- Most roofers acquire their skills informally on the job; some
roofers train through 3-year apprenticeship programs.
- Jobs openings for roofers should be plentiful because the
work is hot, strenuous, and dirty, causing many individuals
to leave for jobs in other construction trades.
- Demand for roofers is less susceptible to downturns in the
economy than demand for other construction trades because most
roofing work consists of repair and reroofing.
A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls, and furnishings. To
protect buildings and their contents from water damage, roofers
repair and install roofs made of tar or asphalt and gravel; rubber
or thermoplastic; metal; or shingles made of asphalt, slate, fiberglass,
wood, tile, or other material. Repair and reroofing—replacing
old roofs on existing buildings—makes up the majority of work
for these workers.
There are two types of roofs—low- and steep-sloped. Roofs
considered low-slope rise 4 inches per horizontal foot
or less and steep-slope roofs increase more than 4 inches per
horizontal foot. Most commercial, industrial, and apartment
buildings have low-sloping roofs. Most houses have steep-sloped
roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize.
Most low-slope roofs are covered with several layers of materials.
Roofers first put a layer of insulation on the roof deck. Over
the insulation, they then spread a coat of molten bitumen, a tarlike
substance. Next, they install partially overlapping layers of
roofing felt—a fabric saturated in bitumen—over the surface. Roofers
use a mop to spread hot bitumen over the surface and under the
next layer. This seals the seams and makes the surface watertight.
Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers,
called “plies.” The top layer either is glazed to make a smooth
finish or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen to create a rough
An increasing number of low-slope roofs are covered with a single-ply
membrane 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. The building must be of sufficient strength to hold
the ballast. A small, but growing number of flat-roofed buildings
are now having “green” roofs installed. A “green” roof begins
with a single or multi-ply waterproof system. After it is proven
to be leak free, a root barrier is placed onto it, and then layers
of soil, in which trees and grass are planted. Roofers are generally
responsible for making sure the roof is watertight and can withstand
the weight and water needs of the plantings.
Most residential steep-slope roofs are covered with shingles.
To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips
of roofing felt lengthwise over the entire roof. Then, starting
from the bottom edge, they staple or nail overlapping rows of
shingles to the roof. Workers measure and cut the felt and shingles
to fit intersecting roof surfaces and to fit around vent pipes
and chimneys. Wherever two roof surfaces intersect, or 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 nailheads with roofing cement or caulking
to prevent water leakage. Roofers who use tile, metal shingles,
or shakes follow a similar process.
Because of their expertise in waterproofing roofs, some roofers
also waterproof and dampproof masonry and concrete walls and floors,
including 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. When dampproofing,
they usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior
surfaces. Roofers also install equipment that requires cutting
through roofs, such as ventilation ducts and attic fans.
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 in very cold weather as ice can be treacherous. In
northern States, roofing work is generally not performed during
Workers risk slips or falls from scaffolds, ladders, or roofs,
or burns from hot bitumen, but safety precautions, if followed,
can eliminate most accidents. In addition, roofs can become extremely
hot during the summer, causing heat-related illnesses.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most roofers acquire their skills informally by working as helpers
for experienced roofers and by taking some employer-provided classes.
Safety training is one of the first classes that a worker takes.
Trainees start by carrying equipment and material, and erecting
scaffolds and hoists. Within 2 or 3 months, trainees are taught
to measure, cut, and fit roofing materials and, later, to lay
asphalt or fiberglass shingles. Because some roofing materials
are used infrequently, it can take several years to get experience
working on all the various types of roofing applications.
Some roofers train through 3-year apprenticeship programs administered
by local union-management committees representing roofing contractors
and locals of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and
Allied Workers. The apprenticeship program generally consists
of a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training annually, plus
a minimum of 144 hours of classroom instruction a year in subjects
such as tools and their use, arithmetic, and safety. On-the-job
training for apprentices is similar to that for helpers, except
that the apprenticeship program is more structured. Apprentices
also learn to dampproof and waterproof walls.
Good physical condition and good balance are essential for roofers,
along with no fear of heights. A high school education, or its
equivalent, is helpful, as are courses in mechanical drawing and
basic mathematics. Most apprentices must be at least 18 years
old. Experience with metal-working is helpful for workers who
install metal roofing.
Roofers may advance to supervisor or estimator for a roofing
contractor, or become contractors themselves.
Roofers held about 162,000 jobs in 2004. Almost all wage and
salary roofers worked for roofing contractors. About 1 out of
every 4 roofers was self-employed. Many self-employed roofers
specialized in residential work.
Job opportunities for roofers should be good through the year
2014, 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 hot, strenuous, and dirty, and a significant number of workers
treat roofing as a temporary job until something better comes
along. Some roofers leave the occupation to go into other construction
Employment of roofers is expected to grow as fast as average
for all occupations through 2014. Roofs deteriorate faster and
are more susceptible to weather damage than most other parts of
buildings and periodically need to be repaired or replaced. Roofing
has a much higher proportion of repair and replacement work than
most other construction occupations. As a result, demand for roofers
is less susceptible to downturns in the economy than demand for
other construction trades. In addition to repair and reroofing
work on the growing stock of buildings, new construction of industrial,
commercial, and residential buildings will add to the demand for
roofers. Jobs should be easiest to find during spring and summer
when most roofing is done.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of roofers were $14.83. The
middle 50 percent earned between $11.54 and $19.80. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $9.41, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $25.59. The median hourly earnings of roofers
in the foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors
industry were $14.90 in May 2004.
Apprentices usually start at about 40 percent to 50 percent of
the rate paid to experienced roofers and receive periodic raises
as they acquire the skills of the trade. Earnings for roofers
are reduced on occasion because poor weather limits the time they
Some roofers are members of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers,
and Allied Workers.
Roofers use shingles, bitumen and gravel, single-ply plastic
or rubber sheets, or other materials to waterproof building surfaces.
Workers in other occupations who cover surfaces with special materials
for protection and decoration include carpenters; carpet, floor,
and tile installers and finishers; cement masons, concrete finishers,
segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers; drywall installers, ceiling
tile installers, and tapers; plasterers and stucco masons; and
sheet metal workers.
|Sources of Additional Information
For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities in
roofing, contact local roofing contractors, a local chapter of
the roofers union, a local joint union-management apprenticeship
committee, or the nearest office of your State employment service
or apprenticeship agency.
For information about the work of roofers, contact:
- National Roofing Contractors Association, 10255 W. Higgins
Rd., Suite 600, Rosemont, IL 60018-5607. Internet: http://www.nrca.net/
- United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers,
1660 L St. NW., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition