Not long ago, I was backing my weeks-old SUV into a garage space at my home when … smash! I slammed on the brakes and stared in disbelief at an opening created by shattered glass. I had just driven my new vehicle into some shelving on the back wall of my garage. I immediately searched for anyone and anything to blame, but found only the guy staring back at me in the rearview mirror.

After cleaning up the mess, I reached out to one of the many auto glass replacement companies, and within a day, I was back in business with a new rear window. Appropriately, my automobile warranty provided no coverage or relief from the cost to replace the rear window as a result of my poor driving.

A few weeks later, while I was stopped at a traffic light on a drizzly winter day … smash! I froze, stunned by the noise that shook my vehicle. Then I noticed the now-familiar gash in the rear window of my SUV. I frantically looked around thinking a thrown brick or a fired bullet was to blame. Seeing no one, I pulled into the nearest parking lot to inspect the damage, finding nothing but broken tempered glass. I called the same auto glass replacement company, explaining the unprovoked explosion of my recently installed window. They let me know that my warranty didn’t cover breakage. After a long pause, I asked through gritted teeth, “So, what exactly does my auto glass warranty cover?”

This is actually a very common experience when it comes to warranties of any kind. And if you’re running a small business, finding out that a warranty you depended on doesn’t actually cover what you think it does can be a big blow to your bottom line.

While I can’t offer much help when it comes to auto warranties, I do have some advice for small business owners concerning roof warranties. Protecting your roof can even be a determining factor in the material or contractor selection.

But what does your roof warranty actually cover?

Well, it depends. There are many types of construction warranties issued. I’ll detail those warranties below.

Implied warranties

Nearly every product in the United States is sold with an implied warranty of merchantability that guarantees the item will perform as intended, even without a written warranty document provided at the time of sale.

For example, if properly installed, your purchased roofing material will not allow water to pass through it. The body of laws defining the “merchantability” of a product is the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). It varies by state, but implied warranty coverage can last up to four years.

Material manufacturer warranties

A material warranty is a written document that defines the warrantor and the materials covered by the warranty. It typically describes the performance expectations of the material when properly installed and details the obligations of the warrantor if the material is proven to be defective. Frequently, the material warranty obligates the warrantor to repair or replace defective material while limiting the exposure of the warrantor to the original cost of the purchased, and proven defective, materials.

Contractor workmanship warranties

A workmanship warranty provides the purchaser with a guarantee of the contractor’s workmanship quality for a defined period of time after the completion of the installation. The term of a workmanship warranty is considerably shorter than a material warranty, with a typical duration of one to two years.

Manufacturer system warranties

A manufacturer system warranty provides coverage for the leak-free performance of a roof for the term of the warranty. The warranty generally obligates the warrantor to repair any leaks, not to replace the roof. To qualify for a systems warranty, a manufacturer typically requires the roof to be installed by a certified or approved applicator and be inspected by a technical representative from the manufacturer at the time of issuance. Frequently, the manufacturer will have an agreement with the contractor to service any performance issues identified in the roof system in the first few years after install. Manufacturer system warranties are typically sold to the warranty holders.

It’s important to note that warranties are written by lawyers who are employed by the warrantor. Their primary objective is to limit their employer’s liability. You should read and understand your warranty, including, and maybe especially, the fine print. Pay particular attention to the exclusions clauses, which are typically quite lengthy. Some common roof warranty exclusions are standing water, rooftop traffic, excessive wind, severe weather, aesthetic appearance, mold, poor maintenance, building design and structural issues, changes in the way the building is used, and so on.

No matter the type and term of warranty you hold, it has no bearing on your roof’s performance and lifespan. The only factors that will contribute to a good performing roof are proper design, quality workmanship, reliable materials and regular maintenance. Keep this in mind the next time you need to upgrade your company’s building.