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In Depth: Roofing

Most people don’t think much about the roof over their head. Once it’s installed, and as long as it’s not leaking, the roof is “out of sight, out of mind.” Such was the state of affairs on Dec. 12, 2010. A very large weather event dumped over 17″ of snow on Minneapolis, causing the collapse of the roof over the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome—home of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Metrodome’s air-supported roof consisted of a two-layer system: an exterior layer of Teflon-coated fiberglass material and inner layer of fabric that served as the stadium’s visible ceiling. The entire construct weighed approximately 580,000 lbs. and required 250,000 cubic feet/per minute of air pressure to sup- port it. Unfortunately, the combined weight of the accumulated snow proved too much for the roof system, and just after 5 a.m. on a game day, the roof gave way, dumping all that snow onto the playing surface.

While very few structures will ever need to support the levels of stress as the Metrodome’s, each roof installed is nonetheless as important to the people who live or work under it. It’s why, with increasing numbers of severe weather events in the U.S., LBM dealers need to stay as informed as possible about roofing products so that you can not only provide the best options to your customers, but keep up with a potentially growing market.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new authorized building permits in December 2023 for privately-owned housing units were at an annual rate of 1,495,000—that’s 6.1% above the same time in 2022. Similarly, housing starts in November 2022 were at an adjusted annual rate of 1,460,000, a statistic that’s 7.6% above the year before. Considering these statistics, it’s no wonder LBM dealers are cautiously optimistic about what’s to come over the rest of the year, especially if inflation and interest rates drop as some financial experts predict. Still, roofing manufacturers aren’t taking anything for granted.

“The roofing sector is expected to show resilience amid concerns about inflation and interest rates in the upcoming year,” comments Chance Shalosky, ProVia Roofing & Stone product manager. “The enduring qualities of metal roofing, along  with its extended lifespan and energy efficiency, position it favorably for consistent demand. In the current economic climate, homeowners prioritize products with longevity, as it contributes to a reduction in overall life cycle costs.”

Brad Halley, product manager of ZIP System Roof for Huber Engineered Woods, agrees that 2024 has the potential to be a positive one for the roofing segment.

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“We anticipate continued steady growth primarily due to extremely low existing home inventory and the need for new construction to meet the housing demands of the population.” Additionally, he points out that re-roofing is more relevant than ever because of increasingly destructive storms damaging existing roofs.

David Delcoma, operations manager of MFM, hasn’t seen any downturn in business for Q1, and is optimistic about what the rest of the year may bring. “Our thoughts at the first of the year was a flat Q1 and Q2, then ramping back up to 2023 numbers or even a bit higher in Q3 and Q4,” he explains.

It’s not enough, however, to simply experience an uptick of growth, Tony Rocha, senior field representative for RoyOMartin and Lacy Townsend, RoyOMartin’s product marketing analyst point out. “We look for it to continue to grow for us,” they say. “Volume is growing and we expect that to continue, but the challenge we see is getting more in sync with the buying practices and habits of the roofing channel.”

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Nevertheless, the uncertain future of the economy has left other industry experts cautious in regards to roofing growth. “I think for now the industry is holding on, but for how long?” ponders Alexander Barrego, product manager for PrimeSource Building Products. “If rates drop and we get a large real estate push again then I would expect the industry to do very well. Same for new home starts.”

Eric Miller, vice president of sales for Westlake Royal Roofing Solutions, echoes Barrego’s concerns. “The nation’s economy remains a continuing concern for construction and roof- ing industry pros, as well as for homeowners. Interest rates remain elevated and unsurprisingly this is having a negative impact on new home construction and housing affordability. The hope is that the Federal Reserve will continue to succeed in slowing inflation and, in turn, begin to instate incremental rates cuts this year. Should interest rates begin to decline, builder confidence will improve and an uptick in new construction activity should follow. Additionally, housing affordability will improve, at least a bit. These factors will make it easier for roofing contractors to secure additional projects, increasing demand for roofing materials.”

Distinctive styles and materials
To best prepare for the potential wins 2024 may bring, LBM dealers need to position themselves to offer roofing products that tap into rising consumer trends. As ProVia’s Chance Shalosky puts it, “Dealers should be attentive to emerging trends such as increased demand for sustainable roofing materials, nature inspired colors, and advancements in installation techniques. Products emphasizing energy efficiency and eco-friendly features are gaining traction in the market.”

So what’s in for 2024? Dimension is in, and muted colors are out, says Jim Durkin, senior vice president of Steep Slope Sales for GAF.

“Homeowners see their roof as a major aesthetic component to their curb appeal, instead of just an accent. GAF Timberline UHDZ shingles have our Dual Shadow Line, which offers a heightened shadow effect. This makes the roof shingles look thicker and more polished, for a distinct visual difference compared to standard shingles.”

In addition to color and dimension, the demand for alternative roofing products is also on the rise. In some cases, this demand is being driven by Mother Nature and the increase in severe weather events says Durkin. “Many parts of the United States are still affected by hailstorms, and roofs tend to endure substantial damage from them,” he explains. “SBS polymer–modified asphalt technology helps protect roofs and homes. Polymer modification makes asphalt more durable, rubber-like, and flexible, ultimately reducing stress when impacted. When this material is used to make roofing shingles, it creates a shingle that has excellent flexibility and durability as well as increased impact resistance.”

In other cases, consumers are looking for roofing products that are more energy efficient and longer lasting. “We are seeing demand for both stone coated steel and concrete tile roofing grow,” says Westlake Royal Roofing Solutions’ Miller. “Both materials are incredibly durable, offer a lengthy lifespan, as well as help protect from fire, hail and other inclement weather conditions. Both also offer a wide range of color and profile options and can visibly mimic the look of various traditional materials. Therefore, they can be used to complement a range of architectural styles. The curb appeal is strong and so is the ultimate value to the customer.”

“Metal roofing and composite materials have been a game changer for the industry and has grown faster than the rest of the category,” says Mike Engle, with PrimeSource Building Products. “With these categories emerging more in the space there have been new products that are needed such as hi-temp underlayments. With different materials comes different requirements for the installer, having metal or composite on the roof means that the underlayment material is going to become a lot hotter, your typical asphalt roofing products will melt in these temperatures.”

“Sustainability has become a key focus in our industry and in the roofing segment in particular,” explains Huber’s Halley. “Many companies are starting to shift focus to the use of more sustainable materials. You can see it everywhere, from shingles and plastic components being made from recycled materials to an increase in insulation and PV panels used on roofs to reduce the energy costs of the home.”

According to GAF’s Durkin, sustainability is a growing topic across the roof- ing and overall construction industry.

“At GAF, our promise to Protect What Matters Most includes our people, our communities, and our planet. For us, sustainability is an opportunity to invest in the shared future of our business and our planet.”

He points to the fact that about 75% of U.S. roofs are asphalt and each year millions of torn off asphalt shingles end up in landfills. “Closing the loop on shingle waste and diverting used shingles from landfills is a transformative opportunity for our industry and one GAF is proud to be leading.”

To that end, the company has developed its patented GAF RoofCycle manufacturing process that is used to produce asphalt shingles that contain recycled shingle content.

“This process has the potential to help significantly reduce the 13 million tons of shingle waste that enter landfills each year. By incorporating recycled asphalt material, known as briquettes, in the production of new roofing shingles, as well as other asphalt-based products, the industry can be part of redirecting end-of-life shingles to support the creation of new, more sustainable products,” he explains.

If you were to look at sustainability as one side of a coin that represents on-the-rise roofing concerns, resiliency is the other. With the ability to withstand and limit the impact of a disruptive weather event such as large-sized hail or extremely high winds while maintaining function under that stress, resilient roofing products are on the radar screen of roofing manufacturers, and that should come as no surprise.

According to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), there were 28 weather and climate disasters in 2023, exceeding the previous record of 22 in 2020, resulting in a price tag of at least $92.9 billion.

“There is movement in the industry toward the creation of more resilient roofing materials to withstand high wind events and severe storms,” says Huber’s Halley. “We are aligned with this movement and have introduced products such as ZIP System peel and stick underlayment, which is ideal in colder climates to help prevent ice dams. The product is also helpful as an integrated first underlayment layer that helps achieve a continuous air barrier with taped seams and secondary waterproofing for leak-prone areas like valleys and eaves. ZIP System peel and stick underlayment sets up roof assemblies for success during construction and long after, even in wind-driven rain and other inclement weather.

Westlake Royal’s Miller echoes Halley’s comments on the importance of resiliency. “Weather resiliency is driving a lot of the demand for durable roof systems as well,” he points out. “Severe weather events are becoming much more frequent and intense, bringing with them the risk for costly damage. This has, in turn, brought the roof’s overall performance into greater focus. Demand for roofing materials that resist or protect from conditions such as fire, hail, rain, snow, wind and more is growing as a result.”

Defeating the challenges
Despite the optimism of potential market growth for the roofing industry and the promise of new on-trend roofing products, LBM dealers will nevertheless need to face challenges as the year unfolds. For example, supply chains continue to cause headaches. It’s no secret that supply chain difficulties have plagued the LBM industry ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the aftermath of these shortages are improving, roofing product manufacturers are recommending cautiousness nevertheless. “As we saw last year, we expect product availability to remain tight through- out 2024,” says GAF’s Durkin. “It is extremely important that you forecast your needs several months in advance and maintain a regular line of communication with your supplier base to ensure that your needs are recognized in an ongoing manner.”

MFM’s Delcoma also recommends strong lines of communication to help offset supply chain challenges. “Some dealers may have to place larger than normal orders to offset the longer lead times. MFM works closely with our customers to help them plan in advance what their material requirements are each month and develop a plain from there. Again, I would suggest working closely with your supplier and be as transparent as possible to what you really need versus what you think you need.

Another challenge for LBM dealers roofing manufacturers point to is the changing face of building codes. “Building codes are becoming more stringent and require things like sealed roof decks in coastal areas,” explains Huber’s Halley. “We have anticipated these changes and have worked to create simple and effective ways to help builders meet FORTIFIED Home standards and get a sealed roof deck.”

Says ProVia’s Chance Shalosky, “The roofing industry confronts challenges related to adapting to new building codes and meeting evolving energy efficiency standards. These factors can impact production timelines and overall industry dynamics. However, the most significant challenge the roofing industry faces, like many others, is the shrinking pool of skilled labor. As a manufacturer, we are doing our best to address this by offering robust installer certification programs, but it is incumbent on dealers to encourage the same level of investment in their workforce as they expect homeowners to put into their homes. Investments in people will generate the biggest ROI in the long run.”

Every manufacturer interviewed for this story all acknowledged the impact of those labor shortages (of which you are no doubt aware). Thankfully, steps are being taken to help minimize the problems labor shortages present.

For example, GAF is working to help address this issue by developing the next generation of roofing professionals through its GAF Roofing Academy, its national, free roofing training program. In 2023 alone, it held over 100 classes and trained more than 1,000 individuals.

“LBM dealers may experience challenges in product availability due to ongoing labor shortages and supply chain disruptions,” says ProVia’s Shalosky. “Building strong relationships and effective lines of communication with manufacturers, practicing proactive inventory management, and diversifying suppliers can help mitigate potential disruptions.”

If the weather were always fair skies, it would be easy to predict. But unfortunately storms such as the one that doomed the Metrodome can come out of nowhere and cause chaos.

Still, LBM dealers should take heed of the advice of roofing manufacturers and prepare for what could be a promising year. While interest rates, inflation, and product availability might cause disruption, these factors are just as likely to bring financial wins for the LBM dealer who is, as Westlake Royal Roofing Solutions’ Miller recommends, prepared for whatever may come. “All of us, whether manufacturer, dealer or customer, must always keep in mind that the supply chain can be impacted at any given time by a variety of unforeseen circumstances such as severe storms, world events and more. While none of us can control these things, LBM dealers should always keep the lines of communication open with manufacturers to plan as much as possible surrounding product needs and availability, etc.”

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