Roofing manufacturers have changed their shingle warranties in a way that would give you the impression that the products are “more” or “better.”

My first experience with a shingle warranty was in the role of a consumer. That was in 1978 soon after the lovely Kay had accepted my proposal of marriage. I also proposed to build her a nice little house if she would allow me to use the engagement-ring money for a down payment. Promised to buy the ring on our fifth anniversary.

At the time, the basic strip shingle being installed on most new homes in our area was a 15-year, 240# per square three-tab (organic) asphalt shingle. A second choice was available for a few dollars more: the new 20 year, 225# per square three-tab fiberglass shingles manufactured by Johns-Manville.

I still remember the difficult choice of whether or not to spend the extra dollars being charged for the fiberglass shingles. The warranty was five years longer for the fiberglass shingles, but the technology was fairly new and unproven in real-world applications. It was the late Roy Poole of Gainesville, Fla., a trusted friend and roofing contractor, who gave the advice that I took. He felt the fiberglass shingle was the future of residential roofing and that the technology had improved to the extent that it merited the extra cost and warranty. We only lived in that house six years, but the last time I saw the roof it was 22 years old and still looked respectable from the curbside.

The point is, as a consumer, I did not care about the extra five years of warranty or the extra few dollars. What I did care about, and what most consumers care about, is that I made the right decision with the money and the information I had at the time. Roy gave that to me, and despite the obviously fine job JM did manufacturing the shingles, their warranty was barely part of the equation.

All this to add my two-cents worth to the debate over shingle warranties sparked by manufacturers revamping and upping all their warranties in a fit of competitive fervor.

Roofing manufacturers have changed their warranties in a way that would give you the impression that the products are “more” or “better.” Some of them have “enhanced” their product, but most changes I would call cosmetic. Several manufacturers have openly cited competitive reasons for changing their shingle warranties.

I tell the story about my experience as a consumer, because it is the consumer who is ultimately in charge of which shingles go where — not those of us who make, distribute or install shingles. What matters to me as a consumer in 2002 is the same thing that mattered to me in 1978: I want to know that I am making the right choice with the resources over which I have control.

The roofing, remodeling or building contractor who sits at the kitchen table with the consumer is therefore closest to the one who decides which shingles go where. Only two suggestions to you contractors:

As we have stated for several years, manufacturer/contractor partnerships that take a “holistic” approach to selling and warranties are the most beneficial to the consumer and the contractor alike. The manufacturers may benefit, but only if they do an excellent job establishing and maintaining their programs, and vehemently backing their contractors. Get on board with a trusted manufacturer. Secondly, get to work and learn the new warranty picture. You should read any warranty tied to a product you are selling to know just how it may have changed from previous versions.

Shingle manufacturers may have inadvertently begun to move standard shingle warranties off the map. Look at what happened in the vinyl siding industry, which has a “limited lifetime warranty” on the full breadth of their products. Now it is an expectation and is not a marketing feature at all. Maybe that is a good thing. The vinyl siding manufacturers all talk about their product in terms of physical properties, style, and architectural integrity — real product differences; not ones found only on paper.

Like my promise to Kay to buy her ring, JM’s promise to us was kept. Not because they produced a better warranty, but because they produced a product that performed.