Why Is One Commercial Roofing Contractor Cheaper Than Another?

If it’s your responsibility to replace the commercial roof on a property you own or manage, you’ll go through what many consider to be a daunting process — finding the contractor to do a great job at the best price. However, if you’re like many people (and organizations), you may tend to focus on the latter requirement so you can spend as little as possible.

It’s understandable that the bottom line is your priority. But just like there are significant differences between cars and car brands — such as Kia, Nissan, and Lexus, for example —  there are differences between contractors and contractor brands, too. And they can make a real difference to the value you receive. Bottom lines can be deceiving.

Here are seven reasons some commercial roof contractors can re-roof on the cheap:

1. Don’t have the knowledgeable staff

Commercial roofing professionals are just that — professionals. They’ve developed their skills over many years to the point of having become masters at their professions. Whether they are experts at hands-on roofing system installations or seasoned estimators who have bid thousands of commercial roofing projects or first-rate superintendents who can spot problems before they happen and manage crews in all types of surprise situations, experienced roofing professionals cost more than roofers that don’t have the same knowledge.

Less knowledgeable roofers may be fine people but years of first-hand experience can make a major difference in their recommendations and your outcomes. It’s important that your contractor fully understand unintended consequences — you can only get this knowledge by witnessing them over time. And never underestimate the value of having an experienced superintendent on your job site every day to prevent unintended consequences in the first place and manage your entire project.

2. Don’t place as high a value on safety

I don’t believe any roofing contractor wants their guys to get hurt on the job. But the reality is there’s an actual cost to making sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a significant investment to fully and continually educate your team (OSHA training and Red Cross training), keep your supervisors OSHA 30 certified, and do drug tests and on-the-job spot checks. It also takes planning, effort and expense to keep job sites in compliance at all times.

Roofing contractors that value lower bids over a culture of safety not only put their guys at risk — and perhaps your company, depending on their insurance coverage (see below) — but may give you reasons to question their long-term priorities, including the installation of your new roof.  

3. Don’t have the needed insurance coverage

There’s a reason so many commercial roofing companies carry minimal insurance — it’s expensive! Commercial roofing insurance is costly because the risk can be enormous. Not only is there risk to bodily injury, but there is risk to whatever is inside the building, plus the building itself. A major problem during re-roofing can allow water into areas where machinery, office or inventory is located, for example, or create issues that impact your operations, tenants or other contractors working on your property. There are dozens of potentially expensive issues that the right type and amount of insurance will cover.

It can be easy for contractors to underestimate the amount of coverage they need for each of type of insurance they should have. Experienced contractors work with reputable insurance agents to make sure they have the right amount of coverage to protect your interests and theirs.

4. Don’t have a high level of training

Sometimes you get a low bid because a contractor hasn’t invested much time or effort to properly train its crews. So they can give you a lower price. All experts need to start someplace so giving you a low bid can allow them to get more on-the-job training for their crews — they can learn installation processes, materials and techniques as they do the work.  

Since the State of Georgia does not offer or require vocational training for the commercial roofing industry so each contractor does its own training. Inexperienced companies are less likely to do the training well, if at all. Poorly trained crew might inadvertently use the wrong materials or make mistakes during installation. This is very important when it comes to the quality of your roofing system overall and how long it may take to get the job done and pass inspections. Good training (and training updates on new materials and processes) is part of the reason established companies are still around!

5. Don’t use quality materials or prepare complete proposals

Cheaper bids may include cheaper materials. Lower-tier roofing membranes are thinner and don’t last as long, for example. So they cost less. In the short run. You’ll have to re-roof again sooner than you would have with a higher-tier membrane and your roof will have less value and be less of a financial asset to your property — make sure the lower quality and shorter warranty is really what you want and justifies the cost savings. The same goes for the proposed R-value. Make sure the R-value in a lower bid meets your state’s thermal code. Sometimes contractors propose using less insulation than required to bring down the total cost of the project.  

Other times proposals with low bottom lines simply don’t include everything you’ll need to complete your re-roofing project. It may not be on purpose. The estimator could not have the experience to know about all of the line items that should be included, or could not have included the variable costs (such as decking replacement) in the bottom line. The bottom line should be the real bottom line.

6. Don’t prioritize logistics or staging

It doesn’t cost much to plan poorly. On the other hand, to plan your project’s logistics down to the last detail to prevent your operations and the people who use your property from being impacted or inconvenienced while the work is being completed is a different story. From the delivery and placement of materials to work-hour schedules to where the crew parks their vehicles and how behaves on your property, details matter.

Not spending the time on the front end to thoroughly plan workflow can lead to time delays, tenant frustrations and complaints, conflicts with other contractors working on the property, and a generally disorganized project overall. Professional roofing contractors are also professionals in logistics and staging. They invest in providing you with a smooth re-roofing process that’s completed on time and on budget.

7. Don’t have a reputation to protect

If the only service a contractor offers is roof installations, it’s unlikely they’ll be interested in developing a roof management relationship with you. Which means they won’t be around for the long term and don’t need to be as accountable. So they may give you a lower bid — they’re in and out then on their way. Full-service roofing contractors, on the other hand, want long-term business relationships. It’s part of their business model and are more likely to be honest with you about what you need. They offer regular maintenance contracts to keep your new roof in top shape and provide high-level repair services if something goes wrong like debris lands on and punctures your roof. It is always best to have the same contractor who installed your roof be responsible for it afterward because they know everything about your roofing system — maximum accountability with no learning curve.

Contractors who only replace roofs tend to have lower overhead than full-service contractors. They may not maintain memberships in professional organizations like National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) or Building Owners and Managers Association of Georgia (BOMA) to stay up to date on the latest technologies (and to build their brands) or provide testimonials on their websites.

In the end, you really do get what you pay for. The bottom line is more than a dollar amount. Just like with your car, you need to decide if you want the cheapest option that will get you from point A to point B right now (which is a valid goal) or the best you can afford so you don’t have to think about it again for a long time. Or maybe something in between.

At Sentry Roof, first and foremost, we work with clients to identify their goals before estimating a project. Sometimes clients feel strongly that price is the most important aspect of their decision-making process, and we respect that. We also like to make sure they’re aware of how the differences between price and value might impact their roof and property down the road. Our goal is to help them determine where they fall on that spectrum and make informed decisions about their new roof.

We’ve prepared two papers as guides for this process — How To Talk About Strategy and Value With Your Roofing Contractor and 7 Keys To Comparing Commercial Re-roofing Proposals. We invite you to take a look and contact us here at Sentry if you have any questions or want more information about roofing bids or the estimating process. We are always glad to speak with you.