Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 1

We’re getting a new roof in 4 days!!! We started researching and shopping around back in March which is when we chose to go with Abril roofing.  Because we have a completely flat roof, we only have 2 general choices for a new roof- tar and gravel which we currently have or foam.  We decided to go with foam even though it is more expensive because it adds a lot of insulation (the foam itself is insulative).

Disclaimer: All of the following info is probably only interesting if you are interested in flat roofs (which probably only happens if you have a house with a flat roof and need to replace it).  Consider yourself warned!

Aside for leaking every time it rains, the roof we have today has very little insulation:

As you can see, the original roof consists of 1.5″ thick tongue and groove douglas fir (the underside of which is our ceiling) then 0.5″ of fiberglass insulation, then an 1-4 inches of tar (which compresses the fiberglass to about 0.125″) then white semi reflective gravel which has become very thin over the years (the current roof is probably about 20 years old).   Roof salesmen and our neighbors with foam roofs say that having a foam roof significantly lowers the temperature in the summer (they’re very reflective) and reduces heating bills in the winter (very insulative)- both of which we support.

Once we decided to go with foam we still had many options in types of foam roofs.  We talked to Orlando from Aussie roofing about rigid foam coated with bitumen (he initially proposed pitching the roof which would have cost $35,000 all together!).  We also talked to a guy from Custom Craft, George from Armstrong roofing and Rick Abril from Abril roofing, both of whom quoted us for spray polyurethane foam (SPF).  We found George (a salesman) from Armstrong to be a little too pushy for our liking- he convinced us to sign a contract before he left the house (which we later cancelled) because if we didn’t get the roof replaced ASAP (this was back in March- recall- the beginning of this year’s rainy season) they would have to do what amounted to several thousand dollars more work, because, he argued, any waiting would rot our existing roof so much that they would need to add more wood decking.  George also bad mouthed his competitors, specifically Abril. The man from custom craft was a little more knowledgable than George but also long winded (we went through a streak of talking to very long winded salesmen/contractors)- Andy talked to him so I don’t have much more to report. The reasons we ultimately chose Abril are:

  1. Almost all of our neighbors with spray polyurethane roofs used Abril- so we can walk around our immediate neighborhood and literally see dozens of examples of their work.  Everything looks pretty good, and no other vendor gave nearly as many references in our area.
  2. We talked to several people who went with Abril (including neighbors we know well) and all were happy.
  3. We have personally used Abril for several repairs on our current roof and found their work to be good.  When they couldn’t fix a leak on the first try (which, granted, is difficult on a flat tar & gravel roof) they came back and fixed it on the 2nd shot.
  4. For all of our repairs we did with Abril, they offered a 50% credit towards a new roof- which basically meant our repairs were half off.
  5. Rick Abril is very easy to deal with.  His quote took less than an hour- mostly spent on the roof making measurements.  Other salesmen took up to 4 hours of our time- which, frankly, we didn’t need.  Rick got to the point and didn’t waste our time (we especially hate when roof salesmen waste our time by bad mouthing competitors).  I will say that getting ahold of him can be a challenge.
  6. They charge several thousand less than their competitors (for similar scopes of work- there were some minor differences in the quotes- Abril included more flashing while Armstrong adds more foam over the eaves than does Abril- but at the end of the day, we don’t really care how well insulated our eaves are).  This alone wasn’t enough to make the decision- believe me, we did our research- but it certainly helped.

The “granule” debate:  All spray foam roofs are coated with a latex-like paint for protection.  On top of that, some companies add granules (like chunky white sand) and some don’t.  The advantage of them is that they can add a bit more protection, especially from birds pecking at the roof (which has been a known problem with foam roofs).  The disadvantages are (a) they collect in the down spouts after heavy rains and (b) they make it harder to re-coat the roof, which is recommended every 5-20 years depending on who you talk to and whether or not you’ve already paid for your original foam roof (before paying they say it doesn’t need to be coated for 20+ years, after paying, I’m guessing they want more business and quote more like 5 years).

Price:  We were quoted prices ranging from about $20,000 (SPF from Abril) to $35,000 (pitching the roof with rigid foam).  This seems to depend on square footage (our house is 1700 s.f. plus the garage and some eaves) and difficulty (number of vents etc. protruding the roof).  I’m guessing location (Marin County) also factors into the price- that’s how free markets work after all.  All of our SPF quotes were within the $20,000 – $25,000 range, which was very hard to digest (we’ve never spent that much on anything besides the house… and that amount of money could buy a pretty cool car)… but I guess that goes with the territory.

Hopefully, this is helpful to other people in the market for a foam roof- I certainly wish someone had made this type of info available when we were shopping around!