The ability of coatings to flow into nearly any kind of roofing project has ensured a responsive industry that quickly fills any roofing void it can find.

Karnak 98AF Fibered Aluminum Roof Coating is made of selected asphalts and pigment flakes of pure aluminum blended with refined solvents and reinforcing fibers. (Photo courtesy of Karnak Corp.)

The ability of coatings to flow into nearly any kind of roofing project has ensured a responsive industry that quickly fills any roofing void it can find. Manufacturers have been able to pounce on new reflectivity requirements being passed around the country as they stay vigilant for new developments. As a result, white, liquid-applied membranes have captured a market that wants a roof that performs better, reflects heat and solves a building owner’s roofing problems for a reasonable price.

Market forces are fickle, but regulations can change, too. California’s Title 24 regulations for energy efficiency in building codes has updated requirements for roofing systems, including easing some restrictions on products like asphalt shingles. New mandates will be tested to ensure a cost benefit for the end user as the industry tries match its products to the market.

"It’s a moving target," says Don McClellan about Title 24. His company, DeWitt Products in Detroit, is on the reflectivity bandwagon, even if the data is sketchy. "There’s no question that reflectivity prolongs the life of the roof and reduces the heat," he said, while acknowledging that he would like to see studies that document how much of an impact coatings have.

Firestone offers acrylic coatings for new and existing roofs, including AcryliTop PC-100, as well as its Membrane PreWash, which increases adhesion and can extend the life of the coating. (Photo courtesy of Firestone Building Products.)

Coating the Town White

The very versatility of roof coatings helps make it a nimble product, easy to reformulate to meet the latest demand. It could be argued that because coatings have been such rapid responders that regulators and consumers expect such deftness from many other products. White products are overtaking an industry that has its roots in dark solvent-based mastic, maybe with asbestos as a reinforcement.

A concern about reflective roofing is the ability for a roof to maintain it’s brightness long-term or if regular cleaning is necessary. Although biannual roof inspections are ideal for any roof, the typical coating client may not be as conscientious. Garland Company hopes to solve the problem with a polymer that sheds dirt more effectively.

"We believe it’s going to be the next generation of elastomeric coatings," says John Mellott, director of technical services at Garland in Cleveland. "Keeping it white right now means putting it up there and hoping it stays white."

There is also the question of how dirt and other conditions actually impact energy costs, particularly if it’s a light film of dust or even a covering of snow. As building owners in the snow belt know, not every roof needs reflectivity, at least for energy savings. Lowering roof temperatures has demonstrated the ability to slow aging of the roof to a degree that it can be measured.

"What Garland is going for is a roof that lasts longer and stays white longer," says Mellott, who admits that more data collection and education of the consumer are needed. "I think down the road the industry will have to discuss the energy benefits of their products long term."

Firestone Building Products saw the advantages of white acrylic coatings back when the company partnered with Rohm and Haas in 1985. Jim Jannasch, EPDM product manager, remembers a time when there were not a lot of options in the reroofing market, particularly with lighter colors. The company now offers an acrylic coating that is designed for refurbishing an existing EPDM roof, whether it’s mechanically attached or fully adhered. Since 2000, Firestone has been selling a pre-wash that thoroughly cleans the EPDM much like a tire cleaner, the first product of its kind.

"When you clean the roof with this stuff, you clean the roof," says Jannasch. "And the adhesion is incredible."

Rather than shun an aging roof, Firestone is embracing the existing inventory to meet current demand that is more inclined toward restoring rather than replacing. In fact, the company offers a 10-year warranty on existing EPDM roofs that are re-seamed, cleaned and topped with an acrylic roof. Even without the energy savings, Jannasch believes the white roof’s ability to rejuvenate goes beyond being just another pretty face.

"It certainly offers the benefits of taking an existing roof and adding longevity and making it more reflective. It’s a great restoration product," he says, adding that sometimes roofs can be too white. "The coatings offer an opportunity not only for white but various colors."

The second coat of DeWitt’s Cool Top White elastomeric acrylic coating is applied at right angles to the first coat to ensure complete coverage. (Photos courtesy of DeWitt Products Co.)

Volatile Market

Energy codes aren’t the only factors driving the choice of roofing products. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continue to be heavily regulated throughout the country, with some areas like Los Angeles County virtually banning their use in roofing. This has led some coating producers to foresee the end of aluminum coatings, at least those that are solvent-based. From new acrylics to soy additives to recycled content, formulas are constantly tweaked to meet one demand or the other.

It may be hard to keep up with the testing and performance requirements that more sophisticated customers expect. Henry Company began a strategy two years ago to have several products pass a spectrum of roof performance tests called for by national building codes. The company, based in Huntington Park, Calif., finds that living in epicenter of energy conservation keeps it on top of national trends.

"Our way to the market is through the specification side," says Skip Leonard, director of technical services for Henry Company. "We’ve got capacity, so we can do all sorts of things."

Even though the company has one water-based aluminum coating, Leonard sees the VOC battle sucking the life out of many products. A water-based, wet/dry patch seems impossible at this stage, so it’s one of the few exceptions that may survive the battle to eliminate harmful gases on the roof. In fact, the very visibility of roofing work makes it a handy target for the latest intervention to clean up the environment.

"The roofing industry is being singled out because of out visibility," insists Leonard. "This is such a small business for the EPA to be doing this kind of regulation."

Leonard has a unique perspective on the industry, being the only person who serves on the board of both the Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association and the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association. His company, which provides coatings for both do-it-yourselfers and specialty contractors, is as flexible as its products when it comes to conforming to the latest rules on the landscape. Keeping tabs on the regulatory environment plus the various splinter groups is so complex that Henry Company assigns different areas for company personnel to keep tabs on. While programs like Energy Star and various tax incentives have been a boon to business, the other side of the coin when it comes to government regulations has meant stretched R&D resources to meet the latest mandate while still providing a durable and inexpensive roofing or waterproofing solution.

Garland’s White-Knight is uniquely formulated to provide additional waterproofing protection to aged single ply roof systems while providing a highly reflective surface. (Photo courtesy of the Garland Co.)

Filling a Niche

With all the attention being paid to reflective roofing, the conventional wisdom is that places where there’s usually a white Christmas won’t see the energy savings that their neighbors to the south will. When an area has more heating days than cooling days, the only white roofs many building owners have are those that are snow covered.

"White up here is not very big," says McClellan of DeWitt. He thinks the longevity of cooler roofs is the feature that should be promoted. "To me, that’s the bigger benefit than telling somebody you’re going to have lower cooling bills."

DeWitt was founded in 1931, finding a niche in the depths of the Great Depression by offering asphalt coatings that could repair aging built-up roofs. The company was the first to develop a commercial caulk for tile and tub (white, naturally) but its strengths remain in asphalt-based emulsions and aluminum coatings because that’s what its clients want. McClellan believes the recent economic news will once again increase the building owner’s interest in decreasing costs. McClellan’s seasoned approach to this mindset is to fix the roofs he can, even offering breather vents where the moisture in the roof is manageable.

He won’t stretch his product beyond its ability, and he won’t hesitate call for a complete overhaul if it’s warranted, no matter how reluctant the client is.

"It’s like going to a doctor and saying, ‘I can’t afford a new heart,’" he says. "I try to explain to them, ‘If you don’t have this done, be aware of the downside.’ The problem is, they want to take a bad roof and get a miracle solution in a can."

While it’s hard to blame a line of products for raising expectations, there’s a lot more being expected of roof coatings due in part to past successes and the future potential to save money, energy and the environment. The addition of recycled materials is a growing request, especially when developers are trying to achieve LEED certification. Karnak Corp., Clark, N.J., now makes all of it’s reinforcing fibers out of recycled material, which takes careful planning.

"The big issue is the consistency of the product," says Chris Salazar, vice president of sales and marketing for Karnak. "It’s a challenge that’s being addressed by a lot of the material suppliers."

While roof coatings producers may be the early adapters, the supply chain may not be as responsive. Sometimes being too quick out of the gate has unintended results, like the fascination with emissivity, or a material’s ability to reflect the sun’s radiant heat away from the building. After Energy Star tested and promoted the high emissivity of roofing products, it was discovered that areas up north only needed a medium emissivity, according to Salazar, which aluminum coatings provide.

His company introduced a water-based aluminum coating several years ago as the VOC debate heated up. The ability to be applied in colder weather and address existing moisture issues is an advantage of solvents, and Salazar hopes that a new focus on actual ozone emissions rather than a product’s solvent content could permit the use of solvent-based products in at least a few specialized applications.

Keeping up with the latest move to limit VOCs can be a full-time job, but Karnak works through distributors and local associations to keep roofing contractors informed about which community allows what. As the reformulations continue with each new demand or idea, coatings manufacturers move to fill any void possible.

"I think most manufactures are geared up to change to the regulations, whatever they are," says Salazar. "Coatings are versatile. The applications is the same, but the binders used to produce coatings, there’s a whole range."