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Sunday, October 5, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Job Market

Views, pay reward roofers for their hard work

Seattle Times staff reporter

Want a job that takes you to high places?


Title: Roofer
Pays: About $10 to $24 an hour, depending on experience and the employer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Breaking into the business: Rookies get to clean up the job site and carry loads of shingles up ladders
Hours: Usually 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but highly dependent on weather
Roofers must possess: Physical strength, balance, attention to detail, willingness to work hard
Perks: Being outside on a nice, sunny day; pays better than many other construction labor jobs; steadier work (most roofs need replacing every 10 years); nice views
Drawbacks: Being outside on a windy, stormy day; working at heights makes for an inherently riskier workplace; dirty work — roofing sometimes involves hot tar and asphaltlike materials; hard work
Jobs/information: Contact local roofing contractors or see the National Roofing Contractors Association, www.nrca.net, or Roofing Contractor magazine, www.roofingcontractor.com

Looking for a tough job? Try roofing. It's considered one of the hardest, dirtiest jobs around.

It's incredibly strenuous — involving climbing, bending, crouching, hauling, often while balancing at unsettling heights and angles. One roofer compared it with mountain climbing — but just on a roof.

The pay, however, can be good, the views great, and many roofing companies are hiring, as homeowners and businesses scurry to get new roofs before the rainy season sets in.

Because roofs need replacing every 20 years or so (depending on the quality of roofing materials), roofing is relatively steady work compared with other sectors of the building industry that surge and starve with new construction.

Nationwide, there are about 158,000 roofers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Statewide, there are about 5,000, according to the Washington state Employment Security Department. The demand for roofers is expected to grow about 10 to 20 percent through 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The pay varies widely by the job description. A survey by the National Roofing Contractors Association reported that a roofing helper in 2000 earned an average of $24,810 a year, and a journeyman — or experienced roofer — earned an average of $36,836 annually, foremen made $44,067 and a field superintendent $54,855.

The average annual salary, including bonuses, for an estimator was $57,192; for a salesperson it was $61,102.

Roofers train by cleaning up the ground and helping haul materials to the roof where a more experienced crew will install them.

"You start at the bottom of the ladder," said Kurt MacMillan, co-owner of A Better Roofing Co. in Seattle, which has grown from four employees to about 50 since it was founded 13 years ago.

MacMillan's company tackles 400 to 500 residential projects each year, most of them during the height of roofing season that runs from mid-July to mid-November in Seattle.

Like farmers, roofers are keenly attuned to weather changes. By anticipating good weather and planning their roofing schedules accordingly, roofers can work up to 90 percent of the time.

There is even a "Seattle style" of roofing, which is taking a roof off section by section instead of all at once — in case of a sudden downpour.

"Usually we don't tear them off it we don't have a weather window," MacMillan said.

While roofing gigs slacken from mid-November through mid-January, MacMillan says that's more to do with the holiday season than the weather.

And bad weather isn't really "bad" for roofers.

"We kind of win either way," MacMillan said. "If you get the rain, you get more calls; if you get the sunny weather, you get to work."

Seattle's rainy weather keeps roofers in demand and its temperate climate allows them to work throughout the year. The most common residential roof coverings are composition shingles. Old shingles must be scraped off with a flat shovel and then the nails pulled.

"There's no clean way to tear off a roof," said MacMillan who put roofing in the same muscle-wrenching construction jobs as Sheetrock hanging and insulation work.

Many skilled roofers are often paid on a per-job basis.

Roofs are measured in 10-foot-by-10-foot "squares," and a good roofer can put on at least eight to 10 squares a day, depending on the pitch of the roof, said Mike Peterson, manager at A Better Roofing.

Those hiring can tell good roofers by what they bring to the job literally since workers use their own tools and equipment. Standards in the roofer's repertoire include full-body harnesses, helmets, shovels, hammers, lanyards, automatic nail guns, compressors and saws.

Removing the old roof is the most arduous part of a roofing job. It might not look like much but scraped-off roofs weigh 3 to 5 tons. Some homeowners hoping to save some of the $3,000 to $10,000 price of a new roof will attempt to scrape the old roof off themselves, but MacMillan said that even he wouldn't attempt it, since it has been eight years since he worked steadily atop the eaves.

Old roofers joke about building muscles they didn't know they had.

Turnover, especially for those just starting out, is high. But for those who turn roofing into a career, there are perks.

"The views," said MacMillan. "You see views from homes that the owners don't even know they have."

Sarah Anne Wright: 206-464-2752 or swright@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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