This year marks my 20th year in the roofing industry. In this time span, I have seen many significant changes in all sectors of the industry: contracting, manufacturing and consulting. As we close out 2007, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on some of these changes and provide a technical perspective on how these changes will affect the future of the industry.
The mid to late 1980s saw the advent of single plies and - to a lesser extent - modified bitumen sys-tems. BUR still held a dominant market share, however, single plies - primarily EPDMs - were gaining traction through an increase in developer-driven projects and big box construction. EPDM gained promi-nence with roofing contractors by providing significant labor reductions and increased production rates through the size of the sheets, the use of less equipment and the absence of hot materials. The materials were less physically demanding to apply than BUR and they quickly gained acceptance with a new genera-tion of roofing mechanics. Today they have found their niche. Technically the long-term issues with these systems continue to be focused on seam application. Energy Star requirements will also decrease future market share, especially if they are adopted by the International Building Code.
These trends have continued into the 21st century, with reduction of labor and ease of application being the hallmarks of all new product development. The changes that occurred in the late ’80s set off what has been 20 years of uninterrupted material and application development. This time span (from 1987 to 2007) has seen the most changes in the roofing industry since World War II.
Period of InnovationThe late 1980s also saw an increase in the application of thermoplastic membranes - led in market share by PVC. The early PVC sheets were non-reinforced and had low mil thicknesses of 40 mils or less. The combination of no reinforcement with thin sheets and a chemical reaction from ballast created plasticizer migration in the sheets, which contributed to shrinking and shattering of the membranes. I spent a signifi-cant amount of time in the early 1990s investigating these problems and in the mid-1990s the NRCA ad-dressed it in one of their technical bulletins. To the credit of the manufacturers, they have made correc-tions to the sheets and these problems have been virtually eliminated. Today the thicker reinforced PVC membranes enjoy a large market share. The future of PVC will depend on environmental issues regarding disposal.
Modified bitumen systems were introduced into the U.S. market in the early to mid 1980s. The initial sheets used at that time were torch-applied APP membranes. Two significant observations were evident from the outset with these sheets. The first observation was that APP sheets require protective coating within the first year to avoid ultraviolet degradation. The second observation was that when the fire from the torch comes into contact with building components (primarily wood or insulation), it has a tendency to burn down buildings. Most contractor insurance carriers and building owners have become aware of this fact and they now frown on torch applications. The current market share of APP membranes has decreased - and will continue to decrease - due to this fact.
SBS modified bitumen sheets became more prominent in the early ’90s, and at this time they are becoming the new BURs. These sheets are manufactured with rubber polymers and are more versatile in application methods. There are four application methods. They are torch applied, set in hot asphalt, set in cold adhe-sive and self-adhered. The cold applications and self-adhered applications will likely become the pre-dominant choices for future SBS applications. SBS will continue to grow in market share and will take over from BUR as the high-end choice for owners that are looking for long-term performance and durabil-ity. The materials do have application nuisances and temperature constraints that require knowledgeable applicators for best performance.
BUR became the target of certain segments of the industry in the early 90s. The question of worker health issues resulting from long-term exposure to coal tar fumes raised some eyebrows. While the data on as-phalt fumes has not been clear, in the end just raising the public consciousness on this issue appears to have brought down the dinosaur. Coal tar is now less than 1 percent of the market and BUR with asphalt is not at the end of the road yet, but you can see it from here. We are now finding more building owners and municipalities that do not want kettles at their sites, and the retirement of the last generation of BUR ap-plicators is looming.
In steep-slope applications we have ended the use of staples with shingles and have added a variety of ma-terials in shingle manufacturing, such as metal and thermoplastics. Slate is becoming a lost art, even as demand for natural slate is growing and the use of slate composites is on the rise. Standing seam metal roof systems have become an ideal aesthetic product for roofs and mansards. These types of products have spawned specialty contractors in these areas.
The marketing message of the new products as we move forward is “ease of application.” This can be mis-leading. The material and application changes have left the industry with products that are less physically demanding to install but have more application constraints. The most prominent constraint is with outdoor temperature constrictions. Most of the current products - with the exception of BUR - require applica-tion in ambient outdoor temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 100°F. Adhesives and coat-ings also have restrictions on humidity and precipitation within 24 hours of application. Application in temperatures above or below the manufacturers requirements could lead to premature failure. This con-straint effectively shortens the roofing season in most parts of the country.
The materials are less physically demanding, however, they still require applicator knowledge. I would argue that they require more skill than BURs due to their tolerance levels. Application rates must comply with the manufacturers requirements. In general, for adhesives, coatings and sealants, too much or too lit-tle could add up to a premature failure.
Code and SafetyIn the mid-1980s the only code issues were the number of recovers that could be applied on a residence or building. There have been significant code and regulation changes since that time. The biggest changes to code regulations center around roof attachment. In almost every instance the changes have been predicated by major storm events. Hurricane Hugo, which hit the Carolinas in 1989, was the reason for Factory Mu-tual’s studies of proper field and perimeter attachment procedures. Their published recommendations soon became industry standards for field, perimeter and corner material attachment methods and rates.
Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992 and devastated Homestead, initiating what would become the South Florida Building Code. Often referred to as the strictest code in the country, The South Florida Building Code places emphasis on material testing and project verification. Variations of the South Flor-ida Code will soon be adopted by most coastal areas after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and reminded us all that we still have some work to do. Other recent code changes demand that perimeter metals must now be tested and approved to meet SPRI/ANS ES-1 prior to application, eliminating contrac-tors from shop fabrication. Also, shingles in high-velocity wind areas require six nails.
Contractors have also changed with the times. There appears to be a greater emphasis on business skills, as most contractors have transformed from roofers running a company to businessmen running a roofing company. Technology has played a greater role in this transformation. In the mid-1980s most contractors did not have computers. Today computers are used for everything from bidding and scheduling jobs to ac-counting. The Internet has become a valuable tool for communication and soliciting work. A high percent-age of jobs are now bid from paperless specs, which are downloaded from the Internet or using CDs. Digi-tal cameras, laptop computers and automated measuring devices have significantly cut the time it takes to evaluate and bid a job. As technology increases in the future, contractors will implement it to further im-prove the bottom line.
The contractors have also placed a greater emphasis on worker training and safety issues. The NRCA of-fers excellent programs in these areas, ensuring that the industry workforce is both competent and safe in what can be dangerous environments. The NRCA has an excellent staff of knowledgeable and dedicated individuals that are committed to the advancement of this industry.
There appears to be a greater tolerance for consultants than there was in the late ’80s. This has been a di-rect result of the professionalism and communication between project participants. Most contractors would now agree that a good consultant can be a source of work and could help to facilitate a successful project with fewer callbacks. The division between manufacturers reps and consultants is still a thin line, and I hope this issue is addressed in the near future. I am also somewhat puzzled by roof evaluations that are completed without the performance of physical property testing. It is kind of like a prescription drug manufacturer diagnosing a condition without blood tests.
Nobody mentioned roofing and the environment in the same sentence in 1987. The rest of the country laughed when California imposed requirements on solvent levels in the early 90s. Who’s laughing now? Today you can’t talk about roofing without discussing the environmental ramifications of the material and its application and disposal methods. The only industry members that are not looking into LEED, Energy Star and Title 24 programs are the ones that will be left behind. I still predict that Energy Star - in some variation - will be adapted by the IBC within the near future.
Finally, there is one part of this industry that has not changed, and that is all of the great people that we have working with and around us. I have been fortunate enough to work throughout this country with indi-viduals from all sectors of the roofing industry, and I have met professional people at every turn. I count some of the people that I have met in this industry over the past 20 years as some of my closest friends. I look forward to the next 20 years and I hope the changes that we are making today will be beneficial to future generations.