A “roofer” is a general term applied to many of the jobs in roofing. But I’m referring to the workers who are actually tearing off, installing, repairing and/or maintaining various roof systems. That’s how many of us in the trade got started.
Roofing is a tough, dirty job that is in the top ten list of most dangerous occupations. Statistically it is even more dangerous than being a police officer or firefighter. Many guys try it out and quickly find they want no part of this work.
But there is something about it that gets in your blood. Those who survive jobs in roofing for a few years often make a career out of it. It’s extremely rewarding to tear off an old leaky roof, fix all the rotted wood and install a good-looking roof system that will provide decades of shelter.
Once you learn the basic skills and principles, this is a job that you can take just about anywhere. But there is a big difference in compensation and working conditions from one part of the country to another. Even companies that are cross-town rivals can vary greatly. Here are some of your options…
First off, if you’re in a state that gets a lot of snow, you may find that jobs in roofing all but disappear in the winter. The snow and ice makes for miserable and treacherous working conditions. And the material freezes, making it difficult to work with.
Compare that to where I live in South Florida; We can roof year-around and winters are the best time to be on the roof. There are many days when I am overwhelmed with the shear ecstasy of working outside in the warm sun and cool breeze. Even the sweltering summers are tolerable, if you can arrange your schedule to be off the roof during the heat of the day.
Another factor for roofers to consider is the kind of work that a company does. Companies that do a lot of new construction often find themselves in a “feast or famine” situation. When there are lots of new homes and other buildings going up, there is a lot of work. But those jobs in roofing dry up quickly when the economy slows down. Roofers who work for companies that do mostly repairs and reroofing are more likely to have steady work, regardless of economic conditions.
Some companies specialize in just one type of roofing system. But at the start of your career I recommend working for a company that offers a variety of systems. That way, after ten years on the roof, you will have ten years experience, instead of one year of experience — ten times. You will learn the pros and cons of different types of roofing. After that, if you want to specialize in a particular type, become the best roofer in town in that system.
The highest compensation for roofers is usually through piecework arrangements, rather than by hourly. Just keep your focus on quality over quantity and you will still have work when the “speed demons” are running around looking for a job. Those guys are a dime a dozen and I don’t have much use for them. Strive to be fast AND good. Now THAT is impressive!
You should be your own toughest critic. Don’t put yourself in the embarrassing position of having your work rejected by your boss, the customer or a building inspector.
Also, be aware that being paid by piecework doesn’t automatically qualify you as an independent contractor. There are licensing and tax implications that you need to be aware of. You may get by for a while, but eventually the long arm of the government will catch up with you.
When that happens, the IRS can shut you down, file tax liens on your property and garnish your wages. States like Florida have made a felony out of contracting without a license and can assess heavy fines. You’re better off staying on the legal side of the law, whether it’s your job or your business.
Being a roofer is one of the jobs in roofing that is greatly affected by immigration. A huge percentage of roofers are either legal or illegal immigrants. Since the wage scale is so low where they come from, they readily work for wages that are half what they should be. Many shady roofing companies are happy to hire them, paying cash under the table and saving even more.
That situation can make it pretty tough on a young roofer trying to earn a decent living legitimately. My best advice is to learn your lessons quickly and be prepared for higher paying jobs in roofing. It’s helpful to keep a notebook of what you learn. Talk to the old-timers. Most are happy to share their wisdom with you if you just show them a little courtesy and respect.
And if advancement opportunities don’t pan out, you can always start your own company.