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Careers in Construction: How to Become a Roofer

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A young roofer in a high-visibility vest, safety glasses, and a blue hardhat

In building construction, there is no component more essential than a well-built roof. Roofing professionals play a vital role in every community by constructing roof systems that protect people and possessions every day. Roofing projects often are as diverse and unique as the property owners requesting them because of one undeniable fact: everybody needs a roof.

If you’re interested in joining a booming industry where you can apply your attention to detail, physical stamina, and passion for helping people, a rewarding career in roofing may be the right fit for you.

Job Description: What Does a Roof System Installer Do?

The most common roofing position is a roof system installer, or someone who repairs, replaces and installs roof systems on residential and/or commercial buildings. A roof system installer needs to be detail-oriented and have a keen eye for potential leaks, as well as the precision of a fine craftsman. They enjoy working outdoors and can tolerate working in different weather conditions and at different heights. They have the physical stamina required to climb onto roofs, work with heavy materials and tools, and bend and kneel throughout each day. They work with materials including shingles, tiles, slate, bitumen, and metal sheets (steel, copper, and aluminum). Roof system installers regularly travel to different job sites to complete projects, reducing the possibility of boredom at work.

A roofer prepares roof for shingle installation

A standard checklist of potential duties for roof system installers includes:

  • Inspecting roofs to determine problems and the best ways to address issues that are found
  • Measuring roofs to calculate material quantities required to complete jobs
  • Replacing damaged or rotting joists and plywood
  • Installing layers of insulation and/or vapor barriers
  • Installing roofing materials to create weatherproof roofs
  • Ensuring materials are cut to fit and align with edges of roofs
  • Altering materials to fit around obstructions such as vents, walls, and chimneys
  • Covering exposed nail and screw heads with caulking or roofing cement to prevent leaks

Installed properly, a roof system prevents water from leaking into a building and damaging the interior. Different types of roof systems require different techniques and skill sets, and some roof system installers choose specialties, such as low-slope or steep-slope roof systems, vegetative roof systems or photovoltaic roof systems. Specializing in photovoltaic roof systems can be a great fit if you are interested in modern technologies, and PV installations are rapidly gaining popularity as more customers prioritize eco-friendly construction. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found nearly half (46%) of U.S. homeowners had given serious thought to adding solar panels at their home in the previous year.

A young Solar Photovoltaic specialist installs solar panels on roof

Whether installing a roof system made of traditional or cutting-edge materials, the work roof system installers put into a roof system ensures it will weather rain, snow, sun, and everyday wear-and-tear for years to come. Many roof system installers find immense satisfaction in helping protect homes and businesses and keeping people safe and dry. Other roofing jobs in the field include foremen, project managers, safety professionals, and superintendents.

Off the roof, other positions in the roofing industry can be equally rewarding. If you are good with your hands and machinery, you could become a great sheet metal worker or warehouse manager. Sheet metal workers verify measurements taken in the field and fabricate metal as specified, and warehouse managers use their leadership skills to manage warehouse operations and ensure their workers comply with safety practices. In manufacturing and distribution, where there is strong demand for innovative products and effective distribution techniques, there are managerial, engineering, sales, and technical positions to be explored, among others. In the office, jobs range from administrative assistants to office managers to controllers. These are the people who use their organization and communication skills to keep a company’s operations running smoothly from day to day. If you love people, math, and technology, a position as a salesperson or roofing estimator may be a great fit. Salespeople know how to share information with others and can close deals through positive customer interactions. Estimators are natural problem-solvers who use sophisticated software to show customers their potential roofing options. It takes people in all of these positions working together from start to finish to successfully complete a roofing project.

Roof System Installer Salary Information

New roofing workers learn on the job and are in high demand. There are no upfront costs involved with beginning a roofing career. In 2020, the average roof system installer salary was $43,580, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the lowest 10% earned $27,220 and the highest 10% earned $72,100.

Here are the average salaries in the states that pay roof system installers the most:

  1. New York: $66,400
  2. New Jersey: $63,460
  3. Washington: $62,280
  4. Hawaii: $62,050
  5. Connecticut: $60,830

With higher levels of experience and responsibilities, foremen and superintendents earn more money. A 2017 wage and benefits survey conducted by the National Roofing Contractors Association shows the average annual wage for a foreman was $63,000 and the average annual wage for a superintendent was $84,000. And annual salaries for project managers and roofing estimators can exceed $100,000.

Training and Certification for Roof System Installers

While some roof system installers learn the trade through apprenticeship programs or come from other jobs in construction or carpentry, many others learn and hone their craft while on the job. This makes it a particularly enticing career for those who want to enter a new field and earn decent wages while they learn.

There are no specific education requirements to start a roofing career, although math skills, vocational education, blueprint reading, and mechanical drawing can all be beneficial. Because most learning happens on the job, new roof system installers will work alongside experienced tradespeople and gain insight into the use of the tools, equipment, and materials necessary to complete a job.

A young woman in a high-visibility vest and yellow hard hat learning the roofing trade

If you are interested in apprenticeship programs, you may be able to find local unions or contractor associations that are sponsoring some. Entry qualifications for a typical 3-year apprenticeship include:

  1. You must be at least 18 years old.
  2. You must have a high school diploma or equivalent degree/certificate.
  3. You must be physically capable of performing the job.

A list of direct contacts for formal registered apprenticeship programs is available on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration website.

The National Roofing Contractors Association has developed several training opportunities that help entry-level roof system installers onboard quickly and effectively. NRCA’s Roofing 101 program is designed to help new workers learn about roofing fundamentals online. NRCA’s Training for Roof Application Careers helps roofing employers train inexperienced workers with quality educational materials.

Professional certifications can be attained as you advance in your career as a roof system installer. Experienced roof system installers who demonstrate substantial skills and knowledge can become certified by NRCA in specific roof system installations. NRCA ProCertification® currently offers certifications for asphalt shingle system installers, clay and, concrete tile system installers, EPDM system installers, thermoplastic system installers, and roofing foremen. NRCA ultimately will create certifications for all major roof, waterproofing, and rooftop photovoltaic system installations, plus roof system repair and maintenance. These certifications enable roof system installers to prove their professionalism and excellence to their employers and customers.

Outlook for Roof System Installers

The roofing industry is booming, and there are no signs the demand for roof system installers will slow down anytime soon. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the roofing industry is expected to grow 11% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the national average. In recent years, U.S. roofing contractors have experienced improved profitability and double-digit increases in sales.

A ladder leans against roof with roofing contractor obscured in the background

The roofing industry experiences fewer downturns compared with other trades. The nature of roof systems underlies the continuous need for quality roof system installers. The average lifespan of a roof system varies depending on the materials used, but many roof systems need to be replaced every 15-25 years and all roof systems require regular maintenance. General repairs, repairs for damage caused by extreme weather events, and the constant construction of new buildings also keep roof system installers busy. In U.S. regions affected by seasonal temperature extremes, field work may decline temporarily. Many roofing contractors use those periods to conduct extra training and safety sessions to ensure their workers are ready to handle all future projects.

Overall, this makes roofing a stable industry in which to establish a career. There’s no foreseeable reason why employment or job opportunities will diminish given the finite lifespans of roof systems and the new construction opportunities that arise every year. If you are capable of handling the work, roofing can be a profitable and rewarding career.

Explore additional construction jobs in our Careers in Construction series!

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