While industry veterans have seen just about anything made into roofing, they have also seen metal roofing made into just about anything. That flexibility is creating new markets for roofing contractors.

More than any other trade, roofers deal with a wide variety of materials. Just about anything, it seems, can be made into roofing. Venerable building components are mixed with the latest polymers on many roofs, while even the most advanced glass, steel and concrete would be recognizable to any tradesmen from 1950. While industry veterans have seen just about anything made into roofing, they have also seen metal roofing made into just about anything. That flexibility is creating new markets for roofing contractors.

In 2002, approximately one million new homes were sold, but that remains a hard market for roofing contractors to tap into, unless it’s a skilled job like metal. Coupled with a more affluent homeowner and low interest rates, roofing contractors also have a good shot at the 5.5 million existing homes sold last year. Residential projects can be tackled with the same choices available to commercial projects, except homeowners generally have a greater concern for appearance.

As customers with a collective $13 trillion in housing stock, homeowners have become more involved in the process. Some tend to focus on the material selection first. While all types of residential roofing options have their attributes, customers that lean toward metal roofing are finding a durable material that can provide them with a large selection of appearances. Style and material merge to capture a growing segment of homeowners that are making informed decisions about protecting their greatest investment.

“Homeowners are becoming more savvy about metal roofing,” says Greg Zimmerman, director of marketing for Classic Products Inc., Piqua, Ohio. “They’re starting to realize that metal roofing is more than corrugated panels.”

Photo courtesy of Glenwood Builders LLC.

Homes Going Up

The volatility of the stock market has reverted attention to the security and stability of home ownership: The average price of an existing home went up 4 percent higher than inflation last year. Money continues to pour into real estate in many areas of the country, providing one of the few bright spots in a listless economy. More affluent buyers coupled with historically low interest rates create a customer base that is familiar with quality and willing to pay for it. A recent study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that homeowners invested an average of 6.5 percent of their home’s value between 1995 and 2001. While some dollars go toward cosmetics, the study suggests that many older homes are getting much needed work on wiring, insulation and roofing.

From Better Homes & Gardens to Money, consumers are barraged with many products and services that drive sales outside of the traditional contractor network. Certainly roofing materials aren’t as well represented as windows in home magazines, but those publications also foster Internet use that brings them in touch with a universe of roofing materials. KBS Metal Roofing, a master distributor based in La Porte, Ind., has been focusing exclusively on steel roofing profiles for the last four years. The company backs up its robust Web site with old-fashioned customer service that brings customers to contractors throughout the United States.

“The interest is growing real rapidly through the customers,” says Ron Gliva, roofing consultant for KBS and a former homebuilder. “That’s all through the Internet. All of a sudden, people can learn things.”

His company, which used to distribute fasteners and tools, built its roofing business from scratch using Gerard’s stone-covered steel panels that mimic tile, shake and shingles; it also offers a standing-seam panel with a 20-year finish, plus equipment and accessories. Homeowners educate themselves on the company’s Web site about warranties, material properties and designs. By the time he gets a phone call — one roofing contractor of his got 52 leads from one ad in a small town newspaper — customers have already primed themselves for a sale. To make sure they don’t miss out, KBS staffers still answers every call personally on its 24-hour hotline, a rarity in any industry. “It must be more unusual than I realized because we get a lot of comments,” Gliva says. “The fact is it shows the interest is out there. All it takes is a decent salesperson.”

Homeowners are actively seeking products, have an eye for quality and already went through any sticker shock they might have suffered. Gliva says he is reroofing over a number of asphalt shingles, even laminated ones, which are less than 10 years old. Ice dams, hail damage and wind storms coupled with poor customer relations and leaky warranties drive many homeowners to take their roofing matters into their own hands. The Internet provides basic information that they check out the old fashioned way.

“They have somebody that they can talk to. People don’t want to have any pressure,” says Gliva, who is broadening the market for premium metal roofing. “Normally, if it wasn’t in their town, there would have been no choice for them.”

He has no trouble finding contractors for a job already sold, and the distinctive roof becomes a local showcase to encourage more interest. Gliva works directly with each roofing contractor during the first installation because he’s offering a 50-year transferable warranty. The different profiles offered — panel, architectural, tile and shake — also come with UL ratings for wind, fire and hail. The company even passes the stringent Miami-Dade County wind test.

Fire and hail resistance is a driving factor in damage-prone areas like Texas and Oklahoma, says Zimmerman. Classic Products has been offering metal shingles since 1980. Its three aluminum profiles hold up well to hail. The company recently introduced a textured surface that reduces glare by using a Kynar powder coat; it is also more scratch resistant. Classic Products is in the midst of a year-long transition to Kynar-based reflective coatings as part of an industry-wide move to improve the energy saving properties of metal roofs. This is one attribute promoted by groups like the Cool Roof Ratings Council, a non-profit educational organization founded in 1998 to promote effective and comprehensible guidelines for measuring energy performance. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has been a remarkable success in giving consumers accurate information about a variety of products.

However, the physical properties of a metal roofing system can get complicated. People with a fundamental understanding about how metal absorbs and transfers heat can be surprised when they learn about the energy efficiency of a properly designed and installed metal roof.

“It’s hard for people to believe that a roof can be energy efficient,” says Zimmerman who sometimes has to sell the energy savings. “One of the problems we find is when people want to build ‘green,’ there’s a perception about a loss of quality. It’s kind of just to keep ahead of the market.”

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a single overwhelming factor in the demand for metal roofing and energy savings are lumped in with the other attributes: Metal is a lightweight, durable, attractive and versatile roofing system that resists fire, wind and hail. Classic Products recently obtained UL 2218’s highest rating for resisting hail, which should give the company some leverage for those looking to replace damaged or aging asphalt shingles. The company’s Web site is consumer-driven with more information being added continually, but the company also reaches out to other segments, like generic seminars for architects that satisfy continuing education unit requirements. Of course, installers remain the crucial link to capture and maintain all this new business.

“We’re having our best year yet. It’s definitely something that’s taking off,” says Zimmerman. “Our primary focus is to go after roofing contractors right now. We’re constantly look for roofing contractors.”

Photo courtesy of Glenwood Builders LLC.

Covering it All

One contractor who has found his niche is Walt Schuhmacher, president of Glenwood Builders LLC in West Branch, Mich. With 25 years of experience in construction, Schuhmacher has been installing metal roofing for the last six years. He offers eight steel profiles from Atas International and a rainbow of Kynar 500 colors that are primarily replacing asphalt shingles, as well as wood shakes.

“When I get down to the end of my presentation ... generally it’s a no-brainer,” claims Schuhmacher. “If they do it once and do it right, metal is the way to go.” He comes across many disgruntled homeowners who are faced with replacing roofs every 10 years, even those with more lengthy warranties. That learning curve has made them appreciate quality, long-term solutions to their roofing woes, but Schuhmacher harbors no illusions about his customer’s mindset. “A roof is like a sore tooth. You’re forced to go the to dentist,” he comments. “Generally, people don’t call me until the condition of the roof is so bad that the ceiling is falling in.”

Once he does get the call, Schuhmacher invests a lot of effort in a presentation to the homeowners. He compares materials and delves into the roof’s properties and finish, like durability and reflectivity. As he describes the Atas system that allows airflow underneath the panels, homeowners learn about the unexpected bonus of energy savings. He also brings samples to show how their sizes — Advanta is 36 inches by 14 inches, Permashake is 5 feet by 11 inches — ease installation when compared to the profiles they imitate. Another feature is the premium underlayment he installs: one 45-pound roll of Tri-Flex 30 covers 1,000 square feet of substrate like a house wrap and comes with its own 20-year warranty. That and his keen attention to ventilation come in handy when he offers the company’s transferable 50-year warranty on labor and materials.

Despite that attention grabber, Schuhmacher says that he doesn’t really focus much on warranties, other than to show samples of “smoke screens” from competitors. Sales are made when homeowners have the capacity, inclination and opportunity to solve their roofing problems, once and for all. “Metal roofing is the only roof you can put on your home that has the propensity to go up in value as the home ages,” says Schuhmacher. “You will always get your money back from a metal roof.”