The roofing market has not been impacted as negatively as the overall residential building sector and there are even some markets where roofing is doing quite well. The roofing industry is, however, facing an emerging challenge that could signal some radical changes. Owing to a convergence of a changing world economy and an oil market gone mad, the price and availability of one of our industry’s most treasured commodities is spiraling out of control. The price and availability of asphalt is taking the industry into some uncharted waters.
On the residential side, asphalt shingles are trading at record prices and the increases seem to know no bounds. While the rising cost of asphalt is largely to blame, there are other factors including diminished capacity and soaring transportation costs. Shingle manufacturers are working every angle to stabilize prices but are limited by the uncontrollable cost of the commodities needed to produce their product.
With increases in the installed cost of asphalt shingles, manufacturers of other steep-slope roofing systems are seeing new opportunities. Unfortunately, they are not immune to the vagaries of this inflationary cycle. Prices for clay, slate, metal, concrete and other composite roofing products have been rising as well.
The real advantage that alternatives to asphalt shingles are receiving is simply the opportunity to have owners compare the value propositions. Owners are seeking alternatives, which may contribute to the already steep growth curve for some of these products. This will depend primarily on how well manufacturers can execute a partnership with roofing contractors (the undisputed leaders in the world of installed residential roofing sales). While nothing is guaranteed, asphalt shingle roofing will continue to offer a very competitive value proposition when all things, including looks and upfront costs, are considered.
As for low-slope roofing, the built-up roof is not dying but may suffer significantly from changes in the asphalt markets. It does not feel good for me to think this way since the built-up roof is how I made a living for my first 20-plus years in this business. The correlation may not be direct, but the coal tar built-up roof was virtually wiped out during my tenure in this industry. Coal tar roofing provided one of the best value propositions in the low-slope roofing industry, but it has practically disappeared, primarily due to environmental concerns. Too much cost and too many concerns for downstream liability left owners formerly committed to coal tar with no choice but to change. The product did not change, but the overall value proposition did.
Asphalt-based built-up roofing faces now one of its biggest challenges ever. While other “manufactured” roofing systems may be affected by inflation, their pricing will be much more predictable. As labor rates rise, and they could rise appreciably with all that is going on in the economy, manufactured systems will have another advantage. These things will make it more and more difficult for the asphalt-based built-up roof to sustain market share.
I am not predicting the demise of the asphalt built-up roof. Coal tar roofing, while very limited, is still applied today. The value proposition for the built-up roof in some situations is without question still very competitive. Without a fast retreat in the cost of asphalt or a steep increase in the cost of competing systems, however, we may soon witness a 1980s-style move away from BUR.
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