How to Choose a Quality Roofing Contractor (with Ralph Finizio of GAF)

How to Choose a Quality Roofing Contractor (with Ralph Finizio of GAF)

We talk with Ralph Finizio of GAF roofing about roofing materials, warranties (including GAF's own 50-year warranty), how GAF selects, trains and inspects contractors, and what you should look for in a qualified roofing contractor.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and I'm here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of Master Roofers, the most trusted roofing company in New Hampshire for over 80 years. Welcome Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Thanks, John. Thank you for having me today.

John: Sure. And our special guest today is Ralph Finizio, Senior Care Trainer and Roofing Academy Instructor at GAF, North America's largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer. Welcome, Ralph.

Ralph Finizio: Thank you. It's a great opportunity to be with both of you today.

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About GAF's Roofing Materials

John: Yeah, so Ralph, before we get into "choosing a roofing contractor", which is our topic for today, a solid roof starts with quality materials. Can you talk a little bit about GAF and your roofing materials?

Ralph: Yes. So GAF has been around…I think this year is the 138th year. And if we look back, we really take credit for pioneering the roofing industry, going way back to the very late 1800s when we manufactured the first rolled roofing, if you will. And as you look through the history of our company, we had a lot of firsts. First company to use granules in roofing. We were the first company that really cut that rolled roofing into shingle shapes.

In 1967, to kind of speed up a little bit, we're the company that invented the architectural or laminated shingle as we know it today. And as we continue to evolve, GAF has always been in the leadership role of trying to be one step ahead of technology to improve these products, the way they perform, how they handle.

And as I look at today's environment, from my perspective, I joined GAF in 1984 when I think that the industry was a little bit more mechanical, if you will, where adjustments were being made to those machines by dials and men. And today they're basically supercomputers that make roofing and the quality today is just outstanding.

John: Brett, from your perspective at Master Roofers, what does the name, the brand name of GAF, mean to you, and that 130 year history?

Brett: Well, it's funny you bring up the history. So between our two companies, I think we have a combined 220 years in roofing, with ourselves having, I think at this point, 82 years in roofing, coupled with your century plus of experience. And what it means is quality, it means consistency, and it means a high grade product.

And speaking for Master Roofers, again, we've been doing this since 1942, we could align ourselves with any major manufacturer. We choose to align ourselves with GAF because of those things, because they represent the same values that we do, which is high quality, high value, consistent, and process based. You were talking about the process of manufacturing. Well, as you know, there's a real clear process for proper application that gives homeowners the best result. So to me it's about quality, consistency and doing the thing for that homeowner that's going to give them the best result humanly possible.

Ralph: And it's a team. Really, we manufacture products, we don't know where they ultimately end up. We don't know who's installing them. So when we have relationships with companies like yours, it's the combination of your expertise in assembling the system correctly, along with our quality, that makes it work.

Brett: Yeah, that's a great way to put it, assembling the system correctly. Because you're right, anyone could make their way to a big box store and buy some GAF shingles. What happens with them afterwards is what makes a lot of the difference. Great, you can take a super quality product and then go misapply it and you have a poor roof as opposed to using an actual certified GAF roofer.

Ralph: Right. And as I like to say, if you do it wrong, you can't take it off the roof and put it back in the box and return it like a toaster. Usually my phone starts to ring with people that are like, "We hired this guy. He said he knew what he was doing. I thought he was. And then the house is just a disaster." And there's no remedy for that. Most likely it's going to have to be redone.

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GAF Certification and the 50-Year Warranty

Brett: No, you're absolutely right. And that's also why we love being part of your certification process. We happen to be a master elite certified roofer, which is…I think in the, what, Ralph, I'm going from top of my memory, top 2% of roofers in the nation? We take pride in that. And it's because we're going to do a great job for people every single time. We're not Fred the handyman who swung by the big box store and grabbed some shingles, and hucked them up, and comes with a 5/1 discount.

John: Yeah. So Ralph, I understand that GAF has a 50 year warranty on certain roofing materials when they're installed by certified contractors like Brett was just talking about. Can you elaborate a little bit on the specific criteria a roofing contractor needs to meet to qualify for this extended warranty program?

Ralph: Yeah, sure. There's a lot to it. First of all, what we've done over the course of time, since really 1997 when we first launched this Master Elite program, is we're trying to pair up, because we don't install, we just manufacture. And our ultimate goal is to make sure the consumer who invests in a new roof gets what they paid for and gets that long-term performance.

And so what we've done over the course of time is, because we trust the people that are installing our products more than, say, pickup truck Pete, who very well may be a decent mechanic, but he doesn't have the longevity, the history, the financials, he doesn't have the back office support, the overhead, probably doesn't have insurance and workers' comp. He's probably not OSHA compliant as well. So when you bring that all together and we're starting to work with legitimate, reputable contractors who they themselves don't want to have failures, he wants to go to the grocery store on the weekend and not be harassed by people that he's had issues with. He wants to go to the grocery store or the hardware store, whatever, and have people come up to him and say, "Hey, my buddy at work wants a roof."

So, the ultimate protection that we try to provide is, all of our roofing shingles and systems now come with a lifetime warranty, which means it truly never expires. And I'll get into that in just a second. But we're so confident in our quality and their ability to install according to our application instructions, which is clearly labeled right on the Golden Pledge Warranty document itself. There are steps that we ask them to follow. And when all of that happens, the warranty that they can issue to a consumer provides a full 50-year, 100% non-prorated coverage against manufacturing defects.

And now, it's a systems warranty, not a shingle warranty. So, if any component in that assembly, and we will stay on the assembly, has a manufacturing defect, we're going to replace that entire slope. Everything goes. And additionally, we provide more financial support where we're going to provide additional labor to reinstall new products. We're going to pay for the tear off costs and the disposal costs. So in the unlikely event that we had a catastrophic failure on a roof, there's a lot of financial return to that consumer to get them back whole again.

Brett: We think that the Golden Pledge is an amazing warranty. And to Ralph's point, it's really about that entire assembly system. It's not just a warranty on a shingle, it's that entire system, and that's why we follow that process. That's why we are a Master Elite contractor, so that we can offer that to our homeowners, to our customers who want to do that.

Think about that as a homeowner. If you choose to work with someone like Master Roofers and GAF and you choose to pursue a Golden Pledge Warranty compliant roof, 50 years you are protected. 50. You could be 20 years old moving into your first house and you don't have to worry about this till after you're retired.

Ralph: And the warranties are fully transferable within the first 20 years. So I'm about ready to put new HDZs on my house. I'm going to get a Master Elite who's done my last two houses. I'm going to get a Golden Pledge, because when I transfer my house to my kids, they're going to get the workmanship.

Brett: Sure, absolutely. And it's a tremendous warranty. It's a tremendous system. And more importantly, it's the peace of mind behind that, to know that, yeah, you've got GAF who's going to back this product, but also that they're so sure about the folks who installed it that they're willing to do that as well. So it's not just, to your point, it's not just a product, it's a system. It's an ecosystem really, of the installing company, the product, and then the entire assembly that's done there.

We're also kind of proud of the fact that, again, in an industry where I think the average roofing company has a life expectancy of something around 4 years, we've been at it for 82 years. So, a lot of times, when folks ask us about warranties, they're like, "Well, what if 10 years from now I have an issue?" We're like, "Well, just call. We've been here for 82 years, we intend to be here for another 82."

The Golden Pledge Workmanship Provision

Ralph: But there's another major component to our warranties that Brett talked about is you have the material coverage but we also, in the Golden Pledge, include a workmanship provision which, based on the loyalty factor of your company with us, we're going to basically own your rooftop liability. Okay? So it not only provides a 50 year, 100% non-prorated term for material defects, it also provides that homeowner with a 25 year warranty against workmanship errors. So one of his crews has a bad couple minutes and he just drifts off for a minute and he doesn't flash a pipe or a penetration that causes an issue down the road, we're going to pay them to go back and fix their own little mistake. So that's the liability factor that we take on.

And then you talk about "follow the money trail". I teach contractors this all the time, is talk about the financial responsibility. Because Johnny Smith Roofing, the little guy in town, might be an excellent mechanic, might be a nice guy, coaches Little League baseball. I mean, who knows, right? But he's going to give that customer a warranty of say, maybe 10 years of workmanship. What if he's not in business within that 10 years? What if he changes his industry and says, I'm done with roofing, I'm going to flooring, or I'm going to become a landscaper, it's easier. Or he just closes. There's no money sitting there in the name of that homeowner in an accrual account in some bank in the unlikely event that something happens to that roof from a workmanship installation standpoint. The 25 year period for the Golden Pledge, GAF, North America's largest roofing manufacturer, 6 billion plus in sales is the bank on that house.

Brett: Yep, absolutely.

Ralph: So that's where the money falls in. And that's really the benefit of the Golden Pledge is what if, who's going to take care of this? What are the parties that are involved? Where's the checkbook?

Brett: Unfortunately, we get to meet some folks time to time and it's not how we want to grow our business, but they worked with someone who's no longer solvent. They did not choose something like GAF and the GAF Golden Pledge, and they're three years into a roof that they paid good money for and now, like you say, Pete in the pickup is gone. It's a brand that does not back itself the way GAF does. And we get the unfortunate news of telling them that maybe they have a costly repair or whatever that is. And our business, we perform repair, some roofing companies don't. We do, but that's not how we like to meet people. So it does happen, Ralph.

Ralph: I know.

Brett: It's unfortunate, and again, we don't like to be the bearer of bad tidings to folks, but again, that's all part of the decision that you're making up front when you choose your contractor and you choose the company you're going to work with for those roofing materials.

Ralph: And our installations require full systems. What you're competing against in many cases is a contractor who may like Timberline HDZ shingles, but he's putting all off-brand ice and waters and underlayments and ridge vents, and it's not a system anymore. So it's a totally different animal when you're offering a customer the financial protection and your skill set to assemble this roofing system correctly.

Tools and Resources to Match Homeowners with Certified Contractors

John: So ,Ralph, Master Roofers, as Brett mentioned, has an 82 year history of providing quality roofing solutions. GAF has been around for 130 years and makes the best shingles out there. Can you describe some tools and resources that you have to help homeowners to match you up with a quality certified contractor who can install the GAF product?

Ralph: So, a lot of what we do internally and externally, to a certain degree with digital marketing and social media, we really push the Master Elites forward. So we have various types of blogs and searches and contractor locators, and if customers are on our website and they're looking for a contractor, they go to the contractor locator, they type in their address, and we're going to send them the Master Elites that are within that zip code or service range.

And then the Master Elites are even evaluated and rated based on a couple of different things with utilization of our program. Have they won awards with us? What is their ratings, 4.9, 5.0? We do a lot to help that customer choose our Master Elite contractors.

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Installing the GAF Roofing System

John: And then, Brett, can you talk a little bit about the installation of the GAF roofing system and how Master Roofers certifies their workers to install GAF shingles and roofing products?

Brett: Yeah, that's a great question, John. Well, GAF provides a wonderful infrastructure. So first of all, they're offering the certification for the company. So a Master Elite certification, which has several components to it. It involves warranties, it involves training, continuing ed, if you will, and several other components to make sure, as a company, we are staying on the cutting edge and we are staying current in the best solutions in roofing and the best solutions in GAF's products.

The other part that's in there is they offer a tremendous suite of educational tools, available to us, that what we do here at Master Roofers, in addition to maintaining our certification as a company, all of our project managers, all of our roofing technicians go through and they gain certifications in their area of specialty, so steep slope roof certification, stuff on that process. So they know, to Ralph's point, on how to do that actual roofing system, how to do that assembly, they gain a certification on it. They can also manage other people on crews to ensure that they are following the factory designed system, if you will, that is that assembly that gives them that top quality roof.

The other thing that we do as well, is we only use -- Ralph had mentioned earlier -- someone may use a really high-grade GAF shingle, but then other parts of the assembly, maybe they go off-book, they go to a lower grade underlayment, they go to a lower grade ice and water shield. We don't do that. We actually stay with the factory assembly. Everything that we do is going to be 100% compliant there. So we're using that entire suite of products that is specified by the manufacturer, and we are putting that roof down in the way that is specified by the manufacturer. And the people who are doing it are certified in doing so.

So on an individual level, that man on your roof who's running that crew, he's certified, he knows exactly what he's doing, he knows how to also inspect that everyone is doing everything. And then on a company level, we're holding our employees accountable to making sure that we're following all those systems. So it's really about following the system, right Ralph? I mean, it's about doing it the right way.

Ralph: And that's my job these days. As I might've said before, June 4th will be my 40th year anniversary with GAF, continuous employee. I spent nine years out in Columbus, Ohio until I was fortunate enough that my wife and I and my three kids ended up moving back to New York state. But about a year and a half ago, GAF came and said, "Hey, we got an idea. Why don't you come over to our care training division?" Because we need the expertise to be able to not only teach the installers, but also a big part of my job is teaching the sales guys how to communicate with Fred and Mary at the dining room table, so they understand exactly what's about to happen, what the process is, how the products perform, and what their functions are. So that when it gets down to production, there's no disconnect between, well, Johnny at the sales guy said this, but your production manager says that. And so we try to make sure we take away all of those overlaps and it's seamless from start to finish.

Quality Control Inspections

John: Are you going out at all? Do you have any quality control inspections or anything like that where you're going out on a job with Master Roofers and checking to make sure that they're using all GAF products and doing the installation properly or anything like that? Or is that just all sort of part of the certification process?

Ralph: Right now, there's an honesty policy that's involved here. The 14 page legal agreement that he signed talks about running a legitimate company and achieving homeowner satisfactions. When we first launched this Master Elite program in 1997, we did try to inspect as many Golden Pledge roofs as possible, as a courtesy, but the manpower was just overwhelming. And so we kind of backed off on that. So we do sometimes look at a roof occasionally. We'll just do a little audit. We also look at complaints too. So if he gets a complaint on a roof and the consumer calls us, well, that's going to tip off a little bit of an inspection process. So the honesty policy right now is that he's going to stay in the lines as best as he can, represent us, him and the consumer, again, with the most professional level that he possibly can. And if something happens, we'll figure it out.

Brett: Yeah. Our goal as a contractor is to be a hundred percent compliant. If there's ever a situation where we were not, it's an inadvertent error. And from our point of view, again, being a longstanding company, we take the responsibility for that, but our goal is always to be 100% compliant with the program. I would like nothing more than if Ralph wanted to go inspect every Golden Pledge roof we had. Our goal is to say, "hey, go ahead." I don't want to be the guy that's scared that someone's going to find something. So it's a lot easier to do a great job and follow the process than it is to hope you don't get caught later. So we just want to be compliant and do it exactly the way we should every single time.

Ralph: Yeah, and I'll say this, we protect the Master Elite program very, very hard. We want to make sure everybody's compliant. And if somebody goes off the deep end a little bit and their lack of quality goes down, their interaction with consumers starts to be questionable, we'll pull the program from them. And I've done that many times, unfortunately, with either certified contractors would kind of go bad or I've had a couple of Master Elites who we've had to take out of the program. It's not pretty for anybody when that happens. And so the guys that are compliant and stay within the lines, they do very well. And that's all we ask for.

What Should a Homeowner Look for in a Roofing Contractor?

Workers roofing

John: From the homeowner's perspective, is there anything else that a homeowner should look for in a roofing contractor besides just trying to find a Master Elite contractor that's certified by GAF? Are there other things that a homeowner should look for?

Ralph: Absolutely. I am a huge, huge, huge component of you must have an attic inspection program. You can't diagnose what's going on with the whole structure. There's an atmosphere underneath those roofs that you don't know what's going on. The lack of insulation, the lack of proper ventilation, could be mold conditions. You could have bath fans and everything pouring into that attic. You could have bulk leaking around chimneys. And if you have HVAC systems up there, the contractor before they really advise a homeowner has to have a good working knowledge of what's going on underneath that roof before they can start selling the top side. Okay, so that's one, attic inspections.

Number two is, I think, one of the biggest keys of investing and offering a new roof is really ventilation. Ventilation itself is a huge science. There's so many variables in every single house. There's almost always some type of a deficiency somewhere that could cause problems. And so if you become proficient in ventilation, that's where the most of the problems come from. Nailing the shingles on is kind of the easy thing. It's preparing that building. And so sometimes I equate this like you take your car into the auto shop, you might need brakes. Well, they're walking back and forth underneath your car looking at it, and he might come up and say, "Hey, did you know you had a broken shock in the back?" No, I didn't. Well, his obligation is to not sell you the shock, but to let you know, because if you leave the driveway and then you discover the shock's broken, you're going to try to blame him.

Now that happens in roofing where Johnny Smith comes up, they tear a roof off, they put a roof on, but they didn't do anything underneath it. The same condition that was existing before is reoccurring, so they blame the roof, and it's not the roof, it's the structure. And then you think about all the other tie-ins with siding, windows, J-channels, flashings of all kinds, chimneys that are absorbing moisture like a sponge and leaking on the inside. So there's so many ancillary connections to a roof that all really need to be analyzed.

And in my opinion, you give the customer options of, okay, I'm a little concerned about A, B and C. Here's the scope of work. Here's the price. What would you like me to do? What don't you want me to do? And I'm a big proponent of giving the customer, you don't want to overwhelm them with too much, but you got to protect your liability on this job. And when you give a customer options, when they opt out of a scope of work, then that kind of falls back on the homeowner for not making that decision. There's a really big investigative process that I think has to happen before you even sit down and talk about roof shingles.

Brett: Great point. Great point. We believe a lot in transparency, and you're right, last time I checked, we all help out adults that are homeowners and they have choices to make, and everyone has a different budget, different situation. We understand that. And we'd just like to be fully transparent to them on what the situation is and then what we feel the appropriate options are and help them choose.

And you're absolutely right. Really, it's a whole ecosystem that you're taking care of there. I think most people just think that you're banging some tar paper and some shingles on the roof and that's it. And it's so much more than that, when it's done right. We like to say here that there are roofers and then there are Master Roofers. We're real proud of the fact that we are a roofing company. We're not a door and siding company that does roofs. I'm not a framer that does roofs. I'm not a home jack-of-all-trades that does roofs. We are a professional roofing company, and you're absolutely right, Ralph, that involves all of those things that you outlined and being able to help diagnose those accurately and help the homeowner with them.

If I was going to give any advice to a homeowner as well, I would say if you need to address an issue or replace a roof on your home, really look at roofers. I think sometimes it's become mixed. There's a lot of companies out there that do a lot of stuff, roofing is one of them. They may or may not be particularly good roofers. I'm not disparaging anyone, but when you work with a company where what they do is roofing, if they've been around for a while, they're probably pretty good at it. So again, if you're looking at getting the roof replaced, Joe's we-do-everything-on-a-home, they may or may not be proficient roofers, I don't know. But if you work with a company that does nothing but roofing and is certified by a major manufacturer like GAF, you can sleep pretty well at night knowing that you're hiring someone who's a professional, and that you're going to get a professional system installed. And so we try and be really good at one thing, roofing, that's what we do here.

Ralph: And I like that. And I like to think of it this way as you're the classic, small, individually owned American company whose product happens to be roofing.

Brett: Correct.

Ralph: You're not a roofer per se. You're a small business whose product is roofing.

Brett: Well put.

John: All right, well, we'll leave it at that. And thanks again for joining us. Ralph Finizio from GAF. Thanks again.

Ralph: I had a lot of fun. Thanks. And if you want to do this again, any other topic, just hook me up.

John: Absolutely. And as always, Brett Rogenski, thanks again for joining us.

Brett: Thanks so much, John. You have a great day.

John: And for more information about Master Roofers, visit the website at or call (603) 623-4973.

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