the world of coatings is a lot more sophisticated than deploying a ladder and paint roller.

The market for metal roof coatings is vast. There is certainly no dishonor in a metal roof giving out after performing well for decades, and the number of industrial and commercial uses seems limitless. The most frugal building owners one can meet, however, are often found in these settings, and quick, inexpensive fixes will always get their attention. Yet the world of coatings is a lot more sophisticated than deploying a ladder and paint roller.

Many systems recommend affixing a reinforcement, usually polyester, over seams and other areas with potential for thermal movement. There are also panel replacements, caulking exposed fasteners, reinstalling fasteners, penetration mitigation, rust inhibitors and primers to give the repairs longevity. While the failure of most metal roofs is not systematic, the coatings industry is not shy about blanketing the entire roof in a protective membrane that gives the appearance of a new roof. And that gleaming white surface is increasingly being touted as a way to reduce energy costs.

Roofs are Cool

Few roofing types have been targeted as intensely as metal roofs. Rather than an indictment of metal roofing’s attributes, the market for metal roof coatings largely seems to be a function of an aging inventory. Coatings have been applied over just about any type of roofing imaginable, but numerous manufacturers have zeroed in on metal roofing because of leaks, aesthetics and energy savings.

Hard numbers for metal roofing are difficult to come by, since many metal roofs are installed by sheet metal contractors and metal building contractors. According to the National Roofing Contractors Association’s Annual Market Survey, the market share of commercial metal roofing performed has increased from 3 percent in 1988 to 7.3 percent in 2001; the reported overall market value has quadrupled in that time to $30 billion. And while steep-slope roofing is roughly one third of the total market, metal roofing accounts for nearly 25 percent of that segment, second only to asphalt shingles. Metal roofing also maintains respectable shares of the reroofing market as well.

“There seems to be no bottom to that market,” says Chris Salazar, vice president of sales and marketing for Karnak Corp. Because of the size and diversity of the market, his company comes across all kinds of claims that are promoted like a cure for cancer. “I think it’s sort of the Wild West out there. However, those claims are easy to battle from a technical standpoint.”

Karnak has always provided coatings for the unique demands of retrofitting metal roofs, but Salazar has been focusing on the market more intensely for the last five years. There is a significant learning curve for the variety of profiles, materials and consumer demands when roofing contractors inspect the building. From leaking roofs to energy savings to basic aesthetic concerns over rusting, building owners have different reasons for calling a roofing company.

“What we’ve tried to do with our product line is ... give the contractors more than one bullet,” says Salazar. “The longevity of these systems is actually pretty good.”

His company offers warranties from five to 10 years and longer. One mistake that some roofing contractors make is assuming any metal building owner is frugal and looking for the least expensive option. While industrial roofing has its share of penny pinchers, building usage and owners change so often that weatherproofing has shifting priorities. Some are looking for quick fixes before they sell the building while others have more long-term needs. Providing an adequate roof, especially roof coatings, gives the contractor an edge for future repairs and reroofing projects.

A growing motivation for metal roof coatings is the Energy Star rating system from the Environmental Protection Agency. Launched in 1992, the program covers more than 35 product categories and has gotten a lot of attention among roofing contractors and building owners. Getting an Energy Star rating means the product has been tested to meet energy efficiency parameters; some roof coatings will soon be required to address more than just reflectivity. Issues like emmissivity play an important role in determining the energy efficiency of metal roof systems.

“It’s still a very misunderstood concept,” says Salazar, but he adds that the EPA helps cut through the confusion regarding energy efficiency. “I think the government has done an excellent job in promoting Energy Star in general.”

Many states offer rebates as part of the initiative and customers are responding to radio commercials with “snazzy little jingles” says Keith Bennett, owner of KAB Roofing in Southern California. The calls from savvy customers who know about concepts like reflectivity and thermal movement show the evolution of the market. When Bennett began exclusively coating metal roofs in 1988, the market was wide open. He would come across numerous repairs with the black goop and customers who were desperate for a solution. “The building owners and managers would get fed up,” recalls Bennett. “It seems as though they just fixed it and it’s leaking again.”

He sees extensive damage from thermal movement, particularly in the Sunbelt where roof temperatures plummet when a summer shower sizzles on a hot roof. When numerous fasteners back out or panels pull away from the edges, building owners become familiar with the forces that damage their roofs. As the coating industry positions itself as a long-term solution with energy saving benefits, building owners are becoming more educated. Bennett believes today’s shrewd building owner is due to both the objective and commercial information available on the Internet.

“It seems like the customer ... is doing longer searches. They seem to be more focussed on finding a solution,” he says. “The customer knows what kind of roof he has and is no longer in the dark.”

Bennett is facing more competition now and has branched out into other kinds of roofing. KAB Roofing services has customers around the country. The portability of the equipment, the ubiquitous inventory of metal roofs and the surging need for light, reflective roofing has contributed to a national market that allows roofing contractors to increase their customer base. National Roof Coaters based in Charleston, W.V., has completed projects in 32 states and has been using its own private label product for 20 years. Portability is not the main factor in coating metal roofing.

“We do pull quite a bit of equipment,” says Gary Christian, president. “To us, it’s just a time issue.”

Seeing the Light

The energy savings being touted by roof coating producers has gotten such a large amount of attention that the metal roofing industry is joining the dialogue with data of its own. At last October’s MetalCon, the largest industry gathering for metal construction products, the American Iron and Steel Institute announced the formation of the Cool Metal Roof Coalition. The group’s main purpose is to disseminate information regarding the energy saving merits of metal roofing so that consumers can make more informed decisions when it comes to complex issues like reflectivity and emissivity.

“It’s really the job of the coalition to make sure that accurate supplied to the local communities,” says Gregory Crawford, executive director. “The industry felt that its own factual properties ... weren’t being communicated well enough, nationally as well as locally.”

While the main motivation of retrofitting a metal roof with a coating may be weatherproofing, coatings producers are eager to tout the reflectivity of their shiny white membranes and Energy Star ratings. Reducing utility bills will make any building owner perk up and the coalition wants to make sure that consumers know that most steel roofing performs satisfactorily or even quite well under the Energy Star guidelines. It hopes to broaden the discussion with facts of its own through marketing and materials supplied to member organizations. A Web site with pertinent information is scheduled to be launched this month.

“We think there are several segments to the metal roofing industry itself and the messages sometimes should be more uniform,” says Crawford. “This type of information on metal roofing was fragmented. There may be some confusion regarding the relative importance of roofing requirements.”

While a rusting, exposed-fastener metal roof may have diminished reflectivity, a moldy, dirty roof coating may as well. The coalition will argue that performance of the outer skin is only one factor in energy savings; the entire roofing system should be evaluated. Different types of metal have different properties. There are new pigments that offer more reflectivity than other pigments of the same color.

Speaking of which, roofers who scratch a prominent panel during installation have additional choices over replacing it or buying a $60 pint of matching paint. Drexel Metals recently introduced a $14 paint pen that matches all of the company’s 28 colors (sorry, no metallics) and has a shelf life of up to six years. The fluropolymer paint will air dry and is intended primarily for newer installations. “It’s an inexpensive way to touch up projects without replacing a panel or having the architect say ‘Why is that scratch there?’”