Few commodities are taken for granted as much as a roll of garden-variety, asphalt-saturated organic roofing felt — even the premium-grade organic #15 and #30 felt bearing ASTM or UL credentials. It’s always available, always relatively inexpensive. Suddenly, though, the price of felt has gone through the roof and its availability has virtually disintegrated.
Is it not poetic justice that this bit player in the production of residential roofing has been thrust into a starring role?
A number of factors appear to have converged to bring about this change in the fortunes of felt. Production of the dry felt that is used to produce the saturated felt has been reduced with at least one plant gone and another one shuttered. We have heard of challenges to obtaining the raw materials that go into making the dry felt, putting some pressure on the plants that continue to produce. All this while, despite what you may read about the economy, the new home construction market remains relatively strong, even stronger than predicted.
What does this mean to the residential roofing contractor? For those of us who work in that new residential construction arena, it is not a very pretty picture. A number of roofing contractors working under long-term contracts have suffered with the rapidly escalating price of felt. They may have secured long-term pricing for shingles or tile, but who would have thought to secure price guarantees on felt? The fact is, even in rough times, manufacturers are not likely to give long-term pricing on ordinary roofing felt, as there are only a few who produce both shingles and regular felt. May want to add some exclusionary or inflationary language to that next long-term deal.
For the residential reroof contractor, this may only mean trying something new. A good many reroof contractors have long since converted to using only #30 felt for its ability to lay flat and resist tearing while providing superior resistance to moisture. The square-for-square cost of #30 compares to several other “hybrid” underlayment products that have been on the market for years, and appear (at least for now) to be a bit more available, and with stable pricing. Products such as GAF’s Shingle-Mate and CertainTeed’s Roofers’ Select are in this category. Other manufacturers offer more premium underlayments, such as Elk Versa Shield, a non-asphaltic, fiberglass-based underlayment, and Tamko Nail Fast, an SBS modified utility underlayment. Some of the “house wrap” producers have taken note of the felt shortage, but we haven’t seen any new products from that sector as of yet.
This may prove a good time for residential reroof contractors to evaluate their entire “system:” underlayments, flashings, vents, fasteners, ridge caps, masonry waterproofing and sealants. These products are taken for granted, but can render useless even the finest shingles, shake, slate or tile.
Whether the current tensions in the felt market is an aberration, or the beginning of a seismic shift in a basic steep-roofing component, this would seem a good opportunity to try out some of the newer accessory solutions in steep roofing. Felt has served us well for years and is not about to go away. Yet. It is not, however, immune to the world of change. Those of you who can remember when felt was made of rags and found on every built-up roofing job know what I’m talking about.