Hammered, battered and beaten by storms, the question facing residential customers is whether to opt for a metal or traditional shingled roof—and the answer appears to be increasingly for the former, particularly in the South and Southwest.
Strong storms continue to motivate homeowners to replace traditional shingled roofs, and the business has been able to offset the downturn in the nonresidential sector.
"There is so much hail damage down here that when people need a new roof they want a metal roof because of the longevity of it," a southwestern roof installer said, noting that the storm belt has helped insulate his company somewhat from the recession. "It (business) is off a bit, but nothing major. It seems like we have just been running pretty true."
Business in the replacement roofing market is far exceeding that for new construction, sources said.
"The one difference is that we are selling more replacement roofs than new construction projects. But selling into this market is pretty much a guarantee that people will need to replace roofs because we get hammered by storms," the southwestern source said.
Sales to nonresidential customers have taken a hit, except for agricultural roofs, which have been doing well, the southwestern source said, noting that he keeps about two months' inventory on hand, the same as prior to the downturn. Lead times from his supplier also remain unchanged, he said, noting that he is able to obtain shipments within days of placing an order. "We buy so much from Central States Manufacturing (Inc. in Lowell, Ark.) that they don't hit me unless they have to," the southwestern roofer said.
One Ohio-based contractor said he abandoned the shingle roof market nearly a decade ago in favor of metal roofing. "Just like a car dealer can sell the best car or an economy model, I decided to convert to the roof that offers the best value to a consumer," he said.
The preconceived notion that commercial endeavors are more lucrative jobs doesn't apply to roofs. "I try not to do too much commercial even though I have a commercial license because there is too much risk involved and the profit isn't that great," said the Ohio contractor, who specializes in residential metal roofing systems. "You have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration breathing down your neck, bidding is very competitive and there are theft issues. It is a big hassle. Plus, you have to have more insurance coverage."
Homeowners, tired of maintaining a traditional roof surface, are actively seeking out metal roof contractors. "Not only does a metal roof require less upkeep, going from asphalt shingles to a fastener system builds value into their homes and the metal is lighter weight. And it eliminates the need to continue to go out and patch a roof," the Ohio contractor said.
Metal roofs can be installed year round while traditional roofs installed during winter months might not seal properly and are prone to becoming a maintenance problem, the Ohio contractor said. "It just makes common sense. Homeowners are looking for something that won't blow off or face potential mildew and black fungus issues."
The recession has deterred some homeowners from spending on a new roof, but that trend seems to be winding down, the Ohio source said. "The pace of work definitely slowed down, but the brunt of it appears to be behind us."
Since the replacement roofing market had held up well, contractors who buy and install roofs haven't been as impacted by the recession as other construction players.
"Let's face it. You might not remodel your kitchen or expand your business while times are bad, but if your roof becomes a problem you are not going to ignore it," the Ohio-based contractor said, noting that major housing developments haven't yet incorporated metal roofs into their architectural scheme. "People can be narrow-minded and there is a misconception on metal roofs. People envision pole barns and fail to recognize the aesthetics of it."
But the appearance of metal roofs has changed over the past two decades. "Not only can you pick what color you want, but you can also select a product that looks like slate or tile. But the difference is that this roof is going to last a long time," said an Oklahoma contractor who is opting to sit out of the residential side of the market and instead focus on commercial buildings and schools. "We put a slope roof over a flat roof and it not only upgrades the school but it enhances the building," she said.
Nearly 70 percent of her work is reroofing and converting flat asphalt roofs to sloped metal roofs. "It makes sense for schools to move to a sloped roof. Schools historically have been plagued by flat roofs that leak over time, and we can guarantee it will not require maintenance for 20 years," the Oklahoma contractor said, noting that she is busier than last year and believes that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding is helping to increase demand.
Her business, like others in Oklahoma, hasn't felt the brunt of the recession like those in other states. "Oklahoma just has not been as hard hit as other parts of the country," she said. LISA GORDON