Roofers repair and install the roofs of buildings using a variety of materials, including shingles, asphalt, and metal.

Duties

Roofers typically do the following:

  • Inspect problem roofs to determine the best way to repair them
  • Measure roof to calculate the quantities of materials needed
  • Replace damaged or rotting joists or plywood
  • Install vapor barriers or layers of insulation
  • Install shingles, asphalt, metal, or other materials to make the roof watertight
  • Align roofing materials with edges of the roof
  • Cut roofing materials to fit around walls or vents
  • Cover exposed nail or screw heads with roofing cement or caulk to prevent leakage

Properly installed roofs keep water from leaking into buildings and damaging the interior, equipment, or furnishings. There are three basic types of roofs: low-slope, steep-slope, and sustainable. Roofers may specialize in the installation and replacement of one or more of these roof systems.

Low-slope. Low-slope roofs rise less than 3 inches per horizontal foot and are installed in layers. Low-slope roofs make up about two-thirds of all roofs, as most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings use this type.   

Many of today’s low-slope roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compound. Most previously installed low-slope roofs, however, use several layers of roofing materials or felt membranes stuck together with hot bitumen (a tar-like substance).

Steep-slope. Steep-slope roofs rise more than 3 inches per horizontal foot and use asphalt shingles, which often cost less than other coverings. Steep-slope roofs make up most of the remaining roofs, as most single-family homes use this type.

Although asphalt shingles are most commonly used, some roofers also install tile, solar shingles, fiberglass shingles, metal shingles, or shakes (rough wooden shingles).

Sustainable. A small but increasing number of buildings now have vegetative roofs that incorporate landscape materials into traditional roofing systems. A landscape roofing system typically begins with a single or multiple waterproof layers. After that layer is proven to be leak free, roofers put a root barrier over it, and, finally, layers of soil, in which vegetation is planted. Roofers must ensure that the roof is watertight and can endure the weight and water needs of the plants.

Solar is another sustainable roof that is becoming increasingly popular. These systems include solar reflective, which prevents the absorption of energy; solar thermal, which absorbs energy to heat water; and solar photovoltaic, which converts sunlight into electricity.

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Work Environment

Roofers held about 132,700 jobs in 2012, of which 64 percent were employed in the roofing contractors industry. About 28 percent were self-employed.

Roofing work can be hot and physically demanding. 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 install roofs when it rains or when it is very cold.

Although some roofers work alone, many work as part of a crew.

Injuries and Illnesses

Roofers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Workers may slip or fall from scaffolds, ladders, or roofs. They may also be burned by hot bitumen. However, proper safety precautions can prevent most accidents.

Roofs can also become extremely hot during the summer, which can cause heat-related illnesses.

Work Schedules

Like many construction workers, most roofers work full time. In northern states, roofing work is limited during the winter months. During the summer, roofers may work overtime to complete jobs quickly, especially before rainfall.

About 28 percent of roofers were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedules.

Education and Training

Although most roofers learn on the job, some learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. There are no specific education requirements for roofers.

Education

Although there are no specific education requirements for roofers, high school courses in math, shop, mechanical drawing, and blueprint reading are considered helpful. Technical schools that offer courses related to roofing may be available in a few areas.

Training

Most on-the-job training programs consist of instruction in which experienced workers teach new workers how to use roofing tools, equipment, machines, and materials. Trainees begin with tasks such as carrying equipment and material and erecting scaffolds and hoists. Within 2 or 3 months, they are taught to measure, cut, and fit roofing materials and, later, to lay asphalt or fiberglass shingles. Because some roofing materials, such as solar tiles, are used infrequently, it can take several years to gain experience on all types of roofing. As training progresses, assignments become more complex.

Some roofers learn through a 3-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Apprentices learn about roofing and construction basics, such as blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices.

After completing an apprenticeship program, roofers are considered journey workers who can perform tasks on their own.

Several groups sponsor apprenticeship programs, including unions and contractor associations. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work
Personality and Interests

Roofers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a roofer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Roofers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Balance. Roofing is often done on steep slopes at significant heights. Because of this, workers should have excellent balance to avoid falling.

Physical stamina. Roofers must have endurance to perform strenuous duties throughout the day. They may spend hours on their feet, bending and stooping—often in hot temperatures—with few breaks.

Physical strength. Roofers often lift and carry heavy materials. Some roofers, for example, must carry bundles of shingles that weigh 60 pounds or more.

Unafraid of heights. Because work is often done at significant heights, roofers must not fear working far above the ground.

Pay

The median annual wage for roofers was $35,290 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,350, and the top 10 percent earned more than $60,350.

The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 35 percent and 60 percent of what fully trained workers earn. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

Like many construction workers, most roofers work full time. In northern states, roofing work is limited during the winter months. During the summer, roofers may work overtime to complete jobs quickly, especially before rainfall.

About 28 percent of roofers were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook

Employment of roofers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Roofs deteriorate more quickly than most other parts of buildings and, as a result, they need to be repaired or replaced more often. Results of a National Roofing Contractors Association survey indicate that about two-thirds of all roofing work is for repair and replacement. This factor should result in some new jobs over the coming decade.

In addition to repair and replacement work, the need to install roofs on new buildings should result in job growth. However, some roofing work may be done by other construction workers, and that may slow job growth for traditional roofing contractors.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for roofers will occur primarily because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. The proportion of roofers who leave the occupation each year is higher than in most construction trades—roofing work is physically demanding and a considerable number of workers treat roofing as a temporary job until they find other work. Some roofers leave the occupation for other construction trades. Jobs are generally easier to find during spring and summer.

Demand for roofers is less vulnerable to downturns than for other construction trades because much roofing work consists of repair and reroofing, in addition to new construction. Still, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of new construction falls. However, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for roofers, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors or firms that employ roofers, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, or the Employment and Training Administration.

For information about the work of roofers, visit

National Roofing Contractors Association

United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers

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