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Education and Training: On-the-job training

Salary: Median—$14.83 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Roofers install and repair roofs made of metal, slate, tile, and other materials. Some roofers also waterproof surfaces, such as the insides of new swimming pools.

One kind of roofing material is composition (synthetic) roofing. When roofers put a composition roof on a building, they first cover the surface with strips of asphalt or with felt coated with tar. Then the roofers spread a coat of asphalt or other tarlike material on the surface. After they alternate layers of felt and asphalt at least three times, the roofers cover the surface with asphalt or with a gravel and tar mixture. This last layer protects the roofing materials from the weather.

Roll, or prepared, roofing and asphalt shingles are other types of roofing. These materials are nailed or fastened with asphalt cement in overlapping rows so water can run off quickly. The roofing material is cut to fit around corners, pipes, and chimneys. Where two surfaces of a roof meet at a corner, the roofers seal the joint by nailing flashing (metal strips) or by applying roofers' cement.

When roofers build a metal roof, they solder metal sheets together, then nail these sheets to the wood covering of the house or building. In tile and slate roofing, the roofers cover the area with roofing felt, then punch holes in the slate or drill holes in the tiles and nail them into place in overlapping rows. Cement is put on the heads of the nails to protect them from rust and to keep water from leaking in.

Some roofs, especially low-slope roofs, are covered with a waterproof rubber membrane fastened with adhesives. Some new flat-roof construction uses "green" roofing systems, which incorporate a waterproof membrane, a root-proof barrier, and a layer of soil for growing grass and trees. Roofers must ensure that the barriers stay watertight and that the roofs can handle the weight of the soil and plants.

Roofers also protect stone and concrete walls, swimming pools, and tanks from the effects of water damage. First they prepare the surface by removing rough spots, then they brush or spray on waterproofing compound. They also damp-proof the surface of walls to protect them from moisture by applying a coating of asphalt or tar on both the outside and inside.

Roofers use hand tools including hammers, knives, mops, power fastening machines, brushes, and caulking guns.

Education and Training Requirements

While most roofers learn their trade on the job by working as helpers for experienced craft workers, the best way to become a fully qualified roofer is through an apprenticeship program. High school graduates are preferred, but you can sometimes enter an apprenticeship program without a diploma. The apprenticeship, which lasts for three years, combines at least two thousand hours of on-the-job training with 144 hours of classroom instruction. On the job, apprentices learn to use the tools and materials of the trade and how to apply different types of roofs. In the classroom, apprentices learn to read blueprints and do the basic mathematics used in layout work, as well as learning about safety procedures. Apprentices should be at least eighteen years old, be in good health, and have a good sense of balance.

Getting the Job

Roofing contractors are good sources of information about jobs as roofers and roofer's helpers. High school students often get summer jobs as helpers, which gives them valuable experience in the field. Local union offices also offer job listings. Both contractors and union offices can provide information about apprenticeship programs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Roofers are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced roofers often specialize in certain types of roofing, such as composition roofing, slate and tile roofing, or aluminum and metal shingle roofing. Some are promoted to supervisors for roofing contractors or start their own contracting businesses. Roofers can also become estimators for contractors or salespeople for building supply companies.

About 162,000 roofers were employed in the United States in 2004, most of them working for roofing contractors. Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012, and turnover in this occupation is high, so jobs will be available because of the need to replace roofers who leave the field. Because most roofing work is repair and replacement, employment is less susceptible to changes in economic conditions than in other construction trades.

Working Conditions

Roofing is active and strenuous work. A forty-hour workweek is usual in the roofing trade. Higher wages are paid for overtime hours. Roofers work outdoors, sometimes in harsh weather. Roofers risk injuries from slips or falls from steep roofs, ladders, and scaffolding. Their work involves much standing, bending, squatting, and climbing. The work is usually seasonal. Many roofers belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

National Roofing Contractors Association
O'Hare International Center
10255 W. Higgins Rd., Ste. 600
Rosemont, IL 60018-5607
(847) 299-9070

United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers
1660 L Street, Ste. 800
Washington, DC 20036-5646
(202) 463-7663

United States Department of Labor
Education and Training Administration
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
(877) 872-5627

Earnings and Benefits

Apprentice roofers start at forty to fifty percent of the qualified craft worker's salary. The pay increases every few months throughout the training period until the apprentice becomes a fully qualified roofer. The median wage for roofers in 2004 was $14.83 per hour. Union workers generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year. Other benefits are negotiated separately for each union contract.