Big fields of open roofing are easy to cover. The devil is in the details. Flashing, vents and gutters cover such a small area but often take the most labor because they’re put in harm’s way to divert endless streams of water, year after year. The likeliest sources of intrusion don’t get the glamour but definitely get the attention of the roofing industry. There are a number of vendors who have spent careers addressing the challenges of weathering, debris, impacts and neglect that roofing components experience.
Many products are so integrated in roofing systems that they become part of a warranted product. Others don’t alter the warranty and, in cases like ventilation, often preserve a key requirement outlined in roof warranties. Selling it and putting it all together in a presentation doesn’t have to be flashy, but it does have to offer solutions that can go beyond stopping leaks.
Leaving Gutters ClearIt’s not enough that the roof sheds water; that water must be diverted somewhere. Acres of roof area can mean the influx of large amounts of water during short time periods, so drains, scuppers and gutters must be able to absorb some of the worst possible conditions over their lifetime. For homeowners, gutters are an important feature that channels water away from the house and landscaping. That is, if they’re not clogged with leaves.
"You either buy a system that keeps the gutter working or you buy a ladder," says Brian Groth, president of Rain Flow USA Inc., a Detroit-based maker of gutter protection devices. "If homeowners can keep their gutters working all the time, that removes one big hassle. That’s one of the reasons this business is lucrative: It’s something that sticks with homeowners."
The company sells a patented weatherproof material that inserts into the gutter so leaves and other debris will flow over the top. It is only sold to roofing and specialty contractors through hundreds of distributors around the country. Groth says that it’s an excellent profit center that requires no training and no matching of the gutter’s color.
"Since you don’t see it on the ground, one color covers every job, " he says. "If you have some left over, it can go on the next job."
Groth, who used to be a dealer for a metal product that covered the gutter, estimates that there are about 70 products available in the United States that offer gutter protection. He patented his product in 2002 because he saw a need for something that was easy to install, inexpensive and, most importantly, worked year after year. By working through the traditional distribution network, he can offer exclusive territories and sales aids that help bids stand out.
In addition to making money, gutter protection can be a proactive solution to something nearly every homeowner dreads. To eliminate a lifelong chore that’s dangerous and messy can help salesmen win the trust of customers.
"I think that people spend money for two reasons: eliminate pain or pursue pleasure," says Groth. "That’s why gutter protection is so easy to sell. We are in the pain elimination business. We designed the product to eliminate the pain contractors go through, too."
Fresh AirThe envelope around most modern homes is a marvel in energy efficiency, but it presents a challenge when it comes to ventilation. More and more steep-slope roofing warranties are demanding adequate ventilation of the entire roofing system, even on buildings with no soffits. The benefits of circulating air above the insulated building and below the roof deck are well documented, even if they might be controversial in some quarters. Loath to put additional holes in newly installed roofs, manufacturers have sought out solutions that are attractive, inexpensive and work without causing additional problems.
Ridge vents have become an extremely popular addition to the roofing landscape over the past two decades. Offering ventilation at the apex of the roof without letting water in are properties that have been refined over the years. Today’s solutions are a far cry from the painted turtles and wind turbines that sat on top, susceptible to extreme conditions. Preserving the looks of their new roof make it an easier sell for roofing contractors.
"Contractors are in the perfect position to provide ventilation advice to homeowners," says Steve Henderson, vice president of sales and marketing for DCI Products in Clifton Heights, Pa. His company offers a number of add-on products for sloped roofing systems. "If you’re installing a ridge vent for exhaust, it only makes sense to provide the proper amount of intake ventilation on the job. Some homeowners say, "I’m actually glad you brought it up."
Henderson believes that by bringing different issues to the conversation, the roofing contractor becomes a problem solver who addresses a range of concerns. The full line of DCI ventilation products includes innovative ways to get around barriers like no-soffit eaves, chimneys, skylights and hips. The company has even found a way for the roof valley to get fresh air.
The SmartVent, introduced and patented by DCI in 1999, provides a crucial intake for air that was lacking in many buildings with no soffits. After a continuous 1-inch slit is made on the roof deck 6 to 7 inches from the drip edge, the SmartVent goes on top of the wood roof deck, underneath the shingle and under any underlayment. A factory-applied, weatherproof fabric at the edge prevents moisture from entering as the air flows into the slit, through the attic or rafter space, and out the ridge vent or other exhaust device.
"[Designers] knew it was going to be a technical glitch," Henderson says about the new building designs. "But, with all these ventilation products combined, DCI matched intake with the exhaust for the first time in the industry."
He mentioned one job at a condominium in Michigan where there was no overhang for a soffit and noted it was going to cost $180,000 to install one. DCI ventilated the roof for around $20,000. The company is even designing a solution for ventilating a cathedral ceiling over an indoor pool. The low profile of the SmartVent leaves it almost as invisible as the air it breathes.
"Once it’s installed, you can’t even see it from the ground," says Henderson. "Roofing contractors love it because it keeps them on the roof. There’s no extra tools needed and it’s all rooftop."
Copper TopNearly every roofing problem has a range of exotic solutions to solve it. Appearance, compatibility and durability factor into the roofing contractor’s calculus, and sometimes an innovative product is a combination of the new and old. Thunderbird Products of El Chajon, Calif., has been producing copper flashing, drains, and other components since 1983, while keeping pace with the recent developments in roofing technology.
The versatility of copper has served the company well over the years, limiting callbacks on areas that are among the most likely to leak. From lightning protection to scuppers, the company has been incorporating new materials and applications for its products. Late last year the company introduced a line of roof drains clad with TPO membranes.
"They fuse they same way they would fuse TPO rolls," says Trevor Gritman, plant manager for Thunderbird. "The primary goal was the simplicity of it."
The company offers three major brands of TPO to ensure compatibility and satisfy warranty requirements. There is also a dual membrane drain that offers an extra measure of protection.
The company serves members of other industries, including plumbing, electrical and decking contractors, but the emphasis on roofing products continues to grow. While most of the company’s products are hidden away under layers of membrane, Gritman says there is a growing interest in the appearance of some components when rooftops are visible to occupants. For now, the cooper and metal bronze finishes Thunderbird offers on its grated drains addresses the need for both aesthetics and performance. It’s just another case of another small detail that is crucial to the performance of the roof system.