Why You Need to Know Why All Roof Warranties Are Not Created Equal

  • April 3, 2023
  • Joel
  • Minute Read

    A commercial roof warranty often provides a false sense of security for all involved - for the architect who specifies a particular commercial roofing system, for the facility manager who is typically involved in choosing the type of flat roofing system (and commercial roofing contractor), and for the building owner who is the one ultimately making the decision and footing the bill.

    It can be very tempting to choose a commercial roofing product simply because it offers what appears to be a warranty with significant, long-term coverage or one that offers a warranty with a fancy-sounding name, like No-Dollar-Limit (NDL).

    To make sure that you are getting the commercial roof warranty you think you are, you must be able to confidently and completely answer the following questions:

    1. What type of commercial roof warranty is it?
    2. What does the commercial roofing warranty really cover?
    3. What are the building owner's responsibilities under the warranty?
    4. What is the real warranty term for your flat roofing system?
    5. What does the commercial roof warranty not cover?

    First, let's tackle the various types of commercial roof warranties.

    What Type of Commercial Roof Warranty Is It?

    This post is not intended to provide you with an exhaustive list of all the warranty types available in the commercial roofing industry. However, it does highlight the commercial roof warranties that you are most likely to encounter.

    Even for those warranty types not listed, the ones explained below will allow you to look at any type of commercial roof warranty with a more critical eye, as many warranties with different names still contain much of the same verbiage.

    Keep in mind that most commercial roofing warranties are designed to protect the manufacturer, not you, the building owner. So, be sure to read the fine print, as well as the inclusions and exclusions of that specific warranty.

    Of course, RTN Roofing is always available to help you with any commercial roof warranty considerations.

    Labor-Only Warranties

    A labor-only commercial roof warranty is one where the terms and coverage are restricted to the labor required to address the defect. There is no coverage for product failures. Any additional materials, supplies, and/or accessories needed to address the defect are not provided for under this kind of warranty. These warranties are usually offered by the roofing contractor and generally have shorter terms than material-only or labor and material warranties.

    Material-Only Warranties

    This is the exact reverse of a labor-only warranty. A material-only commercial roof warranty is one where the terms and coverage are restricted to the materials required to address the defect. There is no coverage for installation mistakes, i.e., labor. The labor needed to address the defect is not provided for under this kind of warranty. These warranties are usually offered by the roofing manufacturer and generally have longer terms than labor-only warranties.

    Labor and Materials Warranties

    A commercial roof warranty that covers both the labor and the materials needed to address the defect is known as a labor and materials warranty. With this kind of warranty, there may or may not be workmanship coverage. (For a description of the differences between labor coverage and workmanship coverage, see the section The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage below.) These warranties are usually offered by the roofing manufacturer and often have many exclusions. The terms are often comparable to those of material-only warranties.

    No-Dollar-Limit (NDL) Warranties

    Whereas some warranties are prorated or simply limited to the original cost of installation, an NDL warranty does not have this monetary limitation. NDL stands for No-Dollar-Limit, meaning that there is no cost limitation to a covered warranty claim. Most NDL warranties cover both labor and material defects. Some also cover workmanship. (See section The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage below.) But it is possible to have an NDL Material-Only warranty, too. So be sure to check the fine print. Confused or concerned? Let us help.

    Prorated Warranties

    A prorated commercial roof warranty can come in many different “flavors.” But what they all have in common is that the warranty does not cover 100% of the monetary costs to fix defects in the roof throughout the entire warranty term.

    Some prorated warranties are hybrids that include NDL coverage for a portion of the warranty term and then switch to prorated coverage throughout the remaining term. For example, a 20-year prorated warranty may offer 100% NDL coverage for the first 10 years. However, at year 11, the coverage may drop to 80%; in year 12 to 60%; in year 13 to only 40%, and so on.

    Some prorated warranties are prorated from year one. This means that even if you were given a 40-year warranty, at year 5 you will have already lost significant coverage.

    Generally speaking, a shorter-term NDL warranty is almost always better than a longer-term prorated warranty. Many long-term warranties are prorated and easily fool people into thinking they are getting better coverage than they actually are. Don't be fooled. Let RTN Roofing help you get this right. Too much is at stake to be guessing.

    The Difference Between Workmanship and Labor Coverage in Commercial Roof Warranties

    There is an inherent difference between workmanship coverage and labor coverage in commercial roof warranties. Workmanship coverage relates directly to rectifying defects in a commercial roofing system that can be attributed to installation failures. Labor coverage, on the other hand, relates to the costs of the labor required to repair or replace a defective roof that is covered under the warranty claim.

    Most commercial roof warranties have labor coverage, meaning that if a defect is found in your roof, your warranty will cover the labor to fix it. However, if the defect was in the installation and not in the roofing product itself, then there would be no coverage provided, unless that particular warranty also included workmanship coverage.

    Making sure your commercial roof warranty includes workmanship coverage ensures that whether the defect is in the roofing product or in the installation (workmanship), the entire cost to rectify the defect – labor and materials – would be covered under the warranty.

    Including workmanship coverage in a labor and material NDL (No-Dollar-Limit) warranty is usually the best of all worlds for commercial roofing. Interested in such a warranty? Let us know.

    Residential-Only Warranties

    Residential-only warranties are warranties that are specifically written for residential properties. They usually do not cover labor, at least when it comes to commercial roofing manufacturers. In essence, residential warranties are often tantamount to material-only warranties.

    Note: In the US, most residential warranties are for shingles. While there are also many residential flat roofs that require a product often associated with commercial roofs, the associated warranty is usually severely limited compared to its commercial roof warranty counterpart. Labor coverage is often negotiated with the roofing contractor, independent of the roof product manufacturer, and that coverage is usually for a shorter term or at an increased cost (or both) compared to the coverage on the product warranty issued by the manufacturer.

    Specialty Warranties

    Specialty warranties are types of warranties that are usually added as riders to another warranty, as specified above. They cover so-called "Acts of God," such as hail or high-wind damage. Coverage is usually very specific, with extensive exclusions, and these warranties are often offered at an additional cost.

    Some roofing manufacturers provide hail or high-wind warranties, but only to satisfy an architect's specification or simply to offer what their competition does. However, just because you get a "hail warranty," for example, doesn't necessarily mean you're getting significant hail protection coverage. It's important to always read the inclusions and exclusions of the warranty.

    Roof Warranty Terms - Coverage Versus Term Length

    This topic was already partially addressed with the description of a prorated warranty above. However, at the risk of seeming redundant, it is important for building owners to understand that there is a real divergence in cost benefits when choosing between a prorated warranty and a true no-dollar-limit (NDL) warranty that extends 100% coverage for the entire term.

    To better understand this, let's set up a scenario. Let's say you are offered a choice between a 20-year prorated warranty and a 15-year NDL warranty for your commercial roof. Twenty years is better than 15, right? Well, let's look at the facts.

    If the 20-year warranty only offers NDL coverage for the first 10 years, what happens to the remaining 10 years? It may be as follows:

    • 11th year: 80% coverage
    • 12th year: 60% coverage
    • 13th year: 40% coverage
    • 14th – 20th years: only 30% coverage

    A well-installed commercial roof will usually last for the first 10 years. Let's say the roof fails at year 14. In a prorated warranty scenario, you'd only be getting 30% coverage – 70% of the coverage you started with is completely gone! With the 15-year NDL warranty, however, you would still be getting 100% coverage.

    Another point to keep in mind is that material costs continue to rise. Fourteen years down the road, material costs will be much higher than they are now. In a prorated scenario, while your coverage is decreasing, the costs of the materials are increasing. Does your warranty cover the costs at the time of the repair/replacement, or is it covering the costs at the time the roof was originally installed? There's a big difference! Don't drop the ball on this.

    NDL warranties are, by design, not limited to the original cost of the installation, whereas other warranties – including prorated ones – often are. Knowing what your particular commercial roof warranty covers and does not cover can literally mean thousands of additional dollars out of your own pocket. Let RTN Roofing help you know your options.

    The above scenario is often even more skewed when you get into longer-term warranties, like 25-, 30-year warranties, or higher. This is not to say that every manufacturer offers warranty terms like those described above. In fact, some prorated warranties are prorated from year one, i.e., having no NDL coverage at all.

    But when you are evaluating a roofing product and the warranty that is supposed to back it up, it is critically important to look at how time affects the amount of coverage you are actually getting. Don't be fooled by the term length. Remember: Most commercial roofing warranties are designed to protect the manufacturer, not you, the building owner.

    Owner Costs and Responsibilities for Commercial Roof Warranties

    Many commercial roof warranties require an annual inspection. This inspection may be required to be conducted by the roofing manufacturer and at a fixed cost. Additionally, the original roofing contractor used to install the roof may be required by the manufacturer to conduct the inspections.

    In some cases, the building owner can perform the inspection themselves, but they must provide the inspection report on the manufacturer's pre-designed paperwork and according to very specific guidelines. Failure to comply with any of the above may void the warranty.

    Oftentimes, after any storm event, a written inspection report must be submitted by the building owner within a very limited period of time. This is designed to ensure that any damage caused by the storm is identified and addressed early. What is ironic about this is that if damage is found and determined to have been caused by the storm, it is often not covered by the warranty anyway. But even if no damage is found, if the owner does not provide that inspection report within the required period of time, the warranty may be voided. Not all manufacturers have this requirement, but some do.

    You need to know because the time and effort required to conduct these inspections isn't free – you're paying someone to do it. This is an indirect cost of choosing a particular roofing product with its respective warranty. Be sure you know what you are getting into.

    There are many voided warranties out there, and the respective owner may not even be aware of it. It will only be discovered once there is a problem that needs to be addressed, which is the absolute worst time to find out that you've inadvertently voided your roofing warranty without even knowing when or why.


    If repairs are made, usually the owner must provide proof that those repairs are made by a contractor that is authorized by that particular roofing manufacturer. Doing otherwise may void the warranty. Therefore, having your local "repair guy" or "handyman" perform the repairs is not recommended.

    The owner needs to be very careful and take the time to learn what type of roof they have installed and who they choose to perform any required repairs. A quality roofing contractor will alert the owner if they are not authorized to make repairs on their roof so as to keep the warranty intact. Unfortunately, some contractors who are not authorized by the manufacturer to make the repairs will do so anyway, collect their fees, and walk away – leaving the owner with a voided warranty. So choose your roofing contractor wisely.

    Warranty Transfers

    Another owner responsibility relates to warranty transfers. Most manufacturers allow warranty transfers, but often at an additional cost to the owner and with tedious and potentially expensive compliance requirements.

    For example, manufacturers that do allow warranty transfers often require that any and all repairs deemed necessary by the manufacturer must be addressed at the owner's expense before they will authorize a warranty transfer to a new owner. This would include failures evident in the roofing system that could turn into a warranty claim in the future. This allows the manufacturer a way to "bail out" of their warranty obligations. They can just tell you that you must do extensive and expensive repairs before they will issue a transfer. In pure dollars, that is an expensive waste of money.

    On the other hand, a manufacturer that allows warranty transfers without such expensive restrictions can actually add value to your building instead of being a liability in the event you choose to sell it. Does your roofing warranty offer free warranty transfers? With or without an inspection?

    Roofing manufacturers pay thousands of dollars to lawyers to write long-winded jargon that ultimately is designed to limit the liability of the roofing manufacturer should something go wrong with their product. Some of that jargon includes exclusions. Let's cover that next.

    Exclusions in Commercial Roof Warranties

    Roofing manufacturers often include specific exclusions in their commercial roof warranties. These exclusions are designed to limit the manufacturer's liability in the event that something goes wrong with their roofing product. Understanding these exclusions is critical for building owners, as they can impact the level of coverage provided by the warranty.

    Common exclusions in commercial roof warranties may include:

    1. Damage caused by "Acts of God," such as hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, or earthquakes.
    2. Damage caused by improper maintenance or neglect by the building owner.
    3. Damage caused by unauthorized repairs or modifications to the roofing system.
    4. Damage caused by foot traffic or the installation of equipment on the roof.
    5. Damage caused by ponding water or poor drainage.

    It's important for building owners to carefully review their roof's warranty document and understand the specific exclusions that apply to their roofing system.

    Additionally, building owners should be aware of any maintenance requirements or inspection protocols outlined in the warranty, as failure to comply with these requirements could result in the warranty being voided.

    In summary, commercial roof warranties can provide valuable protection for building owners, but it's essential to understand the terms, coverage, exclusions, and owner responsibilities associated with the warranty. By being informed and proactive, you can ensure that you are getting the most out of your roofing warranty and protecting your investment.

    Important Items that Most Commercial Roof Warranties Do Not Cover

    When having a commercial roof installed, many building owners assume that they are getting a quality warranty with comprehensive coverage. However, as discussed earlier, this is not always the case. To further demonstrate the differences in manufacturer warranty coverage, it is important to identify those items that are typically not covered by commercial roof warranties.

    In fact, one of the best places to start when determining which roofing product to choose is to examine what the warranty does not cover.

    Here are some common examples of what is usually not covered by commercial roof warranties:

    Ponding Water

    There are many definitions of ponding water, and ultimately it is the manufacturer's definition that counts. Generally, ponding water is understood to be any water that remains on a roof 48 hours after the most recent rains have stopped. (Note: Temperature plays a role in this equation, but we're keeping it simple.) A warranty that excludes ponding water will not cover any problems that exist in those areas. Most manufacturers exclude coverage for ponding water. (See Why Don't Some Roofing Manufacturers Cover Ponding Water? below.)

    Consequential Damages

    Consequential damages refer to items inside a building that are damaged as a result of a roof failure. For example, a defective roof that causes water to infiltrate the building and damages carpets, walls, computers, etc., is considered consequential damage. Almost all manufacturers do not provide consequential damage coverage; it's just too expensive, and the manufacturer may not have full confidence in their product.

    So-Called "Acts of God"

    These are events such as hail, high winds, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. These items are typically not covered by commercial roof warranties and are standard exclusions in most warranties.

    Unauthorized Repairs

    This was addressed earlier under the 'Owner Costs and Responsibilities' and refers to repairs made to a roof by anyone not authorized by the roofing manufacturer. This exclusion is typical of most commercial roof warranties, especially workmanship warranties.

    Roof Replacement

    Many commercial roof warranties do not cover full roof replacement, only the repairs necessary to stop a leak.

    Comparing Roofing Products by Their Warranties

    Like the roofing products themselves, not all commercial roofing warranties are created equal. However, you can often learn a great deal about the quality of a particular roofing product by digging into the warranty details: What does it cover, and for how long?

    Perhaps an even more important question to answer is: "What does the warranty not cover?" If the manufacturer is hesitant to stand behind their product, why should you trust it? If the manufacturer has built unreasonable clauses into their warranty that invalidate their responsibility to you, why would you want to use their product?

    Believe it or not, there is a roofing manufacturer that offers long-term, No-Dollar-Limit (NDL) warranties that provide coverage for both ponding water and consequential damages. Their NDL warranty covers everything (labor and materials) required to fix any covered defects—including workmanship—up to and including complete roof replacement.

    Furthermore, they do not require additional costs or inspections to transfer the warranty to a new owner. They also offer high-wind and hail coverage riders, as previously discussed in this article. This manufacturer truly stands behind their product, which speaks volumes about its quality.

    Who is it? Call us today at 970-593-1100 or use our flexible contact form to find out more.

    Remember, it is not in the manufacturer's best interests to go out on a limb to protect their product, especially against factors beyond their control. Like all warranties, it is important to read the fine print. You may be surprised at how many "outs" a manufacturer gives themselves, so that at the end of the day, they are not on the hook for anything—or if they are, for as little as possible.

    With so many considerations related to choosing a roofing product and determining which warranty best protects your interests, it can feel like an overwhelming effort to stay informed.

    Unfortunately, many building owners and facility managers acquiesce to the recommendations of their architect, designer, or the "guy in the company that knows a roofing contractor." Even worse, they may unwittingly accept incorrect or misleading information from their chosen roofing contractor who has a vested interest in selling one product over another. So how can you be sure?

    Why Do Some Roofing Manufacturers Exclude Ponding Water Coverage in their Commercial Roof Warranties?

    A commercial roof warranty that does not cover ponding water may reveal insights into the manufacturer's confidence in their product—or the lack thereof. Consider this: Isn't the primary purpose of a roof to provide protection against the elements, particularly water?

    It's important to note that a skilled roofing contractor will install a commercial flat roof with positive drainage to minimize the occurrence of ponding water. In fact, positive drainage is a building code requirement in many locations.

    However, the primary reason for ensuring proper drainage is not solely to protect the roofing material itself. Rather, it's to prevent the accumulation of excess weight on the roof and to deter the growth of plants and the nesting of birds, both of which can cause damage to the roof. Additionally, ponding water can lead to mold growth, posing a potential health hazard. While there are valid reasons to prevent water from ponding on a commercial flat roof, it's not solely about the roofing material's ability to withstand it.

    When manufacturers exclude ponding water coverage from their commercial roof warranties, it may signal a limitation in the quality of their product. In effect, they may be indirectly suggesting, "This product may not perform well under conditions of ponding water—you may want to consider a product that offers coverage for this scenario."

    RTN Roofing Systems: Your Trusted Commercial Roofing Contractor

    RTN Roofing Systems has established itself as one of the premier commercial roofing contractors in the industry. Our honest, educate-the-customer approach empowers our clients with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding the design, installation, and maintenance of their commercial roofs.

    Every roof is unique, whether new or old, and must be evaluated accordingly. At RTN Roofing Systems, we offer and install a wide array of commercial roofing products. However, we have strategically chosen to promote specific products that we know offer the best warranties, the highest quality, and ultimately the greatest value to our customers. After all, we have to stand behind the roofs we install, and using an inferior product benefits no one in the long run.

    Give RTN Roofing Systems a call today at 970-593-1100 or fill out our contact request form to schedule your commercial roof inspection and evaluation. Let us help you develop options and create a win-win scenario that puts you in the driver's seat.

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