It's an expense homeowners must face eventually: roof replacement. Those who find themselves needing new shingles this roofing season might be surprised to find prices rising even though the home-renovation market has slowed and petroleum costs less than it did last summer.
The price of asphalt shingles, which cover the vast majority of houses in the United States, rose 57.5 percent from March 2008 to this past March, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Producer Price Index. This year, the price went up 3.8 percent from February to March alone.
Manufacturers said roofing-shingle prices rose in March "due to the shortage of asphalt, and asphalt, it's a little hard to come by. They're expecting a big rush on the asphalt because of the stimulus package and roadwork," said Bob Kersch, co-owner of Brothers Roofing Supply in New York City.
The bottom line is that homeowners shouldn't expect bargains on new roofs, even as home values and the overall demand for housing renovations have plummeted.
"We're not foreseeing any big price increases" in coming months, said Bill Good, executive vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Assocation. "But we're also not seeing any big price drops."
There is one bit of good news for homeowners, depending on what kind of shingles they choose. The federal government is offering a tax credit of up to $1,500 through 2010 for certain energy-saving reflective asphalt shingles.
Picking a contractor
Here are recommendations from Bill Good and others if you need to replace your roof:
• Make sure the contractor has a license — if your state and local governments require one — and proof of insurance. You can also check with state or local regulators to find out if a contractor is licensed and insured. Many licensing agencies allow consumers to search for licensed contractors on their Web sites. Some states put court records online, allowing consumers to see whether a contractor has been sued. Check with local consumer protection agencies and groups to see if a contractor has faced complaints.
• Make sure the contractor has a permanent place of business, one way to screen out "fly by night" roofers.
• Look at shingles in person before choosing a style and color, rather than relying on a roof manufacturers' Web site or a brochure. Color can look different on an actual shingle than it does in a picture.
• Get several estimates. Make sure they are in writing and cover everything.
• Learn roofing terms so you'll know what contractors are talking about. Sheathing, flashing, drip edge, fascia, felt and underlayment are some terms you will likely hear.
• Get a lien release from the contractor before you make your final payment. A lien release is a statement from the contractor that payment was received for the specific work performed, and that the contractor waives any right to a claim or lien against the homeowner. This protects the homeowner should the contractor fail to pay a third party, such as the supplier.
• Get two warranties from the contractor: one for labor and another for the shingles.