Canadian Contractor

Robert Koci   

Case Study: Help a roofer and you could win a $100 gas card

Canadian Contractor risk

Will a small mistake in the contract cost this contractor years of referrals?

UnknownJack Johnson, president of Do Right Renovations, was thrilled to have finally won a job in a neighbourhood he had been canvasing for a year. Riverview, where he did most of his work was good, but Guildwood was a step up; better houses, bigger renovations and clients with money and no inclination to do cash work.

 It was only a small flat roof, but Johnson knew he could work this job into years of renovation work in Guildwood if he did it right. He had attractive flyers to drop in the mailboxes along the street, highly visible lawn signs and a smile for every passing neighbour.  The future looked bright for Do Right Renovations…except for one thing; the original deck boards exposed when Johnson’s men pulled up the old roof were terrible.

 Nothing he’d heard about the houses in Guildwood prepared him for what he saw. Even for a 1920’s house, the gaps were too wide. The boards were varying widths and full of loose knots, and the 90-year-old nails were now rusted down to pin-thickness. He guessed rightly about rot (there was none), but that didn’t matter—for a top-notch job, the boards needed to be covered with ½ inch ply before he could lay down his torch-on membrane.

 His contract said nothing about plywood and his fixed-price contract didn’t include the cost of installing it. He could explain it all to the client and bill a change order, but should he? He didn’t want to start his reputation as the “change-order gouger” contractor, but he didn’t want one as a sucker willing to do work for free, either.


 There was as good chance that if he mentioned it, the customer would tell him it was his problem to solve and if he had to add plywood it was his responsibility to do so and there would be problems if he didn’t. If he didn’t mention it, he could go ahead as planned, make money and know the roof would survive at least long enough for him to make millions in this new neighbourhood before it failed.

 What should Jack Johnson do? Should he:

         1. Go ahead without plywood and without telling the customer and make a profit.

         2. Tell the customer, insist it be done and bill for the extra cost and risk a confrontation and a bad reputation.

         3. Tell the customer that it’s needed but let the customer decide if it should be done and risk a job badly done

         4. Tell the customer and risk him insisted it be done with no extra charges.

         5. Go ahead with the extra work without telling the customer, protect his reputation and make no profit.

Post your best answer in the comments field below and tell us why you chose that option.  Or give us an Option #6!  If you are among the majority opinion, we will have a draw that might win you a $100 gas card.



Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories

33 Comments » for Case Study: Help a roofer and you could win a $100 gas card
  1. Paul Denys says:

    All fix contract should have a hidden condition/change order clause which involves a change order admin fee. Contactors are not Gods they can only make a reasonable guess of what the job entails. Since the deck condition was not mention in the description of the contract it fall out side the scope of the contract. This extra was not with control of the contractor. He can control is tools, staff and material costs. He cannot control hidden conditions. He should explain this to client and why the reason why the plywood should be done. If the client does not agree he has 2 choice go ahead with out plywood void any warranty for workmanship with the home owner (which I do not recommend). or do the work the right way (the only way). It takes years to make a reputation and seconds to destroy it. If the client is reasonable they will pay the extra bill. If not chalk it up to experience and change your contract. Honesty is always the best policy. Most reasonable people want to maintain a good relationship with their contractor.

  2. Woodszy says:

    You tell the client up front, as the problem is discovered and let them know there is only 1 solution to it. And that is to fix it properly, this will only earn you the reputation that you will fix it right and that you have the knowledge and integrity to earn there trust . This will bring you the customers you deserve, there will always be the (fly by nighters) as we call them that will do anything to get it done and to be never seen again. There will always be the level headed people who will appreciate you and tell there friends about the good work you do, they are very hard to find these days.

  3. Paul says:

    None of the options really offered how I would deal with it, So, my resolution would be as follows.

    ! Accept that I assume part responsibility due to not explaining to the client that we cannot see below the surface, and that if extra repairs are required.( a lesson you hopefully only learn once)

    2 Contact the client, and explain the problem, the solution, and costs, including labor.

    3 Make an offer to the client to split the cost of the rerpairs, since he was not made aware beforhand that there may be issues that can not be foreseen and would normally billed as an extra. The cost to the client would be close to materials, and to the contractor, free labor.

    By doing so, you stay on the job, doing it right, with the client feeling you were fair with them, and referals will follow. Honesty will always prevail.

  4. Paul says:

    Okay Rob, #5 But I would make the client aware after the fact!

  5. Robert Koci says:

    Awesome. You’re booked for #5. Have a profitable day!

  6. Nick says:

    I was restructuring someone’s basement ceiling, and it turned out there was massive termite damage. Do you think I decided to eat the cost and do all the repairs for free? That’s no way to do business. There are always surprises, and the client needs to know. Nobody works for free, and you’re being honest about what you’ve discovered. I’m sure your additional price will be fair, and If the client doesn’t understand, then they’re being unfair, and that’s the bottom line. Communication is the key to good business.

  7. Bob2 says:

    I pick 3, there is no way somebody could know what they can’t see BUT Johson should of mentioned POTENTIAL issues to the customer up on his quote. I would be up front and honest with the customer with EVERYTHING, let them know what the deal is and also let them know the consequences of not doing what needs to be done.

    At the end of the day honesty is what matters here, if Johnson could show the customer what he’s talking about then the customer should be happy with his honesty and the fact that he didnt just cover it up and leave with a cheque.

    Ultimately it’s the customers money and they need to give the ok, the only thing a contractor could do is educate and show what he’s talking about. write everything down on the work order and have the customer sign off.

    He shouldn’t worry about his rep, he may not get the job but people think in different terms, this customer may have been unhappy because of the original quote cant be met but others would see it as a breath of fresh air.

  8. Marten Burghgraef says:

    i would tell and show the client. Then have the solution for them as well but wait for them to ask what the solution is. That way it comes from the owner not you. People are much more responsive it they are engaged. If they ask why you can give them a logical reason for the repair. If they want you to cover over what is existing let them know there is no warrenty or refuse to do the work. A bad name gets around much faster then a good one. Part of this also depends on your feel of the client. If I get bad vibes I now walk away from the job before pricing, learned that the hard way a few times before getting smarter.
    So I guess i would go with # 2 but modified.

  9. dave says:

    I will go for #4
    Mister Johnson has been in business for awhile , He should have known he needed everything in writing. You never take anything for granted , that the roof is in good repair, or that there isn’t any rotten boards. Being that it is a small roof the cost of a few sheets of ply wood on a small job if necessary can be a write off . Seeing that Mr. Johnson priced other jobs he must have priced some profit into this one.
    If the owner won’t pay him he has no real options but to put on the ply as he has opened up the roof and do a good job.
    A costly mistake we don’t like to have, but shit happens .
    He will know what kind of people he is dealing with in the future.

  10. There is only one right answer and not one of the options given. The consideration and thought process centers on law (what you can do) and morality (what you should do); there is a difference.

    First, the legal part. The problem starts with the terms of the contract.

    Every contract – those done on a fixed price basis – should have a standard set of assumptions, that the price is dependent on. The only time the price changes is when the assumptions change. Because that is common sense and somewhat obvious, homeowners understand that. Problems arise when a homeowner does not know those “assumptions” – the basis and may suspect that the assumptions are made up on the spot (to cover up for mistakes in workmanship or estimating).

    Jack should have a dozen or so assumptions as part and parcel of his contract. For example, one of them being that the underlay is usable. As an experienced roofer he should know, by now, those pat conditions.

    Had he had those list of assumptions, his thought process shifts to the moral discussion. Everyone has a different moral compass (I even know a respected publisher who supports Rob Ford!). I hope that he does not compromise his work standards and do shoddy work, but he would not be the first one, or the last one to do so.

  11. Wally says:

    Must be a start up business.
    A lesson which will always be remembered.
    Jack needs to talk with the customer and explain to him the importance of a sound sheathing. He should inform the customer that the warranty on the product being used would be void if proper sheathing was not addressed.
    Option 1, 3, 5 should not be considered. Option 4 is probably the best followed by option 2. Doing the job correctly is number one, and a reasonable customer would appreciate the honesty. After being business for 4 1/2 decades I learned many things the hard way but I was proud I did not take shortcuts for the sake of a few bucks on one project. Sometimes you cannot determine what is under an existing roof surface or how many layers are to removed. Spell it out clearly on all future estimates. Good Luck

  12. kathy says:

    Hi. as a homeowner, having been involved in 6 home renovations over the years and having hired subs to do many different jobs. I appreciate honestly above all else. A honest explanation of the unseen problem, options and courtesy go a very long way in working towards a solution. I have paid for changes not in contracts for unforseen problems but not if the contractor comes on like a bully.

  13. Heinz custom bldrs says:

    option #2 explain to client that there is a problem with the roof and that plywood is required before laying down the torch membrane. After many years in business there is no such thing as a fixed price because of situations like this. The client should always be aware of this. Because the contractors is new the custormer should appreciate the honesty of the contractor and be willing to pay for the ply-wood to have it done properly.

  14. I am with number 5.
    My error in not explaining to the customer the possible discoveries of existing issues not evident, but plausibly, to be uncovered with an upfront estimate, for the scope that might arise.

    The customer needs to know before the remaining protection of his roof deck is removed that there may be other matters.

    in this circumstance, your first step would start with changing your contract.

    Do the work.
    Highlight the work to the customer after doing your job and use 3/4″ just to be safe.
    You will not gather the respect of of customer who gets an extra, nor his good word. He will bad mouth you. So you would be hooped.

    Then walk away proud of the job,, and
    go back to the first step! You should have thought this through ahead of time.

  15. James Fisher says:

    I would go ahead and install the plywood and talk to the owner after and let him decided whether he wants to pay or split the cost this makes you look good and most owners would be willing to split the cost

  16. Reg says:

    This could be a time issue. Being a contractor on the west coast we pay close attention to the weather, and having an open roof for to long is never a good idea. Most of us understand you can never have to many points of detail in a contract, however sometimes things are forgotten, were only human after all. That being said I would go with option # 4. Accept the fact you missed the — May require new plywood decking at $______ additional cost— in your contract and move onto the real issue, closing in the roof before your replacing the interior ceilings and carpets as well. Inform the client of the roof deck condition. Educate the client on the reasons why new plywood is required, insure they understand you are simply looking out for their best interests and would never “cover up” a potential problem without correcting it. Honesty and integrity along with good quality work is what builds a reputation.
    I have found 99% of the time good communication, respect for the client and their concerns and admitting you made a mistake will resolve most issues. This includes additional payment over contract price. If the client turns out to be
    difficult , remember your there to do a job and finish the roof right. Sleeping peacefully at night is worth more than the money!

  17. Evan says:

    It would have to be 5 but the client would have to be told. He should of had provisions in his contract for this sort of thing. He is to blame after all the client is going to ask him how he didn’t know this. The client assumes the contractor should know it all and if not at least have enough sense to let them know anything is possible once things get opened up.

  18. Victor says:

    I choose #3. Tell the customer that it is needed, provide a change order with cost and let the customer decide if he or she will accept by signing the change order. It should not be expected for the contractor to pay for unforeseen issues. This starts with a proper contract that identifies this before the work starts.

  19. Tim says:

    I would go with #4 but would also make sure before submitting my contract, that there is a clause that provides for the discovery of unknown complications. This clause would allow for the possible extra costs involved as well. Bottom line is that the job would be done correctly. If I was at fault for not informing my client and not doing the proper research before taking on the job, I would have to go with #5 and hope an understanding client would assume some or all of the extra cost.

  20. antonis evangelou says:

    most customers feel as if you are trying to sell them something more then what they need and will not give you the job. and if there is a clause and you do the work they either short change you by alote, or tell you that they did not need it and say bad things about you. very few are educated and know that the manufacturer only warantys roofs on plywood with proper ventilation

  21. Ryan mcloughlin says:


    As a renovator I come across the unknown on every job. Good communication and honesty with the client is the best way to handle this situation.
    Mr Johnson needs to clarify these possible unknowns (rot, structure integrity, plywood etc) in his contract and specify they will be charged as extras.

  22. We debated in the office about choosing #2 but ended up with #5. Your story mentioned it was a small roof. If this is an inroad to the rest of the neighbourhood, it would be a considered the cost of doing business and our estimator would not make the same mistake twice (about not having it in writing).

  23. Steve Manchulenko says:

    I’ve been in the roofing business for 28 years. I’ve had this situation happen several times over the years. Not with torch on but with shingles and occasionally with EPDM. With the shingles we didn’t need to use 1/2″ plywood. The old decking is sometimes just too dry to hold nails well so we just overlay it with 1/4″ mahogany underlay. Anyway, in each case I just informed the customer of the problem and said I would do it for cost (material and a low estimate on labour). None of them batted an eyelash. They appreciated us not roofing over the punky wood and had no problem with the extra cost. I can’t imagine a customer getting annoyed and bad mouthing you to others just because you brought a problem to their attention. So I’m with #3.
    I’d let them decide but I’d strongly suggest the new plywood. If it looked like they weren’t going to do it I’d suggest the thinner plywood. And if they didn’t bite on that then at least fiberboard or SOMETHING to keep the torch on from dipping into the cracks. Anything would be better than nothing I suppose, but I’d definitely let them cover at least the basic costs.

    mahogany underlay. With the EPDM we use 3/8.

  24. i have been paying attention to the comments flowing in. What MOST comments seem to overlook is the contractor NOT addressing this situation at the front end before the work was commissioned. All opportunities to do this right at the onset are now off the table and this has become a rear guard situation. The contractor was supposed to be knowledgeable about his work; can should be and was trusted. But that initial bond is now broken. While experience says that in most cases, Canadian customers being less litigious than others, they will accept our mistake and move on. But the second part of this discussion was the hope this contractor had to become better known in the community. As such, the table has now been set as he NOT being as knowledgeable as he would have wanted to be known. It must be #5.

  25. Gerard Leclerc says:

    After exposure and inspection of the hidden existing product. Explain what additional repairs are required and provide a detailed estimate accordingly. Why would any Contractor pay out of pocket for a repair that they have nothing to do with? The fault issue exists and the Contractor quoting merely quotes on what they can factually quote on. Hidden existing damage has nothing to do with a Company quoting on a job. They did NOT create the DAMAGE so why in the world would they pay to repair it?
    This is a no brainer OPTION#2.

  26. Dano Chowns says:

    Hi folks
    I feel like mister Johnson made a mistake by not having
    an “unforseen” clause in his contract.
    Anyone who has done any sort of renovation or re-roof should know this.
    He should go ahead and do the job fight and learn from his mistake,
    and also if his profit is so slim as to be a few sheets of plywood , then he’s in the wrong line of work.
    So my answer would be to tell the customer(honesty is always best)
    Do the work properly and not charge the customer

  27. Rose says:

    I go with #3. Nothing like a little honesty and let the client decide.

  28. Garrie says:

    I would pick #4. The customer should be aware of the problem and you can negotiate the details.

  29. Sharon says:

    I would choose #5 so that your reputation will not suffer, you have the potential of making your profit and then some in the neighbourhood. And lesson learned. Change your contract to reflect any unforeseen issues.

  30. Paul says:

    OPTION 6:

    All I can do in this case is be honest with my customer, i.e. tell them:

    “I made a technical mistake on my contract; I will loose money on this deal.” Explain how much money and that: “My good name is worth more to me than the monetary cost of doing this job right to maintain my reputation solid, high quality, honest work. For these reasons I will install the plywood (above standard) at my expense. A good name gets around fast.” I will explain that: “This is an upgrade beyond the terms of the deal.”

    A stand up client will offer to cover all or some of the unforeseen cost and they get to feel like a great person for doing so.

    An opportunist will not cover any of the cost and perhaps even rub it in that I made the error. They may even feel good for having “outsmarted” me. If ever I have an opportunity to work again for such an opportunist I will consider whether I need the work, and if I do, I will be very guarded on both the estimated price and my contract terms.

    I have made similar errors in missing contingent escalator / change order clauses in my contracts; unfortunately I have made this type of error more than once. With experience, my contracts seem to get longer year over year…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.