In Depth: Roofing
Despite supply-side challenges, the roofing industry is poised for growth.
Would you believe roofing can last over 3,000 years? In 1999 at an English excavation site called Must Farm near Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, archaeologists unearthed a well-preserved Bronze Age structure complete with sections of its roof preserved in the clay. Scientists speculate a fire may have caused the building to collapse into a nearby river, thus preserving it for future generations to find.
It’s doubtful that any roofing material manufacturer today would claim its products would last three millennia. Still, with advances in technologies and materials, today’s roofing products deliver performance and longevity unheard of even a few decades ago. The trick, however, may lay in sourcing the products.
With upheavals in availability of raw materials due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as lockdowns that have sidelined some manufacturers, it can be challenging for builders and remodelers to obtain product. Throw in an escalating demand by homeowners for remodeling during the pandemic, and the result is an environment that can be difficult at best for LBM dealers. Nonetheless, with proper strategies and stocking plans, the savvy distributor can position themselves for success in a roofing market that’s posed for growth.
Growth amid crisis
The global pandemic had just reared its ugly head when we last took an in-depth look at the roofing industry in 2020, and manufacturers were unsure what the coming year would bring. Would this be a quickly passing disruption or a long-term influencer on the market? Turns out, the effects would be even further reaching than the most conservative estimates at that time.
“COVID-19 has had far-reaching effects on a variety of industries, including the roofing industry,” says Matt Minchew, general manager of ZIP System Products for Roof Applications for Huber Engineered Woods, as he looks back over the last twelve months. “Since last year, the industry has faced rising prices, supply shortages and delayed jobs. COVID-19 also limited the number of workers on a build site for social distancing purposes and forced new safety precautions in order to help safeguard employees.”
But as the old saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case, it comes in the form of opportunity for growth, both for manufactur-ers and for roofing contractors. “Progress has come in the form of innovation and in finding ways to quickly adapt,” says Huber’s Minchew. “Businesses and personnel connected to our industry have had no choice but to look at old processes and figure out how to save time, money and labor—all while increasing worker safety.”
Jeff Yelle, director of OSB/EWP research and technology for LP Building Solutions also sees positive growth over the next year. As he points out, “The roofing market tracks closely with new housing construction, which has shown tremendous growth over the past year and looks to have great momentum to remain strong through 2021.”
The numbers seem to bear out Minchew’s and Yelle’s comments. According to the “Global Roofing Market Report and Forecast 2021-2026” from Expert Market Research (a leading market research and business intelligence company), the roofing market in the U.S. attained a value of about $26 billion in 2020. And according to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global roofing materials market size is expected to reach $151.2 billion by 2027.
“The entire industry is experiencing incredibly strong demand right now,” says James Durkin, senior vice president of steep slope systems sales for GAF. “As North America’s largest producer of asphalt shingles, our primary focus is to maximize our capabilities to manufacture and ship as much product as we possibly can to continue meeting our customers’ needs.”
All of this demand, however, has been difficult for manufacturers to meet due to challenges in the form of raw material shortages, increases in material costs, and disruptions of supply chains due to lockdowns and tariffs. “Pricing and lead times for raw materials have increased substantially since last year,” explains David Delcoma, product marketing manager for MFM Building Products Corp. “This has led many manufacturers scrambling to find suitable raw materials from other vendors both domestically and abroad. Some raw material suppliers have been affected directly by COVID-19 to the point where production had to be stopped all together or severely limited by COVID-19 outbreaks within their facilities. Another added point is that many manufacturers have doubled or tripled their orders to try and ensure supply of raw materials, which again, pushed the pricing up.”
Still, growth predictions remain strong, as evidenced by new players entering the roofing field with new products. Case in point: ProVia. Long known for their doors, windows, siding, and manufactured stone, it has launched a new line of metal roofing, and the company is feeling enthusiastic about growth potential. “ProVia Metal Roofing is new in the industry,” explains Scott Lowe, sales manager of metal roofing for ProVia. “We introduced it in 2019, but we did have a good year in 2020, despite the pandemic. As with our other home improvement and remodeling products, we saw an uptick in sales because people were not spending money on entertainment or travel, plus they had stimulus money. So they invested back into their homes. Some of our roofers had their best year ever.”
Resiliency leads product trends
Setting aside the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was one for the record books in regard to storms: a record-breaking 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms hit the continental United States last year. Wildfires also took their toll, burning almost 9 million acres in 2020—that’s approximately 2.3 million more acres burned than the 10-year average and almost double the acreage burned in the 2019 season.
Because of these wild and uncontrollable factors, more homeowners are looking for roofing products that can deliver resilient properties such as wind resistance, impact resistance and energy efficiency, and more are turning to metal roofing as a solution. In a recent roofing industry study from The Freedonia Group, the U.S. demand for metal roofing is expected to rise 2.7% per year to 32.63 million squares by 2023. And according to its “Global Metal Roofing Market By Product Type, By Application, By Geographic Scope And Forecast,” published by Verified Market Research, the metal roofing market is predicted to reach $20.39 billion by 2026.
“Metal roofing is really taking off,” says ProVia’s Lowe. “It has become the second most-popular roofing material, and stamped metal shingles are the new trend because homeowners love the hand-crafted appearance. Standing seam metal looks very industrial, but our embossed metal shingles replicate the look of real cedar shake and slate.”
This isn’t to say that asphalt shingles aren’t also responding to trending resilient design needs. “One trend we see is movement toward architectural shingles,” says Matt Manning, director of sales and marketing for Perma-Boot. “We feel that insurance companies are responsible for this trend. Architectural shingles have more resistance to wind, with higher wind rating, and more resistance to hail.”
As well, homeowners are looking for roofing materials that do more than shed water and deliver a long lifespan. Thanks to innovations in technology and manufacturing methods, shingles are able to deliver resilient benefits that weren’t possible just a few years ago.
“Homeowners are keeping products that combine premium performance with high-end design top of mind like our innovative Timberline HDZ shingles,” says James Durkin, senior vice president of steep slope systems sales for GAF. “We introduced WindProven, the industry’s first wind warranty for roofing shingles with no maximum wind speed limit, when installing GAF shingles with LayerLock technology and four qualifying GAF accessories, and added features that protect against the elements such as GAF StainGuard Plus technology featured in Timberline AH shingles that delivers time-released algae fighting power are rising in popularity as well.”
Let’s not forget what resides beneath the shingles; roof sheathing and underlayments are also responding to the growing trend of resilient design by creating products that work in unison to create that resiliency while offering efficiency in installation. As LP’s Jeff Yelle explains, “From a sheathing and underlayment perspective, the biggest changes we have seen are in offerings that combine these products to provide a more holistic solution for builders, such as LP WeatherLogic panels, which feature an integrated, water-resistive overlay. The integrated wall and roof sheathing panel provides both air and water protection.”
Huber’s Matt Minchew also sees efficiency as key, and he explains how they are seeing a general trend towards products that can be more readily installed correctly and efficiently. “While there are numerous, viable products and technologies available today, translating this value to the homeowner in the form of a better performing or more resilient home depends largely on how well those products are installed,” he says. “Where ZIP System fits into this resiliency trend is as a sealed roof deck, which in essence means that even when ZIP System is exposed to heavy, wind-driven rain, the integrated weather barrier and taped panel seams prevent water entry into the attic. And while there are other ways to achieve a sealed roof deck, ZIP System sheathing and tape is the only warranted sealed roof deck system that meets FORTIFIED Roof resilience standards.”
Solutions are in high demand
When it comes to what contractors and homeowners are looking for in roofing products, manufacturers agree that, as always, both customer bases are looking for products that deliver performance and longevity while being dependable and backed by a reputable manufacturer that offers strong warranty protection. “The key thing to focus on is longevity of products,” says Perma-Boot’s Matt Manning. “You want to make sure products are the best quality and are going to last.”
LP’s Jeff Yelle agrees with Manning and further explains, “Time savings, warranty and a portfolio of solutions are key drivers. Strong warranties can give builders and homeowners peace of mind that they’ll have fewer costly call backs for contractors. Builders gain additional benefit by working with fewer providers because they have one source for warranties. Furthermore, a portfolio of solutions means that the products were designed to work together, further supporting efficiency, quality and resiliency, so homeowners can feel confident in the craftsmanship and materials in their homes.”
If one accepts that most manufacturers are going to deliver on the above-mentioned needs, then it stands to reason there are other differentiators that drive the purchasing decisions. When a customer is considering one roofing material over another, they are constantly asking questions. What other unique features does a product possess? What installation efficiencies can a given product bring to the jobsite? These are the questions the successful LBM dealer needs to be prepared to answer by understanding product lines that deliver unique solutions and then effectively communicating those benefits to the customer.
As GAF’s James Durkin explains, “We’re focused on bringing new and advanced technologies to market that aim to provide the highest level of comprehensive protection while also helping to save their crews time. Builders are looking for products that allow for faster and more accurate installation. With products that provide this, like GAF shingles with LayerLock technology, builders and contractors may have fewer callbacks to jobs resulting in the ability to take on more new jobs.”
Craig Miles, LP Building Solution’s director of national sales and marketing, echoes Durkin’s comments regarding technology delivering benefits to the customer. “Contractors are seeking value-added materials that provide performance impact to homeowners,” he explains. “For example, roof sheathing such as LP TechShield Radiant Barrier installs like typical roof sheathing but helps block radiant heat in the roof panel from emitting into the home’s attic, reducing attic temperatures by up to 30º F. Homeowners continue to seek out energy efficiency in their homes. LP FlameBlock Fire-Rated Sheathing also helps safeguard homeowners in the event of a fire with flame-spread and burn-through resistance. This can ultimately translate not only to greater safety for homeowners, but potentially less property damage.”
It’s a difficult time to be in the building and remodeling fields. “On one hand, demand is booming for new homes and appears to be poised for solid growth in the years ahead,” says Huber’s Minchew. “On the other, there are numerous dynamics to keep up with in the current environment. What we hear from builders is that they want products that last, provide tangible value to their homeowner, and are backed by service and support from their suppliers.”
Knowing that bottlenecks from material shortages and manufacturing delays can radically slow product delivery, it’s challenging at best for an LBM dealer to provide the innovative roofing solutions their customers need. But through proper planning and building of critical relationships with manufacturers, LBM dealers can become solution providers. “In this environment, it’s critical to plan long-term,” explains GAF’s Durkin. “Anticipating the needs of partners and customers with longer visibility—even three to six months down the line—can have a greater impact on the productivity and efficiencies of work being done together.”
Relationships that LBM dealers build with their manufacturers’ reps can be the difference between a reliable knowledge base who makes a sale while providing clear delivery expectations or losing a customer due to product unfamiliarity, unavailability, or unexpected delivery delays.
“We know the relationship between manufacturer reps and lumberyard reps is key,” points out Huber’s Minchew. “That’s why we’ve continuously invested in programs to support lumberyard employee education like our ‘Prove It Tour’ product demonstration events held at hundreds of dealer locations each year. As companies bring in new products, we recognize the importance of direct access to manufacturer’s technical team, local sales reps and marketing to make product adoption in the area a success. Research consistently shows builders look to LBM dealers for product education, to make economic tradeoff decisions and ultimately understand the pass-through value to their clients.”
Training in a virtual world
To be the effective resource that builders, contractors, and homeowners need in these constantly changing and challenging times, it’s more important than ever for the successful LBM dealer to stay as educated as possible on their products and building methodologies. “Education is always the key to help the customer choose the right product, at the right price, for their building project,” explains MFM’s Delcoma. “The more familiar the LBM dealer is with how the products are used and installed is important. Manufacturers also must continue to give the dealers the tools needed for this education, whether that be technical literature, product demos and educational videos. Nothing has really changed here— education is key.”
In this pandemic environment, traditional education and training resources still exist with many options residing online and in print materials. For example, Perma-Boot offers instructional videos on YouTube and through its website and other social media channels along with printed literature and lightweight, portable countertop displays. Likewise, LP Building Solutions has created materials for its LP TechShield Radiant Barrier that demonstrate the energy impact a radiant barrier can have on a home to better equip dealers with the information they need for builders and contractors.
For some manufacturers, the pandemic has meant a temporary halt to their training. Others, however, have shifted to virtual experiences. For example, this past year, GAF held virtual training events and on-demand webinars through its Center for Advancement of Roofing Excellence (GAF CARE) for more than 23,000 attendees. As well, it also launched the GAF PRD Learning Academy, a platform that provides access to courses designed to deepen the PRDs’ professional knowledge in easily consumable 10-15 minute modules.
“We had incredible success with our virtual programs and we’re looking forward to taking learnings from these experiences and continuing to incorporate them into our programs,” says GAF’s James Durkin. “We know the value of in-person meetings, but the opportunity to grow the virtual experience through the foundation we’ve established is exciting and we look forward to integrating our efforts on both fronts into a hybrid model in the future.”
In the case of Huber, it has moved its popular Home Building Crossroads seminar series from in-person events to virtual event webinars with well-known industry experts. “We encourage partners to check out our new Huberwood.com launched this year that was designed to get quick product information, as well as provide access to installation videos, product reviews and feedback mechanisms to ask technical questions, contact a sales rep or find a local dealer,” explains Huber’s Minchew.
And for ProVia, it has taken a unique approach by sending highly skilled, experienced trainers to instruct installers on their first job with a ProVia metal roofing system. “We’ve had a certified installer training program since the launch of the product,” explains ProVia’s Lowe, “but because of COVID, our customers weren’t able to attend many of those in 2020. So we realized the need and committed to having our trainer on the first installation job for our customers.”
If the past twelve months have shown us anything, it’s that uncertainty is a real and pervasive challenge. Rather than being a here-and-gone event, the COVID pandemic has proven to be a tenacious disruptor of both manufacturing and supply chain. But the building and remodeling environment that’s emerged from it has proven to be one filled with opportunity. Roofing manufacturers have used the past year to invest in new processes, products and training programs, and they continue to look for ways to better partner with their distributors.
It’s the successful LBM dealer who will be the one to take full advantage of those partnerships to leverage innovation, education and communication during this potential growth period to find the wins for themselves new solutions for their customers. As Huber’s Matt Minchew puts it: “In addition to the strength of the new housing and remodeling markets, it’s been reported that homebuilders have been more amenable to trying new products during the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we believe these factors bode well for growth over the next 12 months.”
Michael Berger is the former managing editor for HANDY Magazine and has been writing about home improvement and construction for the past 20 years.