In spite of many suppliers and contractors complaining about a still-weak commercial roofing market, the 2003 National Roofing Contractors Association’s convention stood out as one in which the roofing industry had a lot of new things to talk about.

New and Emerging Products

One new product that we learned about was a new hybrid fiberglass shingle that is nothing short of revolutionary. Its design allows for a massive exposure while being stingy with the weight and saving on installation cost. Listening to the advice and counsel of contractors, several other manufacturers announced changes to their shingle designs that will make them easier and simpler to install.

We also learned of enhanced EPDM products with warranties up to 30 years and hybrid low-slope systems that incorporate multiple membrane technologies that yield warranties of 32 years. One manufacturer boasts of more than 65 product and system improvements over the past year.

There was growth in the category of “virtual slate and shake” products. This group of high-end steep-slope products seems to be picking up a head of steam as evidenced by the growing number of products and producers.

We even heard about products that are still in the design and development stage, including a robotic welder that will record speed and temperature as it slips along welding laps in thermoplastic membranes.

While not a brand-new product line, self-adhered modified bitumen products have taken on a new and significant place in the modified bitumen world. We expect to see and hear a lot more about them.

New Initiatives

One supplier of roofing and metal-working tools and machinery has quietly begun a school for metal tradesmen. It is a three-day school in which old-world metalworking techniques are taught in a hands-on, working shop atmosphere.

While many suppliers to our industry tout their many years in the business, one (nearly 150-year-old) manufacturer of commercial roofing products proudly announced that it is “new.” The company’s initiative involves a new leadership team and a new approach to the market.

Federal legislation to authorize the establishment of Association Health Plans is being supported by the NRCA along with a number of other construction industry associations.

New Associations

The long-awaited rebirth of the National Slate Association (NSA) took place at the 2003 NRCA with an elite group representing slate quarries, contractors and distributors. We also heard from the newly formed EPDM Roofing Association, a small group of EPDM manufacturers and others interested in the growth of this product segment.

New Challenges

Continuing political and economic strife in Venezuela and the resulting shortages of asphalt supply to the United States are not expected to create major disruptions in the roofing supply chain, but have already impacted pricing in the category of prepared asphalt roofing. Manufacturers warn that upward pressure on the pricing of asphalt roofing products is likely to continue. Roofing contractors are encouraged to shorten the length of price commitments when possible.

Insurance remains a hot topic of discussion. While dealing with rising rates, roofing contractors and building owners are being hit with exclusions for mold. In addition, suppliers and contractors in some areas are suddenly facing new demands for higher product and construction standards for wind and hail.

The roofing section of the Chicago Energy Code that we first reported on in January of 2002 and last discussed in February 2003 is still being legislated and argued. We heard several versions of “the latest” so stay tuned for future reports.

Look for a comprehensive report on the convention in the April issue of Roofing Contractor.