11 must-know things about starting a roofing contractor small business

From humble beginnings you can grow your roofing contractor small business into a dominant market player

Roofing contractors have been perfecting their craft for a long time.

They installed sod roofs in the Cavemen era, installed the first glazed clay roof tiles in China 5,000 years ago, and installed flat earthenware roof tiles in Greece and Babylon between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Even Noah’s Ark had a roof.

More recently, in the last two centuries, numerous advances were made in as far as developing better roofing practices and introducing new roofing materials.

If current statistics are anything to go by, the future looks bright for individuals keen on making a career in the roofing contractor business, whether the focus is commercial or residential.

Research shows that US demand for residential roofing products will increase by 4% annually thanks to an increase in housing starts. By 2020 this demand will stand at 147 million squares, valued at $10.4 billion.

2017’s Roofing Contractor State of the Industry Report revealed the following:

    • An estimated 69% of residential roofing contractors have expectations of increased revenue, a 2% increase from the previous survey
  • Approximately 75% of these contractors foresee increased revenues into 2020 as a result of increased demand for housing
  • Most residential contractors observed that they were dependent on roof replacement for revenue, with asphalt and metal roofing materials being demanded the most
Roofing contractors enjoy much business in the “storm season”
    • Roofing contractors and manufacturers expect sustained business from the storm market
  • Manufacturers are optimistic about the industry’s strong health that’s being buoyed by demand from reroofing and new construction

Are you equally optimistic about becoming a successful roofing contractor? Here’s what you must know:

Working alongside seasoned roofers will let you in on helpful insights crucial for your startup’s success

1. You’ll need adequate roofing experience and business acumen

Roofing experience:

Just like any other business that involves offering a specialist service, starting a roofing contractor small business will require you to be suitably seasoned in the trade.

This is therefore an ideal career move for someone who’s had hands-on experience thanks to several years of working as a roofer or even one who grew up doing roofing gigs as part of a family or friend’s roofing business crew.

Using your intimate knowledge of the business you’ll be able to offer expert advice to potential clients and also follow this up with expert repair or installation services.

Mere book knowledge about roofing won’t cut it considering the numerous variables that come into play; you need a composite approach comprising of, among others:

Only experienced roofers can accurately estimate what such a complex task would require
    • Near accurate estimation of what a client’s job requires, not only based on the dimensions of the roof but as influenced by other allied factors such as its height, pitch, present number of layers, features such as skylights and dormers, any obstacles hindering access, etc.
    • The ability to fully diagnose a client’s roofing problem(s) and in this way be able to avoid any nasty surprises when the job starts. This will involve a deliberate attempt to do more than a cursory inspection; only this way can deep-seated issues like bad wood, rotted decking, pest infestations, and worn flashings, etc, be revealed.
    • Adequate working knowledge of how to deal with roof repair and maintenance issues
  • A comprehensive knowledge of how to respond to a particular location’s weather and climate vagaries with respect to roofing

Entrepreneurial acumen and business savvy:

Roofing expertise can only take you so far if you are intent on starting your own outfit.

You need some entrepreneurial traits and business savvy in order to take care of the commercial aspect of your venture. Noteworthy among these are:

  • The entrepreneurial qualities of persistence, networking, risk-taking and delegation
  • Adequate client-facing skills that will give them the confidence to strongly weigh and opt for your quote when choosing from a couple
  • Adequate knowledge about dealing with the competition, productive marketing strategies, suitable hiring and compensation policies, compliance with legal requirements, selecting proper insurance coverage, business banking, tax compliance, sourcing materials from suppliers, keeping up with industry trends, etc.

2. You need the right equipment

This is a comprehensive list of a roofing contractor’s equipment and tools:

General equipment:

To avoid slipping off steep roofs you need to wear a sturdy harness
    • Harnesses for securing yourselves once you’re on the roof surface thus preventing you from sliding and falling off
Electric drills are also used to install screws and fasteners
    • Wheelbarrow for transferring aggregate, debris, roofing materials, etc
Roofer wearing a hard hat and a portable tool kit
    • Roof hoist for getting equipment and supplies up and down the roof deck
    • Core-cutter — For cutting a 2” hold in a built-up roof thus allowing you to determine the composition of the roof and deck
    • Delmhorst meter to help you determine the moisture content or roofing materials

Roof cleaning equipment:

  • Stiff-bristled hand broom — For sweeping gravel and loose debris from the roof surface
  • Spud bar — For chipping and loosening embedded gravel
  • Garden hose with nozzle — For washing and scrubbing a substrate to remove adhered or embedded dirt
  • Backpack blower — A motorized air blower used to blow loose debris from the roof surface
  • Air compressor — Delivers high air pressure to blast debris from the roof surface
Instead of throwing off roof debris like this you can use a trash chute to load it into a dumpster
  • Trash chute — For lowering trash and debris from the roof surface directly into a truck or dumpster

Application equipment:

Roof removal equipment:

  • Roof hatchet or Spud bar (hand) — Long-handled, flat-bladed device for chipping and loosening embedded aggregate and cutting a built-up roof into sections for easy removal
  • Pry bar — For prying up sections of a roof
  • Shovels — For removing loose debris from the roof surface
  • Linoleum-type knife — Stiff, short-bladed knife for cutting asphalt material e.g. built-up roofs, rolled roofing, etc

Naturally, having worked as a roofer for some time, you’ll have already accumulated a good number of these tools and equipment. Anything that you don’t have or which you need more of can be purchased from second-hand dealers.

To get you, the crew, your equipment, and in some cases the required roofing materials, from your base to a client’s location you will need a vehicle. It’s quite okay to start with a minivan or van, depending on your budget, before moving on to a truck later on. If purchasing a vehicle right away isn’t an option for you then you can either lease or rent one.

3. It’s mandatory to obtain adequate insurance coverage

Your roofing contractor small business will need to consider several types of insurance cover to take care of liability and be protected in the event of accidents or lawsuits.

4. It’s mandatory to obtain all the required permits and licenses

To operate unrestrictedly your roofing small company will have to keep up with the ever-changing homeowner association restrictions and codes, as well as obtain the necessary city permits.

Pulling local business permits is a time-consuming process that requires payment and proof of proper insurance. Many roofers are therefore tempted to ignore this requirement and get on to work.

Don’t be one of them.

You would rather do what needs to be done and then concentrate on your work without having to constantly look over your shoulder just in case city officials show up and shut you down and/or have you jailed. The consequences will be much worse for your business if, for example, your client was depending on you to complete the job before a storm.

In addition to permits, working in some areas may require you to obtain zoning, planning and safety inspection approvals.

Also, depending on your state, type of work, and cost of the job, you may need to obtain more than one form of State Contracting License. Requirements for licensing may include specialized training, certification, or proof of knowledge.

The homeowner is probably thinking about what type of roof he wants

5. You’ll have to decide on what type(s) of roof installment/replacement you’ll do

Specializing in a given type of roofing material is advisable for a roofing contractor business since this gives a firm the opportunity to get intimately acquainted with details about the processes involved, the resources required, and the profits to be expected.

The complexities of a do-it-all approach to this business won’t allow you to optimize your profit potential.

That being said, there are five types of shingle currently being used in the market and these differ by the material they are made from i.e. asphalt, clay, slate, wood or metal. Your area of specialty will therefore be one or two of these.

Asphalt shingles

Asphalt shingles — These are America’s most common roofing material. These shingles are generally lightweight, easily installable and the least expensive option.

Wood shake

Wood shake — These all-natural shingles are very attractive but very expensive to maintain. They are also prone to deterioration, attacks by insects and mold, and fire. You can however opt for simulated wood shake made of recycled plastic or rubber.

Metal roofing

Metal — Metal roofs last the longest as they are impervious to conditions that ruin other roofing material options. Options here include copper, aluminum and steel.

Ceramic roofing

Tile — These are easily replaceable and can come in custom shapes and colors. You can go for concrete or ceramic tiles.

Slate roofing

Slate — This is extremely long-lasting and has a desirable natural look. It’s also very pricey. Synthetic slate, made from recycled plastic or rubber, is a cheaper alternative.

Impact-resistant shingles are also an option worth looking into. With these, clients can be assured of increased roof deck protection, more protection against leaks, increased energy efficiency, decreased risk of blow-off during inclement weather, and enhancement of a home’s beauty.

6. Some of the most common roof repair tasks you’ll be doing…

Most of the repair work you’ll be doing will have to do with roof leaks.

Roofs leak for a number of reasons including:

Blown off shingles result in leaking roofs; here a roofer is needed to replace the tiles
  • Blown off shingles
  • Bad or leaking pipe flashing — If your vent pipes’ flashing is corroded, or if part of the vent booting (a protective sealing gasket) has cracked water, can seep below and start leaking
  • When chimney flashing is pulled away from the chimney or roof by strong winds, or if this flashing’s sealant is compromised
Loose flashing around chimneys and skylights also results in leaks
    • A cracked skylight or through worn skylight sealant
  • Through your roof’s valleys where the underlying flashing has been damaged by tile lifting, improper cleaning or fungus buildup
Ice dams form when melted snow refreezes on a roof
    • Ice dams — these form when melted snow refreezes on the roof. The walls formed “dam” the runoff thereby preventing it from flowing down to the gutters
    • Where a roof has an inadequate pitch i.e. a low slope
  • If the gutters are clogged

Other repair tasks may include:

Flashing replacement — The tell-tale signs of flashing damage include rust, cracking and excessive amount of sealant. The latter typically indicates that the previous roofer did a shoddy job rather than comprehensively addressing the problem.

Fascia replacements — Fascia is the vertical trim that is installed to protect a roof’s trusses. After considerable exposure to the elements fascia will deteriorate and therefore require replacement. This is usually done by nailing cedar boards to the ends of the house’s rafters.

Roofers are occasionally called upon to replace fascia and soffits

Soffit replacements — A soffit is a ceiling-like feature underneath a roof’s overhang. These panels, typically made of wood, aluminum or vinyl, are usually ventilated to allow circulation of air in the non-livable attic space. The vents can however be clogged by dust, debris and insects nests (in which case damage ensues). Soffit vent damage also results from improper installation or too few vents.

Also, air and moisture circulation will over time cause the wood to rot, aluminum to weaken, or vinyl to crack.

Trusses damaged by leaks will need to be repaired or totally replaced

Truss repairs — Trusses are the structures that support a roof. These structures are damaged as a result of leaks making their way along them on their way down to the ceiling. Repair typically involves reinforcing cracked truss boards with steel plates or affixing boards on either side using construction wood screws.

You, the roofer, will need to advise the homeowner on what needs to be done in case the truss structure is sagging, moldy, or damaged beyond repair.

Roofers are often required to replace sagging or broken gutters

Gutter-related tasks:

These can include:

  • Patching small holes with a patch and roofing cement
  • Replacing sections of gutter
  • Replacing gutter joiners
  • Installing gutter hangers
  • Totally replacing sagging or broken gutters

7. How to determine the amount of roofing material that will be needed

While there are methods of making measurement estimations from the ground, climbing up the roof and taking measurements is preferable as this will give a more accurate figure for you to work with.

Upon getting a request for an estimate from a potential client therefore, the onus will be on you to make your way to the property and take measurements.

Depending on the type of roof you’re dealing with, taking measurements can be straightforward or tricky.

A gabled roof with multiple skylights

For example, a gabled roof without extra features e.g. dormers will be the easiest to measure. The roof area for each of the two sloping sides will be:

Rectangle: Length X Width = Area

hipped roof, where there’ll be downward slopes all around the house, is basically comprised of two triangular and two trapezoidal sides of roof. The formula for calculating the area for each will therefore be:

Triangle: (base X height) / 2 = Area

Trapezoid: ((base 1 + base 2) / 2) X height = Area

A domed roof

For a domed roof (basic and spherical but not ellipsoid) you’ll add the square of its radius to the square of its height and then multiply the result by pi (3.14) as follows:

Spherical dome: (radius² + height²) X 3.14 = Area

For ease in calculating:

  • Measure features like dormers separately — If the roof above the dormer is triangular simply use the formula above. If it’s a rectangle with one slanted edge divide this shape into a triangle and rectangle and do the math.
Skylight dimensions are ignored when measuring roof area
  • Don’t subtract the dimensions for flashing, skylights, or other such features, as these are quite minimal

The area you get from your calculation is roof area.

How to find roof slope and pitch multiplier

Next, you’ll need to calculate the roof’s slope, defined as the vertical rise (in inches) per foot of horizontal run.

To do this take a 1-foot level, place one end on the roof and level it horizontally. Next, using a measuring tape, measure straight down from the suspended end of the level to the roof. This height is the roof’s slope. For example, if the height is 6” then the slope will be described as “6 in 12”.

For each slope there is a corresponding pitch multiplier (pitch is defined as the ratio of rise to total span). This is provided in the table below:

Calculation for roof size (estimating material required)

To accurately measure roof size you’ll need to multiply the roof area from the first calculation and multiply it by its respective pitch multiplier.

The roof size therefore will be calculated using the formula:

Roof area X Pitch Multiplier = Roof Size

To convert roof size into square (the units in which roofing material is sold) you’ll need to divide the roof area by 100 i.e.:

Square = Roof size / 100

Points to note:

  • Rounding up the square to the nearest whole number will help to partially account for the waste typically incurred when cutting around penetrations and at the end of a run
  • The waste factor for most roofing materials and applications is 5% to 10%
  • For very simple roofs this can be 2% to 3%
Expect considerable waste when working on a roof with multiple dormers
  • In case a roof has several dormers, valleys and sidewalls the factor can be as high as 15% or more
  • The waste factor will be even higher for some materials e.g. clay tiles and cedar shingles
  • Second layer tear-offs can add $50 to $100 more per square
  • Complete or partial sheathing replacement can add $80 to $100 per square
  • Where there are several valleys or dormers a per-instance up-charge can be incurred
  • Roofs with different sections typically require additional charges of $100+ per square

Bearing all this in mind therefore, the formula for material estimation is:

Roof area X Pitch multiplier = Roof size

Roof size + Waste factor = Total

Total / 100 = Total number of square needed

8. Hiring roofers for your business

In the roofing industry, business peaks during “storm seasons” and then dips during the winter months. During this lull you have an opportunity to make plans for the next peak season. Crucial among these plans is the need for a solid team.

It won’t be easy though.

85% of residential contractors pointed out that finding qualified roofers was their greatest concern.


There are two steps in building a good team.

1. Finding suitable recruits

You can either opt to hire from within the industry or outside it.

If it’s from within you are obviously targeting someone with some industry experience. Poaching people from the competition and targeting roofers who are currently unattached are two ways to do this.

These individuals experience may work well for you if they are motivated to work and become more successful than they already are. However, it’s also possible to hire well skilled individuals but who are completely lacking in motivation.

With this in mind, you can also think about going outside roofing circles and hiring people without prior experience but who are totally willing to learn and motivated to succeed. You’ll need to get these people trained during the low season so that they’ll be ready to go come “storm season”.

Training recruits on the job is an essential component of the roofing contractor business

2. Training

When you’ve hired from outside the industry it will be necessary to introduce these guys to the trade. By the time it is peak season they should at the very least be familiar with handling basic tasks and making good progress with the more complicated ones.

NB: The assumption here is that your business still doesn’t have enough financial muscle to hire salespeople and is therefore relying on referrals to get new leads. More established companies do hire salespeople. Once you get to this stage it will be necessary to seek advice on how to recruit a sales team, train them, set goals, and design plans to achieve these goals.

9. Marketing your roofing contractor small business

There is a whole lot of conventional marketing advice out there. If you can make any of the following strategies work for your business (they do work) then good for you:

  • Launching a website
  • Taking advantage of social media e.g. LinkedIn and Google+
  • Finding a catchy tagline and designing a superb logo
  • Printing door flyers and paying reference incentives
  • Taking advantage of free online listings and encouraging customers to post positive reviews about your service
  • Vehicle advertising and planting yard signs

Nevertheless, Ken Kelly, President of Kelly Roofing, suggests that roofing companies should approach marketing with a plan. In this article he outlines three concepts that will form the framework for this plan as follows:

Concept I: Guerilla Marketing — Making small strategic efforts based on proven concepts to achieve massive marketing superiority. Tactics to use here include:

  • Getting free publicity daily on social media by posting updates about positives that your company, employees and customers have enjoyed
  • Marketing your company in both professional and personal spheres (he gives the example of Richard Branson’s quest to market Virgin Atlantic despite facing a far more moneyed competitor, British Airways)
  • Spending time, energy and imagination — not money
  • Measuring your marketing success in terms of profit, not sales
  • Focusing on past customers instead of new ones

Concept II: Focus — Approaching marketing with an emphasis on your company’s focus and utilizing the Hedgehog Concept.

Essentially, this concept calls for the adoption of a boutique marketing strategy.

You’ll answer three questions:

  • What can we be the best at in our market?
  • What are we deeply passionate about?
  • What drives our economic denominator?

After answering these questions you ought to notice a theme that underpins all three areas of focus; this overlapping theme is your Hedgehog Concept. Henceforth, any marketing decision you make must be in accordance with this concept.

Concept III: Differentiation — Answer the following:

  • What can you do to stand out from the marketing noise?
  • What can you do that no other company is doing?
  • What service do your customers expect from you that you don’t offer currently?

Then again, ensuring that each customer you serve is extremely satisfied will no doubt bring you more business via referrals.

This looks like an expert roofing crew that any customer would love to hire

10. What knowledgeable customers will be looking for before they hire your service

Customers are increasingly becoming concerned about who they’ll hire to work on their roofs — and understandably so.

A house is a major investment and roofing is a critical part of this investment. Homeowners want to get value for their money and they certainly don’t want to be dealing with roof issues every now and then.

In choosing a contractor, potential customers will want to know the following:

  • If there are local people who can vouch for you. Homeowners prefer to deal with local contractors because they’ll be more familiar with local rules and code regulations, and have relationships with other local crews as well as suppliers.
  • If you have manufacturer designations — Being factory-certified will tell homeowners that you have passed some minimum roofing contractor requirements
  • Satisfactory BBB ratings — This will further boost your credentials and also confirm that you are no “storm chaser
  • Whether you can provide manufacturer warranties that include coverage of your workmanship
  • If you have the required licensing and insurance
  • If your only proposition is offering the lowest price. It shouldn’t be — customers are more interested in getting the most value for their money
  • Whether or not you’ll insist on them paying their insurance deductible before you start working. You need to insist on this.
  • If you are willing to negotiate an insurance claim on their behalf. Don’t be — this is illegal in most states
  • If you will pressure them into signing a contract before the insurance company has estimated the damage. Don’t; homeowners will want to be assured that you’re not willing to work for just any amount and that you’re willing to confirm that the insurance adjuster didn’t miss any damages
  • Whether or not you’ll use roofing subcontractors for part of the job, and if so, whether or not they are insured
  • Whether or not you’ll present them with different shingle options for their consideration. You should.

11. What prospective customers look for in a roofing estimate and roofing contract

While you won’t be obligated to copy another roofing contractor’s proposal and contract structure, there are some roofing estimate essentials that must appear in these documents as follows:

The estimate:

  • A description of the project
  • Responsibilities and who’ll undertake them
  • Proposed start and completion dates
  • Payment terms
  • Labor and material costs
  • Permit costs
  • Description of the type of underlayment, flashing, shingles and ventilation that will be used
  • Description of product type and workmanship warranties offered
  • Proof of roofing or contractor’s license (if required in your city/state)
  • Proof of workman’s compensation and liability insurance

The contract:

  • Specific descriptions about payment terms including down payments, progress payments, and the final payment, as well as a clause allowing the client to withhold the final payment until the job is completed to their satisfaction
  • Specifics about the types of materials to be used
  • Provisions for change orders or add-ons that could result in additional charges
  • A lien release that’ll protect them from liability in case you fail to pay your subcontractors or suppliers A termination clause describing reasons that could allow them or the contractor to end the working agreement without penalty if the contract terms are violated
The homeowner must be pleased with the roofing job

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