Flying shingles were a common sight on Labor Day as Hurricane Gustav battered the Capital Region—less so had there been tighter rules governing the installation of roofing, or any rules for that matter.
You need a permit for electrical, plumbing, mechanical and structural work—even to build a fence. But no permit or inspection is required to make sure roofing or reroofing jobs are being done right.
The result, according to one roofing contractor, is a lot of sloppy work. Robert Maddox, owner of Hahn Roofing, says he’s seen plenty of it in Gustav’s aftermath, which attracted armies of fly-by-night operators as well as legitimate companies.
Poorly installed roofs are bad news for homeowners and insurers and also make the state a less hospitable place for insurance companies to do business, which forces homeowners to pay higher rates, Maddox says.
It also impacts legitimate contractors trying to compete against back-of-the-truck firms that cut corners and might or might not be licensed. Lack of permitting and inspection also creates an environment in which insurance companies sometimes don’t pay enough for a legitimate contractor to do a decent job, Maddox says.
“When you look at a roof it can look beautiful from the ground, but until you climb up you can’t really tell,” Maddox says.
It comes down to details such as the number of nails per shingle—there should be four per shingle—and where those nails are located. Sometimes roofers shoot nails right through the shingle because of excessive pressure to the nail gun, which operates on compressed air.
“It all relates to the nail gun making everyone a roofer,” Maddox says. “When nail guns came into the industry it was goodbye hammer. The nail gun is a great tool, but it’s only as good as the man holding it.”
Maddox says he’d also likely have subpar installations if his company didn’t inspect its own jobs. He thinks the roofing trade should be regulated through permits and inspections. This would drive out the storm-chasers, raise the quality of work and protect consumers, Maddox says.
“It offers at least some assurance that it’s installed correctly,” says Korby Lintz.
He’s the supervisor of building inspections for Douglas County, Colo., which straddles Interstate 25 north of Colorado Springs and south of Denver. His jurisdiction, like most in Colorado, requires roof permitting and inspection, he says.
It would also sweep a fair amount of Maddox’s competition out of the market. To be fair, it’s tough for a licensed, bonded and established company that doesn’t cut corners to compete price-wise with the bottom-feeders. Despite warnings from the Louisiana State Licensing Board about how to choose a contractor, consumers often are mesmerized by what seems like a good deal and don’t always choose wisely.
“Let’s say there was no regulation needed for electrical work,” Maddox says. “How many electrical fires would you have?”
Insurance companies hate risk, which is one reason Louisiana struggles to attract sufficient numbers of insurers so that premiums are kept low through heightened competition. Bringing more insurers into the state is the best way to bring down premiums, say officials with the Department of Insurance.
Insurance companies also are allergic to high numbers of claims, which also serve to increase rates. Badly installed roofs are claim generators because they don’t fare as well during high-wind events such as Gustav, which pummeled the Capital Region on Sept. 1 with gusts in excess of 90 mph. Permitting and inspection—by weeding out bad work—would reduce insurers’ risk and the number of claims and presumably have a dampening effect on rates.
“You can’t expect an insurance company not to raise its prices if you’re not going to regulate the trade,” Maddox says.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon says he’s a believer in the Statewide Building Code, which the Legislature approved in a 2005 special session after the pounding Louisiana got from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The building code—the first of its kind in Louisiana but basically a copy of Florida’s—was the creation of a coalition of Realtors, insurance agents and other stakeholders who overcame strong opposition from small and rural communities not happy about having to pay for permit and inspection offices.
The Legislature later passed a law mandating that insurance companies give price breaks to property owners who adhere to the new standards. It wasn’t popular with insurers, but the Legislature wouldn’t have gone along with the building code otherwise, Donelon says.
Insurance companies do like rules that result in better building because it reduces the chances they’ll have to pay a claim. An insurance company can’t deny a claim just because a roof was put on wrong, Donelon says.
“Which means the insurer has to pay to put a new roof on a house that had it wrongly installed in the first place,” he says.
While he agrees with Maddox and thinks roofing standards should be included in the Statewide Building Code, it’s not likely they will be anytime soon. Because of pressure from the small and rural communities that opposed the building code, the Legislature came within one vote of inserting a loophole that would have allowed contractors to self-certify that they had adhered to the new standards.
“If they can get within one vote of that, I suspect they’re not going to readily agree to additional inspection costs,” Donelon says.
Ironically, Donelon is dealing with a faulty roof installed after Katrina on his Metairie home.
“He was the best I could get in a very tight market,” he says. “I think he gave it his best. Without the Hispanic workers, whether legal or not, we certainly would not have reroofed New Orleans in the less than three years it took to do it,” Donelon says.
Be that as it may, Louisiana will continue to be inhospitable to insurers and legitimate contractors as long as anybody with a nail gun can legally install a roof, Maddox says, and insurers will continue to pay too little in many cases for jobs to be done right. Insurance companies base their payments on surveys of contractors within a given Zip code.
It’s all a big circle that starts with managing the contractor, Maddox says.
“Then when the insurance company takes a survey it’s going to take it from legitimate companies, it’s going to allow me to do a legitimate job and it’s going to allow me to pass inspection,” he says. “The other thing is insurance companies are going to be looking at Louisiana saying, ‘Look at the new Louisiana, trying to limit claims by making sure the work is done properly.’”