In an uncertain world, roofing remains a constant commodity.
It’s easy to take for granted the quality and performance of today’s roofing materials. But it wasn’t so long ago that roofing was a sticky, prickly mess.
In the early 1800s before the advent of asphalt shingles, roofers would rely on fabric covered with pine tar or some other sticky goo. But in the 1840s, roofing was poised for a major upgrade. In Cincinnati, Ohio, brothers Samuel and Cyrus Warren pioneered the use of tar paper. In 1847, the brothers switched from pine tar to coal tar, discovering that asphalt could be blended with byproducts of oil refining to produce an easy-to-mix roofing pitch. And when Henry Reynolds, a roofing contractor from Grand Rapids, Michigan, began cutting asphalt saturated rolls into individual shingles, the modern roofing industry was born.
The roofing industry has come a long way since then, and a variety of materials and systems now vie for market share in a robust building environment. According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global roofing materials market size is expected to reach $151.2 billion by 2027. Last year in the U.S. alone, the asphalt shingles segment was valued at approximately $5 billion.
Still, there’s a sense of caution in the air, a caution that’s driven by something else that’s in the air—the COVID-19 virus. While in many areas the construction industry has been deemed essential, the overall national feeling of economic concern has slowed building and remodeling starts. But even in light of that slowdown, there’s a glimmer of hope, as exterior projects begin to dominate over interior ones.
“Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is significantly more uncertainty across the building industry as a whole,” says Jeff Yelle, director of technology and structural solutions for LP Building Solutions. “In the short term and given what we know to date, we could see a shift in focus to exterior home projects, but it is too early in this pandemic to understand the full impact.”
Jim Durkin, senior vice president, steep slope systems sales for GAF, echoes Yelle’s concern. “It’s very difficult to forecast growth given current conditions; however, we’re confident that we will continue to serve lumber dealers and their customers with current inventory levels, and are systematically managing production at our plants to ensure the industry is prepared when demand resumes.”
Durkin’s cautious optimism is one that’s shared among manufacturers—that whatever downturn the market is currently experiencing will not be indicative of long-term market prognosis. “We are still feeling positive with the roofing market in 2020 even with the coronavirus situation,” says David Delcoma, product marketing manager for MFM Building Products Corp. “For states with less strict coronavirus standards, it appears like business as usual. For other states like Michigan and California, we have seen a lull in the roofing market, but once again, expect a bounce-back after the situation is resolved.”
Aesthetics and performance—A winning roofing combination
It should come as no surprise that energy efficiency, jobsite installation efficiency, and overall performance remain driving factors for product trends. But so too are shifts in architectural trends changing up roofing products. Consumer desire is trending towards a pared-down aesthetic that is more simplistic and less ostentatious—think a contemporary farmhouse, with a simple gabled roof, minimal overhangs, and a simplified color palette. And roofing manufacturers are paying attention.
“We see trends in exterior roofing from styles and aesthetics, synthetic materials and metals, and overall ‘green’ applications,” explains LP’s Yelle. “We’ve seen trends in solar panels, green roofs with vegetation, and cooling materials that reflect sunlight. Similarly, we look at the roof system as a whole rather than just the exterior material in order to maximize performance, particularly in the area of energy efficiency.”
Chris Doucet, vice president of sales and marketing for EDCO Products, also sees visual aesthetics and green environmental properties as a driving factor. “Next to traditional asphalt, metal has become the material of choice for home and business owners alike. Consumers want products that provide a unique look, that last longer, and are less harmful to the environment.”
Still, style is only half of the equation; as mentioned earlier, it is more imperative than ever for roofing materials to deliver exceptional performance. “Homeowners are demanding energy efficiency through building products and applications, driving builders to better understand radiant barriers as an energy-saving building product for their projects,” continues Yelle. “For the roofing segment in particular this will only become more important as we experience warmer temperatures.”
“We continue to see growth in self-adhering underlayment products as contractors and customers are wanting a higher level of product with added waterproofing protection,” adds MFM’s Delcoma. “These products cost more than felt and synthetics, but offer the contractor and homeowner who are willing to pay extra for the ability to avoid future roof leak problems.”
And when it comes to metal roofing, performance and value are just as important says Joe Klink, director of corporate relations for ProVia. “Factors that are driving consumer interest in metal roofing include the need for greater protection and reliability in extreme weather conditions, desire for longevity/long-term value, and the wide variety of styles and color options that are available,” he says. “Home improvement trends like lower maintenance and energy efficiency lend themselves to metal roofing in a way that creates more opportunity than ever for installers to convert homeowners to this fantastic option.”
Survive today—win tomorrow
Before the current heath crisis descended on us, the construction and remodeling industries were already struggling to fill jobs. According to the Associated General Contractors of America in its report from February of this year, 81% of construction firms were reporting difficulty in filling salaried and hourly trade positions, and 65% of firms estimated that it will be as difficult or more difficult to hire over the next 12 months. And that labor shortage was slowing up the ability of builders and remodelers to complete jobs. Add in the new challenges of unemployment and contract cancellations brought on by the COVID-19 situation, and you’ve created an especially challenging environment for LBM distributors and manufacturers alike.
“The big picture is that projects have been slower to start, delayed or cancelled as a whole, and take longer to complete,” says Heather Hollis, director of marketing for Cornerstone Building Brands. “We have seen impact to job delays directly related to COVID-19, and in some areas of the country more than others. The labor shortage continues to be a problem and certainly skilled labor that is comfortable installing metal roof and wall panels.”
“Finding skilled labor has been an issue for several years in the construction and remodeling industry,” says EDCO’s Doucet. “Builders and contractors seem to have a backlog of work, but struggle to find enough dependable labor. COVID-19’s effect on the market is still developing. We believe as with the economy as a whole, there will be a slowdown until the pandemic passes, then there will be an upsurge in demand as the economy recovers.”
GAF’s Jim Durkin shares similar insights. “For our customers, continuing to address the labor shortage is something we never lose sight of,” he says. “Whether it’s delivering products like our new Timberline HDZ shingles that help save time and create more efficiencies for our contractors, or creating more training programs like the GAF Roofing Academy to help address this from the front lines and train more skilled labor, we are always looking for solutions. This will be particularly important as we come out of this global health crisis and demand resumes.”
So how does an LBM distributor survive, let alone win, in this kind of difficult selling environment? According to manufacturers, providing products with strong warranties, staying atop of aesthetic trends, and being a reliable knowledge resource for your customers gives LBM distributors the best chance of success.
When it comes to warranties, builders and contractors want to know the product they are installing will perform as promised and that they won’t have to deal with quality issues once the job is complete. “This is really about providing peace of mind and confidence to the homeowner,” says GAF’s Durkin. “Contractors can feel confident installing our products, and passing that confidence on to their customers, because they know GAF Products are backed by warranties with robust coverage. We’re so confident in our products with the new LayerLock technology that we recently launched the Wind-Proven Limited Wind Warranty—the industry’s first wind warranty with no maximum wind speed limitation.”
LP’s Yelle agrees. “Warranties are high priority for builders and homeowners alike. A product with a warranty behind it, like the 30-year limited warranty behind LP TechShield Radiant Barrier, adds peace of mind for the homeowner and lends trust to a builder. The long-term durability and energy savings, on top of a warranty, help a contractor sell the product to the homeowner.”
Hand in hand with the warranty is the ability of the distributor to explain the aesthetic and performance appeal of a product as well as any unique selling propositions—in short, the distributor needs to be a knowledge resource, and they need to be able to provide products that fit the homeowner’s requirements. For example, because of the current COVID-19 situation, many consumers are placing increased importance on buying a domestically produced product, and being able to provide that product is essential. Says ProVia’s Joe Klink, “With a residential roof covering 60% of the house exterior, contractors will appreciate the value of a highly aesthetic metal roof that improves the home’s curb appeal, provides homeowners a lifetime of protection, requires little to no maintenance, and can generate energy-cost savings. And ProVia’s metal shake and slate roofs are made right here in the U.S.A. from domestically sourced, recycled steel.”
LP’s Yelle agrees on the importance of knowledge. “LBM dealers are uniquely positioned to help deliver the highest value building solutions to their customers,” he explains. “Given their unique access to both manufacturers and end users, they can serve as an information super-highway that facilitates the exchange of information between customers and manufacturers. This allows them to share knowledge of changes, innovations and improvements to their customer base. Additionally, in these uncertain times, these same dealers can serve to aggregate the information coming back from the market and serve that to manufacturers to ensure that those manufacturers are best positioned to help them and their customers make the most of the rebound that will certainly follow this lull.”
GAF’s Durkin shares some similar thoughts on being an information base, and he recommends dealers differentiate themselves by showcasing their diverse offerings and knowledge as a one-stop-shop for contractors. “The ability to tap into a wealth of expertise across many products can serve distributors well when it comes to meeting demands,” he says. “Dealers can also provide added value by continuing to hone in on what drives buying decisions for homeowners.”
Tech and training—a potent roofing partnership
Product training is a staple for distributors, builders and contractors, and it is vital if a distributor is going to stay at the top of his or her game. As EDCO’s Doucet puts it, “LBM Dealers have a large breadth of products they deal with and it can be difficult to be familiar, much less an expert, on all of them. Contractors, as well as consumers, count on them to recommend the best products for their particular needs.”
MFM’s Delcoma shares this sentiment. “With so many roofing products on the market, it’s hard for the dealers to be well versed on all the selling aspects of each product,” he says. “At MFM, we strive to provide our dealers with as many resources as we can to help them understand how our products work, proper installation techniques, and which product is right for the customer’s application. With everyone’s time being so limited, it is up to all segments of the market to understand what they are selling and why.”
Due to the current health crisis, however, manufacturers have had to develop new ways to get training and information to those same people, with a greater emphasis now being placed on digital tools, online learning and distance selling. For example, GAF recently launched its Premier Roofing Dealers (PRD) Learning Academy. Designed to provide access to courses that deepen the PRDs’ professional knowledge, these online classes are designed to teach viewers how to explain and sell GAF’s complete roofing systems.
Shelter in the storm
Considering the devastating personal loss and deep economic impact severe weather can cause, it’s no wonder manufacturers are doing everything they can to develop products that will withstand the effects of hurricanes and severe weather. And the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) is doing everything it can to define those standards.
The IBHS mission is to conduct scientific research to identify and promote effective actions that strengthen homes against natural disasters and other causes of loss. Based on over 20 years of research, its FORTIFIED program is a nationally recognized construction standard that reduces damage from hurricanes and severe weather. IBHS engineers believe property damage from EF-0, EF-1, and low-level EF-2 tornadoes can be virtually eliminated if builders use these FORTIFIED standards.
This past January, IBHS conducted a hurricane-force, wind-driven rain demonstration to show the water resistance of a FORTIFIED Roof, and to showcase those abilities, IBHS chose Huber’s ZIP System Roof Assembly. In the demonstration, 105 fans reaching peak speeds of 105 mph and a rainfall rate of 8″ per hour were released onto a model house outfitted with a ZIP System Roof Assembly. The wall of fans was programmed to provide gusts and triangulation of wind to replicate wind trace data collected during Hurricane Florence.
“We’ve calculated that an unsealed roof deck allows up to 60% of the rain that hits a damaged roof to enter into the attic. A sealed roof deck can reduce water entry by as much as 95%,” said Anne Cope PhD, P.E., chief engineer for IBHS. “If all the shingles came off a 2,000-square-foot unsealed roof, up to 750 gallons of water could enter the attic for every inch of rain that falls—equivalent to 9 bathtubs full of water.”
Constructed with a built-in underlayment that replaces the need for felt, and completed with advanced acrylic taped panel seams to create a durable, water-resistant, sealed roof deck, Huber’s ZIP System is the first manufacturer-warranted roof sheathing system that meets the sealed roof deck standard for a FORTIFIED Roof. As demonstrated by IBHS, it can withstand high wind and rain, resulting in a well-protected interior and dry attic.