extended wind warranty periods. Some of these warranties require the use of proprietary materials manufactured by the same shingle manufacturer and may even require an inspection by a manufacturer’s representative.

So what does a lifetime warranty get you? That is, if the roof was installed properly, was properly ventilated, was not affected by “damage resulting from causes beyond normal wear and tear” and you still can remember the manufacturer, what do you get? Here is one example:

In year 20 of one manufacturer’s “lifetime” warranty, the manufacturer will only cover 60% of the cost of the replacement of the shingles (based on the proration schedule). Now, remember this does not include underlayment, flashings or removal of the old roof, so that 60% is actually only about 30% of the cost you would incur to replace the roof. So if your cost to replace were $10,000, your warranty re-imbursement would only be about $3,000.

The final analysis is that the big shingle manufacturers know that by the time most shingles fail, the homeowners have likely forgotten what shingle they installed or the house has changed ownership without the warranty being transferred. And even if a warranty claim is made, they have limited their long-term liability. In short, the warranties give some recourse if a shingle roof fails in the first 10 years but the returns diminish quickly thereafter.

So what can you take from this? Make sure you hire a reputable contractor to install your roof, use a shingle from an established manufacturer (one who hopefully will still be in business in 20 years), keep your warranty documents in a safe place and have reasonable expectations for your warranty reimbursement if you have a roof failure. Remember, the big manufacturers didn’t get that way by giving away free roofs to people after 20 years (or a lifetime) of use.