With widespread shortages in Florida and plants working at capacity, the $600 million tile roofing industry is struggling to address demand and keep customers informed.

Photo courtesy of Ludowici

Roof tile has taken many forms as it makes its way onto homes. Different profiles from S-curve to wood shake have helped to make the niche product more popular throughout the country. Too popular it seems. With widespread shortages in Florida and plants working at capacity, the $600 million industry is struggling to address demand and keep customers informed.

"The tile roofing industry regrets the extended lead time required to satisfy the needs of Florida's homeowners and contractors who are waiting for their roof tiles, and we're doing everything possible to increase manufacturing capacity," says Charles McGrath, managing director for the Tile Roofing Institute (TRI), in a recent press release. "We are facing the same shortages as other building material companies, like those dealing in cement and plywood. The problem exists nationally, although Florida is one of the most highly affected states."

Photo courtesy of MonierLifetile

Roof Traffic

Shortages of tile are nothing new, but adding capacity seems to be similar to building new roads: rather than addressing current needs it only seems to attract more traffic. There are reports about expansions in California and Texas, but it can take anywhere from six months to a year to bring a plant on line. Still, the tile industry is not only looking to fulfill current needs, but looking forward to even more business down the road.

"We're geared as an industry to double the demand for tile by 2010," says Rick Olson, technical director of the TRI. "It's a story that has to be told. Most of the country only knows about asphalt shingles."

Material shortages are widespread in construction (fuel, cement, steel) so customers are used to delays. The formula for tile manufacturing is a difficult one since shipping costs limit the product's universe to a 500-mile radius from the plant. Specialty products like Ludowici-Celadon in New Lexington, Ohio, are less sensitive to freight expenses, but the rest of the industry must put plants in areas where there is sufficient growth to make the investment worthwhile. That means the Sunbelt is a prime target and plants in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona are extremely busy, particularly in areas where wood shingles are being replaced with tile due to fire concerns. Some gated communities allow only tile roofs to be installed.

Cement shortages have exacerbated the problem. A few years ago, China went from exporting cement to importing it in order to feed that country's enormous building boom. Back then there were accusations that China was illegally dumping the cement at prices below their production costs, so tariffs were imposed and still remain in effect. Olson says there is currently a 23 percent gap between supply and demand for cement. When it takes an average of five years to bring a cement plant on line, there is not much good news in the short term.

"It makes it very tough for (tile) manufacturers to get their allocation," he says, adding that allocations are in their second year. "It's not how much you want, but how much you get."

Storm Surge

Tile roofing is at a critical juncture. While delays may foster product switches, the industry is also addressing concerns about storm damage. For the past six years, the TRI has been working with Factory Mutual to come up with a more realistic test for hail. FM-4473 used ice balls that are the same weight and velocity as the steel balls used in UL-2218, but are more realistic to real world conditions, according to Olson.

Field data from areas like Texas and Oklahoma show that tile can withstand hail storms as well as or better than competing products like asphalt shingles, so tile makers are glad to have this new tool in their arsenal. Factory Mutual is expected to release the new standard this summer, soon after which the TRI will be approaching bodies like the Texas Department of Insurance to qualify tile roofs for rebates on homeowners insurance.

The four hurricanes that struck Florida last year created significant damage to more than just roofs, but pictures of broken tiles have impacted the resilient nature of tiles. Olson spent a lot of time in Punta Gorda, which was struck by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm that demolished entire buildings in August 2004. He estimates that 85 percent of the tile roofs that were damaged were improperly laid with mortar, with the rest receiving mechanical damage or high winds that few roofs could withstand.

"A lot of those homes were built a long time ago," says Olson, adding that the robust underlayment for tile roofs in Florida meant that most homes still stayed dry. "The neat thing about tile is, if they're damaged they can be replaced easily."

While mortar-set tile roofs are a venerable installation method, the industry has been moving away from that for some time. Years ago, the TRI identified 32 potential problems with using mortar, ranging from poor mixing to workmanship to de-bonding from the deck. Bob Ferrante has been in the tile business for 30 years and doesn't miss the old method one bit. "There are so many variables that can go wrong," says Ferrante, vice president of adhesive products for the Roofing Division of Polyfoam Products Inc., Sunrise, Fla. "It may be tight when the inspector inspects it, I guarantee you there will be some tiles that are loose in a few years."

Ferrante was working at tile making giant MonierLifetile when he started working on alternatives to mortar in 1992. That was just before Hurricane Andrew hit the Miami area and put the country's most stringent uplift requirements to the test. The Category 5 monster destroyed nearly everything in its path-even the weather monitors on the roof of the National Hurricane Center blew off-and the fabled Miami-Dade County Code body began to revisit its criteria. Poor inspections were identified as a key problem, but the tile industry was seeking alternatives.

"There was a need because, at the time, Miami-Dade was talking about banning mortar-set systems. In fact, they did for awhile," says Ferrante. He contacted various foam manufacturers, but the only one interested was Polyfoam who already had a low-pressure dispensing system used on boats that was ideal for adhering tile. After many questions and testing, Miami-Dade approved the product for installation. Ferrante was so convinced about the product he joined Polyfoam in 1994 and began his uphill climb to get a skeptical industry to embrace this new method.

Certainly there are industry hold-outs to every new idea, but the performance attributes of foam adhesion is winning more and more converts. In addition to superior attachment, the product insulates against noise and temperatures, absorbs seismic movement, and allows tile to flex more when walked on, thus reducing breakage. Even installed costs are cheaper due to savings in materials and labor, and the product is gradually gathering steam, with successful installations around Florida and even places like Michigan and Utah.

Ferrante had to work closely with code officials in developing an installation method that was a measurable improvement on mortar-set. He ended helping to create a training course with a written test, something that isn't required in Florida for mortar set or mechanically attached systems. Each roofing crew must have a qualified installer on the job site at all times, complete with a photo ID. The hands-on course runs from two to three days and the approval is good for two years, but even 1,100 approved applicators around the state can't keep up with recent demand.

"What's keeping us out of new construction is the roofing contractor trying to get enough labor to install the adhesive set system," says Ferrante. "We've hired guys to do nothing but training."

Side Bar: Tile Roofing Institute to Launch Installer Certification Program

In an effort to expand best practices for the installation of tile roofing systems, the Tile Roofing Institute (TRI) will launch a contractor training and certification program later this year. The tile roofing industry currently has no national certification program for installers, although TRI publishes several tile installation guides that are recognized internationally.

"We feel a tile roofing certification program is a win-win for all involved," says Charles McGrath, TRI managing director. "It will assist the contractor with the proper basic installation skills, and also help builders and homeowners identify installers who are knowledgeable of the current installation guidelines."

The training program will be based on TRI's Concrete and Clay Roof Tile Installation Manual for Moderate Climate Regions, a guide that is co-sponsored by the Western States Roofing Contractors Association and recognized by the International Code Council.

In regions of the country where tile roofs are more prevalent, there is currently a disparity in the level of knowledge about proper tile roofing installation techniques. In parts of the country that have fewer tile roofs, the lack of an aggressive training program inhibits some contractors from entering the tile roofing market. TRI's certification is designed to capitalize on both of these opportunities.

The TRI Tile Roofing Installer Certification Program will consist of a day and a half of training, followed by a written exam. The program will be taught by TRI-certified instructors and will cover broad-based tile roofing practices and techniques, including estimating, planning and execution of residential projects. It will also address regional practices present in the markets where the trainings are conducted.

Once successfully completed, contractors will be able to use the title "Certified Tile Roofing Installer," and companies can promote that they have certified installers on staff. A certification logo will be available for use on marketing materials, such as ads and company literature.

"This program will lend credibility to the installers who choose to educate themselves on best practices, and lend credibility to tile roofing in general," explains McGrath.

The first training program is expected to begin this fall in California and is open to all roofing contractors. Subsequent sessions will be held in other cities in the Western United States. After this initial launch, more programs will be conducted in other cities across the country next year.

To learn more about participating in the TRI Tile Roofing Installer Certification Program, call 312-670-4177, visit www.tileroofing.org or e-mail Heidi Lerfald at hlerfald@tileroofing.org. The TRI is the leading resource and proponent of concrete and clay tile roofing systems. TRI manufacturer members produce 95 percent of the tile roofing installed in North America, and actively work with research and testing organizations and local code bodies to improve the quality, durability and affordability of tile roof systems. TRI is a non-profit trade association and membership is open to all those involved in the production, distribution and installation of clay and concrete tile roof systems.