As we enter the 21st century, there are significant issues facing the roofing industry, such as labor shortages, environmental concerns, and the depletion of natural resources. Time-tested systems are being replaced by newer systems and materials are being updated to meet the current environmental conditions. In this era of rapid change, there are many positive developments to point to in the roofing industry.

(Photo courtesy of DBI/SALA.)

Safety First

The most important improvements have been in the area of safety. Current safety regulations have been enhanced with the goal of ensuring all of us the opportunity to go home to our families every night. Through the beneficial work of many industry professionals over the years, the safety standards have been modified, and outdated, cumbersome practices have been replaced with methods that do not hamper workmanship and productivity while keeping the jobsite safe. The inclusion of a safetyman on the crew to ensure that all employees are in accordance with the standards has been one valuable development, and the implementation of protective barriers and guardrails and tying off of workmen at perimeter edges has limited the slip and fall potential in these areas.

In addition to the safety changes on the roof, most contractors have started their own safety training programs, which cover such topics as jobsite safety and ladder safety. These and the other required safety changes have been beneficial to mechanics by preventing possible injuries and falls, and beneficial to companies by reducing insurance rates and workers' compensation costs.

Training and Workmanship

Workers' training has also improved. The unions provide excellent hands-on training for their members in all phases of roof application. The training is required to reach journeymen status. The unions also provide updated training for journeymen to inform them of new roof system application procedures. Most major manufacturers also provide training on the application of their systems. These training sessions are required to reach certification status and to provide upgraded warranties. The United States roofing market is different from the European market, where the manufacturers are also the applicators. It is not uncommon for European roof mechanics to apply only one type of system during their entire roofing career. In the United States, the market is more diverse and segmented, and roofing mechanics need to be acquainted with many different types of systems and material application procedures. Many forward-thinking roofing contractors have also implemented their own in-house training programs. An educated employee is a valuable asset to a contractor, and proper application knowledge contributes to successful projects.

Proper training has also contributed to quality workmanship. In the past, roofing contractors were commonly placed at the bottom of the construction food chain due to rampant shoddy workmanship claims and ineffective customer relations. The industry now stresses quality, as most contractors have adopted the philosophy that their reputations are at stake on each project and have made a conscious effort to improve workmanship and customer service. These changes are beneficial to company growth. The advent of consultants as quality control inspectors has also helped improve workmanship on projects and generally contributes to fewer callbacks due to leaks. When the contractors, manufacturers and consultants work together with open communication on a project, the results are overwhelmingly positive. The parties have to understand that they are all in business to please the same customer.


There have been some well-documented material failures in this industry. Most of the material failures have provided us with the opportunity to examine the reasons for failure and improve upon the materials in question. Generally speaking, the current products are performing better and lasting longer than their predecessors. This is a credit to the material producers in this industry that have provided enormous capital for research and development on a continual basis. Organizations such as the National Roofing Contractors Association, the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association, the International Waterproofing Association and ASTM International have spearheaded research projects in material and application procedures for many years now, and these findings have been beneficial in improving the materials and systems that we rely on to service our clients.

New materials and systems have opened up design choices, as we can now provide a roof system for all types of structures. Henry Ford is said to have assured his customers they could have any color Model T they wanted, as long as it was black. Until the late 1970s, the roofing industry had a similar creed: coal tar or asphalt. We can now design systems for low-slope and steep-slope structures; we are not limited to rectangular configurations and can provide a roof in any color, including putting names and even logos on the final surface. We are not limited by substrate choices and can accommodate reasonable building expansion and contraction. In addition, proper insulation choices and reflective surfacing can provide building owners with savings in heating and cooling costs. With proper maintenance and repair procedures, the service life of most roof systems can be extended beyond the warranty period.

The Backbone of the Industry

The roofing industry has another significant advantage - the people. The majority of the professionals in this industry are dedicated, hardworking individuals who care about the future of this industry. That's one reason for the positive trends mentioned above. This is not to suggest that the industry is without problems or concerns. There are shortcomings that require immediate attention; however, we shall overcome. After all, ours is an industry that has constantly met adversity in the past and has continued with positive growth.