Roofers

Significant Points

* Most roofers learn their skills on the job; some train through 3-year apprenticeships.
* Demand for roofers is less vulnerable to downturns in the economy than demand for other construction trades because most roofing work consists of repair and reroofing.
* Most job openings will occur from the need to replace those who leave the occupation because the work can be hot, strenuous, and dirty, causing many people to switch to jobs in other construction trades.

Nature of the Work

Roofers repair and install roofs made from a combination of some of the following: tar, asphalt, gravel, rubber, thermoplastic, metal, and shingles—all of which protect buildings and their contents from water damage. A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls, and furnishings. Repair and reroofing—replacing old roofs on existing buildings—make up the majority of work for roofers.


There are two types of roofs—low-slope and steep-slope. Low-slope roofs rise 4 inches or less per horizontal foot and are installed in layers. Steep-slope roofs rise more than 4 inches per horizontal foot and are usually covered in shingles. Most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings contain low-slope roofs, while the majority of residential houses have steep-slope roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize.


Most low-slope roofs are covered with several layers of materials. Roofers begin by installing a layer of insulation on the roof deck, followed by applying a tarlike substance called molten bitumen on top of it. Next, they install overlapping layers of roofing felt—a fabric soaked in bitumen—over the surface. Roofers use a mop to spread hot bitumen over the felt before adding another layer of felt. This seals the seams and makes the surface waterproof. Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers, called “plies.” The top layer is then glazed to make a smooth finish or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen to create a rough surface.


An increasing number of low-slope roofs are covered with single-ply membranes of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds. Roofers roll these sheets over the roof’s insulation and seal the seams. Adhesive, mechanical fasteners, or stone ballast hold the sheets in place. Roofers must make sure the building is strong enough to hold the stone ballast.


A small but increasing number of buildings now have “green” roofs that incorporate landscape roofing systems. A landscape roofing system begins with a single or multiply waterproof layer. After it is proven to be leak free, roofers put a root barrier over it, and then layers of soil, in which trees and grass are planted. Roofers are responsible for making sure the roof is watertight and can endure the weight and water needs of the plants.


Most residential steep-slope roofs are covered with shingles. To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing felt over the entire roof. Starting from the bottom edge, roofers then nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof. Roofers measure and cut the felt and shingles to fit intersecting roof surfaces and to fit around vent pipes and chimneys. Wherever two sections of the roof meet each other at an angle or where shingles reach a vent pipe or chimney, roofers cement or nail flashing-strips of metal or shingle over the joints to make them watertight. Finally, roofers cover exposed nail-heads with roofing cement or caulking to prevent water leakage. A similar process is used when installing tile, metal shingles, or shakes (rough wooden shingles).


Some roofers specialize in waterproofing or dampproofing masonry and concrete walls, floors, and foundations. To prepare surfaces for waterproofing, they hammer and chisel away rough spots or remove them with a rubbing brick before applying a coat of liquid waterproofing compound. They also may paint or spray surfaces with a waterproofing material or attach waterproofing membrane to surfaces. Roofers usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior surfaces when dampproofing.

Work environment.

Roofing work is strenuous. It involves heavy lifting, as well as climbing, bending, and kneeling. Roofers work outdoors in all types of weather, particularly when making repairs. However, they rarely work when it rains or in very cold weather because ice can be dangerous. In northern States, roofing work is generally not performed during winter months. During the summer, roofers may work overtime to complete jobs quickly, especially before forecasted rainfall.


Workers risk slips or falls from scaffolds, ladders, or roofs, and burns from hot bitumen, but safety precautions can prevent most accidents. In addition, roofs can become extremely hot during the summer, causing heat-related illnesses. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that full-time roofers experienced a work-related injury and illness rate that was much higher than the national average.

Source: bls.gov, ahomeservices.com, ecw.org, ct-roofers.com, tulsa-roofing.com, albany-roofing.co.uk, roofingadvantage.com, hartseal.co.uk, craftsmanroofer.com, surrey-roofers.com

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