• Subcontractors in the Roofing Industry

    Posted Mar 15th, 2011 By in Articles With | No Comments

    Subcontractors in the Roofing Industry

    The use of subcontractors in the shingle roofing industry is pretty standard. There are three main reasons for this, and each reason impacts the three parties of a roofing project in different ways. The three reasons are: workers compensation insurance, poor workmanship/damage claims, and steady employment. The three parties of a roofing project are: the contractor, the homeowner, and the subcontractor.

    For a company with no claims, workers compensation insurance costs about 33% of total wages paid to roofers. Lets look at a “typical” low pitch roof that can easily be walked on. If the cost to the homeowner is $6,000, the labor portion is about $1,800. Workers comp. insurance is an additional $594. If the contractor uses subcontractors, he doesn’t pay workers comp. and can cut $594 off the bid. Who will the homeowner go with, the company that subcontracts or the company that doesn’t? All else being equal the homeowner goes with the lower price and thinks the non-subcontracting company is trying to cheat them.

    The state of Michigan requires all companies to have workers compensation insurance if they have 3 or more part time employees at one time, or if they have one or more employees that work at least 35 hours a week. A sole proprietor with no employees is not subject to the workers compensation laws. Insurance companies make sure that sole proprietors are excluded from coverage. They don’t want people getting insurance then “accidentally” getting hurt, leaving the insurance company to pay a big claim. This is certainly understandable and other insurance can be purchased to protect the sole proprietor (like disability and health). A roofing contractor will typically have workers compensation insurance to cover their office and sales people, but if they subcontract the roofing portion, their insurance premiums are significantly lower. This means that the contractor can give the homeowner a certificate of insurance showing that they have workers compensation insurance. But certificates of insurance don’t show who is covered, so homeowners don’t know that the insurance does not cover the roofers. It would cover the roofers, except that the roofers work for a different company (the subcontractor). It is this other company that needs a workers compensation policy to cover their roofers. Because the workers comp. premiums are so high, the subs in turn subcontract out their labor. By the time it gets down to it, everyone on the roof is a sole proprietor with no employees. All of whom are exempt from the workers compensation laws, and therefore have no insurance. Usually, thank goodness, nobody gets hurt. Getting hurt is a chance roofer’s take, it comes with the territory and everyone knows it. Just like going skiing or playing football, you can get hurt, and you know can get hurt when you sign up for it.

    From the contractor’s position, subbing out the work saves big money that can be passed on to the homeowner, and they can get more jobs. From the homeowners’ point of view, they save big money and think that the roofers are covered. From the subcontractor’s situation, it’s just what needs to be done.

    The second reason to subcontract, from the roofing contractor’s point of view, is that if there is a claim of poor workmanship, or a leak that causes extensive damage, there is someone else to pass the blame to. If subcontractors are used, then it is their fault and their insurance company that pays. If there is ever a warranty claim, the contractor just goes straight to the subcontractor for relief. Sure, the contractor gets embarrassed when the homeowner discovers that he subbed out the work, but by this time the homeowner is already angry and any chance for referrals is gone.

    From the subcontractors perspective, this arrangement works well too. The subcontractors don’t have to worry about advertising or getting jobs; they just go to the large advertising/subcontracting shops and get the work. The homeowners think they are hiring the “large” companies and that the sub is one of their many regular crews. The responsibility of the job is totally on the contractor. The sub can just install shingles, and whatever else is on the work order, and move on. There is no pressure like there would be if the subcontractor had to make the effort to get jobs and referrals from the homeowners. Subcontractors are anonymous and have no need for referrals. They also tend to move around to different contractors quickly.

    This is what homeowners really need to worry about from this arrangement. Since the subcontractors are anonymous, they are free. Free to perform to whatever standards they want. Every house is unique. It doesn’t matter what type of subdivision or standard plan there is, the house was built by different people on different days during different weather, it has had different owners, sits on different sides of the street, and ages differently. Different things need to be done to different houses. One might need attic baffles, one might need bird blocks removed, one might need wood replacement, one might need flashing installed to prevent not only rain from getting in, but also flashing in the same spot to prevent leaks from the snow that piles up on that section of the roof in the winter. You don’t know what you will find until you get into the job. If the roofer doesn’t take the time to investigate, he can’t do the work properly. If there is an anonymous subcontractor on the job, and nothing is in the work order (which there can’t be because the problem can’t be seen until it is uncovered), it is all too easy to just cover it up and move on. It can take a lot of time to uncover and fix problems. Most of the time the roofer doesn’t get paid to do it. It just costs him time and money. Finding the problems pays in referrals, no callbacks, and personal satisfaction. Anonymous subs don’t get callbacks or referrals.

    This can even be taken a step farther when you are dealing with those companies that claim to be able to do the job in one day. It is nice for the homeowner not to be inconvenienced for more than a day, but roofing is a major job. When a contractor puts 15 roofers on a job and pressures them to be done in a day or less, what happens if they find something wrong? Can they allow 13 people to stand around while 2 people fix a problem? Can the subs even take the time if they wanted to?

    The third reason subcontractors are used is due to steady employment, or the lack thereof. A “large” company that advertises heavily, uses subcontractors, and has a good sales force can get lots of work. This type of organization can pay less than other companies because the roofers can be steadily employed. This is a double-edged sword to the subcontractors. They get to work, but they are undervalued and can be easily replaced by the next hungry guy in line. This argument in favor of subcontractors is really almost a business model. The contractor advertises heavily. He subs out the work so he doesn’t have to pay workers comp. insurance. He does lots of jobs so he pays less for the materials and dump fees, as well as the labor to install the jobs. This business model also makes it profitable to use lower quality materials. Even though he is paying less for the same quality materials, this contractor will make more money if he pays even less for the less quality materials. To a company that installs a relatively small number of jobs, it doesn’t make sense to use low quality materials to save a couple thousand dollars a year, but if you’re talking about a hundred thousand dollars a year the temptation is a bit stronger. Homeowners benefit from this model through lower prices, but they risk having disgruntled, underpaid crews on their roof and lower quality materials.

  • Ventilation of Attics for Homeowners

    Posted Feb 17th, 2011 By in Articles With | No Comments

    In the summer attics can get really hot! Even with proper insulation this high attic temperature will beat down into your home, increasing the interior temperature by as much as 30 degrees. This is uncomfortable, causing you to turn up the air conditioner. But the heat also does other, less obvious things. It dries up the shingles and it cooks the wood in your attic. If you were to look in the attic you would probably see the sap seeping out of the rafters (it resembles little amber bubbles).

    At night temperatures drop. The cool of the evening brings condensation. Water vapor is present in all air, weather it is cold or hot. But when the temperature falls and objects cool, the moisture in the air will condense onto these cooler surfaces (think of the dew on the grass in summer or the frost on your roof in winter).

    Moisture is a year round problem, but it is of special concern in the colder months. In the winter, furnace-warmed air circulates through the house. As it moves it collects humidity from the house created by bathing, cooking, laundry, etc. If you have a humidifier on your furnace there is even more water vapor held in the air. This heated, moisture rich air moves up into the attic. The water condenses on the rafters and roof deck. The wood absorbs much of the moisture and mold and mildew develop. The amount of mold growing in attics today is alarming. Once mold spores attach, they multiply rapidly.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, quoted from their publication titled Mold Remediation in Schools & Commercial Buildings:
    All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds can produce allergens that can trigger allergic reactions or even asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce potent toxins and/or irritants. Potential health concerns are an important reason to prevent mold growth and to remediate/clean up any existing indoor mold growth.
    Since mold requires water to grow, it is important to prevent moisture problems in buildings. Moisture problems can have many causes, including uncontrolled humidity. Some moisture problems in buildings have been linked to changes in building construction practices during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Some of these changes have resulted in buildings that are tightly sealed, but may lack adequate ventilation, potentially leading to moisture buildup.”

    Proper attic ventilation will remove excess heat and moisture.

    What is attic ventilation? It is simply changing the air in the attic. A typical response to excessive attic heat is to throw in a few more roof vents so the hot air has a place to go. This however, just doesn’t work. Without intake ventilation, the attic will retain its heat. When you breathe you inhale and exhale; you can’t do one without the other. Your attic needs to inhale and exhale, too. Attics breathe in through soffit vents and breathe out through exhaust vents. The hot, moist air in your attic rises, and as it exits via the roof vents, it is replaced by new, cooler air flowing in through the soffit vents. But it can’t breath out without breathing in.

    Which type of ventilation is best for your home?

    Exhaust Vents
    Gable End Vents
    This system actually acts as both intake and exhaust. These need to be large vents, placed in both gable ends of the roof, and need to face into the prevailing wind. The wind blows through, ventilating the attic space. The distance between the vents needs to be relatively short, making the gable end vent ineffective for large homes, or even sprawling ranches. Gable end vents worked well in the simpler homes of yesteryear, but today’s densely built subdivisions and more complicated architecture severely limit their use.

    Can Vents
    The options in exhaust ventilation include can vents, ridge vents and power fans. The most commonly used is the can vent. These are installed about every four feet on the back of the house. They ventilate the attic poorly, allowing only pockets of hot air to escape, and sometimes not working at all because of air pressure and wind. Can vents are often clogged by wasp nests, which further proves that they don’t work as wasps build their nests in protected places. Beware that can vents cannot be used as intake vents. Because of the velocity of the water running off the roof, the vents can leak into the house. Even the manufactures warn against this practice.

    Ridge Vents
    Ridge vents are exactly what their name implies. They are vents that run along the ridge (top) of your roof. The ridge vent has come a long way since its inception. Originally ridge vents were just corrugated plastic strips about an inch thick that were used to keep the cap shingles away from the hole made in the top of the ridge. These older models were ineffective; the wind blew right through them, preventing hot air from escaping. Scientists discovered that if external baffles (like those plastic shields on car/truck hoods that divert the wind) were placed on the ridge vent, the wind could be used to create a negative pressure system in the attic. This enables the wind to affect the air in your attic as it affects the air outside. Now your attic temperature doesn’t have to build to uncomfortable levels before air is exchanged. The different pressure sucks the air out of your attic. Ridge vents have many benefits: 24 hour a day, silent operation, no moving parts to break and best of all, once installed, it doesn’t cost anything to operate.

    Power Fans
    These come in 2 or 3 different sizes and are very effective at moving large amounts of air. The use of power fans must be given careful consideration. Power fans draw air from every available source. This includes every hole between your attic and the interior of your house. A powerful attic fan can be a concern if you have an improperly installed hot water heater or furnace. If your power vent is too powerful it can cause a back draft of either of these. Fire and carbon monoxide are the scariest consequences, but the more likely effect is conditioned air from your home being drawn up into your attic. When that happens the air in your house needs to be replaced with air from outside. Then your air conditioner or furnace must cool or heat the new air, using more energy. Another drawback is that they are programmed to run in conjunction with thermostat and humidistat measurements. They react to high temperature or high humidity, rather than preventing a rise in heat or moisture. Despite their drawbacks, power fans are sometimes the best option, but there must be a lot of intake ventilation. Recently we have tried power fans that run on solar energy. These turn on when the sun comes up and turn off when the sun goes down. This eliminates the reactive issue with power vents, but in Michigan there is not enough sunshine to run them effectively. They are also very expensive and their warranties last only for a year or two.

    Intake Vents
    Intake ventilation consists of soffit vents in combination with attic baffles. The exact type of soffit vent you need depends on attic volume, the architecture of your home and the type of materials you have chosen to use. Intake vents are where most people make mistakes. They can be a real challenge. Intake vents need to be watertight. They need to be located down low in the attic (preferably in the soffit). And they need to provide at least as much air flow as the exhaust vents. An attic baffle is a Styrofoam or plastic channel that slips between your attic insulation and the wood of the roof deck that the insulation is smashed up against. It allows the air to flow into the attic from the soffit. It is important that these are placed in every rafter space. Without them the air will not flow from the soffit vents into your attic

    Aluminum louvers
    Typically 8”x16”, 4”x16”, or a continuous strip about 2” wide, properly installed aluminum louvers are great for houses with wood soffit.

    Aluminum or Vinyl Soffit
    This is aluminum or vinyl siding made for the soffit area. Because of the restrictions on airflow from the nature of this material, these need to be continuous vents, not spaced every few panels. There is perforated, slotted, and hidden vent soffit. This is a great product for maintenance free exteriors.

    Intake Vents for Houses with no overhangs
    There is basically 3 ways to vent a house with no overhangs. The easiest way for the roofer is to cut a slot in the roof deck close to the eave and cover it with something like a corrugated piece of plastic. The ease of installation is nice, and the cost is not bad at all, but there is a risk of a leak. In Michigan we have snow. The snow piles up on the eaves and ice dams might force water into these vents. The manufacturers have done extensive field testing and have assured us that they will not leak. In various ventilation seminars they have repeatedly told us that they will back up their products and pay for all costs associated with such leaks, including interior damage. This is not in writing, as a matter of fact their written warranties only cover manufacturing defects in the product. However, these products have been in use in Michigan and other similar climates since 2008. When this vent is installed, you can see a slight bump on the bottom 16” of the roof. It is about 3/4 of an inch high. It is not blatantly obvious, but it is there.

    A second option is vented drip edge. Drip edge is a piece of aluminum that is installed on the edges of the roof deck to prevent water from dripping around and under the shingles. On the eave edge you can install drip edge that has a slotted face that allows air to flow into the attic. With vented drip edge you cannot have gutters. The water and ice in the gutter will back up into the attic. Vented drip edge also tends to be a little delicate and gets bent up over time.

    A third (and expensive) option is to remove the gutters, cut a slot in the fascia board and the edge of the roof deck, install a thick, plastic filter and a second fascia board, then cover the area with a strip of aluminum before you roof it. You can then re-install the gutters. Fortunately there is a product that combines the above process with a plastic composite material that is relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to install. It does however look unsightly if you do not install gutters on top of it, and it’s net free airflow is limited.

    A cooler attic means a cooler, more comfortable house and lower utility bills.

    All shingle manufacturers require attic ventilation to meet or exceed the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Minimum Property Standards for Housing. The (simplified) minimum standards for attic ventilation are as follows: a. Cross ventilation shall be provided for each separate space. b. The ratio of the total net free ventilation area to the area of ceiling shall be not less than 1/150, except that the ratio may be 1/300 if: (1) A vapor retarder is installed on the warm side of the ceiling; and (2) Between 25 and 50 percent of the required ventilating area is provided by vents located in the eaves. It is our experience that 1/300 is very rarely enough.

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