Residential reroofing remains a viable profession despite the turbulent economy and the sudden dip in demand for new home construction in many parts of the country.
The extraordinary weather events of 2008 in all parts of the country, including tornadoes, damaging thunderstorms, windstorms, hailstorms, ice storms, wildfires and other severe weather, have left many roofs in need of repair or reroofing. No part of the country, it seems, has been immune to severe weather. Typically, roof replacement is a nondiscretionary budget item. The homeowner does not have much choice: either replace an aging or storm-damaged roof or face serious consequences.
Decreasing prices on resale homes have also led many homeowners to hold on to their current properties longer than they intended; these home-owners are now facing decisions on capital costs such as reroofing, which they might otherwise have left for the next owner.
Focus on the Homeowner
The roofers who prosper will provide a high level of service to homeowners. Although homeowners may contact them out of necessity, roofers who win the most business will sell them the roofs that they really want. Roofers will need to compete for individual homeowner business on a job-by-job basis. They will need to listen to homeowners and understand what homeowners want. They will need to be experts at identifying, recommending and delivering products that satisfy those wants.
“In today’s competitive market, roofing contractors who think of themselves first and foremost as consultants will most likely earn the trust of the homeowner and the job,” said Jeff Carpenter, manager of Owens Corning’s contractor development programs. “Just as I trust my tax consultant with my yearly taxes, homeowners should feel that they can trust their roofing contractor for consultations on the ins and outs of their roof, which can add protection, beauty and value to their home - their largest investment.”
Besides the traditional role of master craftsman, a successful residential roofing contractor needs to play multiple other roles, including teacher/technologist as well as tour guide and artist. Another role is that of a benevolent protector and environmentalist. In this article, these roles will be examined in greater detail along with comments from some of the leading residential roofing marketing experts among ARMA members. By playing all of these roles well, a roofing contractor can build a local reputation for service, win over referrals, and continue to grow and prosper.
Teacher and Technologist
The first responsibility of the roofing contractor is to ensure that the homeowner possesses the information needed to make an informed decision. For most homeowners, a replacement roof is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Most likely, they did not select the original roof when they bought their house. Now they are faced with a bewildering array of available options. The homeowner may very well look to the roofing contractor for help.
“Homeowners may be unaware of the huge changes that have swept the residential roofing industry during the past 10 years. They may know next to nothing about architectural and designer shingles,” said Reed Hitchcock, Executive Vice President for the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA). “They may misunderstand such basic terms as composite, laminate and dimensional shingles. They almost certainly have not read or understand the significance of the ASTM performance standards relating to these shingle types.”
Homeowners are sometimes partially informed about roofing options through consumer magazines and the Internet sources, which promise to educate consumers about product offerings. In other words, they may have “just enough knowledge to be dangerous.”
Consumers typically have enough knowledge to ask some pertinent questions but also have out-of-date or even false information that results in misconceptions. Many mass media, consumer-oriented sources provide incomplete information about the differences between product styles. These sources may not explain particular product benefits or indicate best choices for a particular style of home or climate.
This situation presents an excellent opportunity for roofing contractors to step into a consultant's role, thus allowing the customer to benefit from their professional experience. At the very least, one could refer the inquiring homeowner to the ARMA Web site (www.asphaltroofing.org) for reliable answers to frequently asked questions about steep slope roofing. Or, one could provide a glossary of basic terms to get past the language barrier. Another winning tactic is to show product samples and explain the “good, better, best” options available to homeowners in simple terms.
“Shingles today incorporate amazing technology,” said Hitchcock. “The competitive marketplace of the past 10 years has resulted in many innovations that can directly benefit the homeowner. But the vast majority of homeowners still need to be educated about the available options.”
Shingles may be tailored to the climate and the expectations of the homeowner. If a home is located in a windy area, there are shingles designed to withstand the requirements in ASTM wind uplift standards. If a homeowner has concerns about damage from hail, impact resistant shingles provide extra protection. A consumer may mistake thickness for impact resistance and it may be necessary to explain what really makes a shingle impact resistant, e.g., fiberglass scrim or SBS-modified asphalt. There are also shingles made with special additives that inhibit the growth of algae in damp climates or on shaded roofs. Light-colored shingles or “cool roofing” shingles with higher solar reflectance may be preferred in the Sunbelt or in certain climate zones in California.
Many manufacturers correctly stress the importance of the roofing system. “A roof is only as good as its weakest component,” said Hitchcock. “The systems approach includes the use of starter shingles, special hip and ridge shingles and self-adhering underlayment. Insulation and ventilation are also parts of the roofing system. A proper attic ventilation system with suitable insulation can extend roof life, save energy and improve the indoor air quality.”
Tour Guide and Artist
Although shingle performance varies and shingles need to be selected on the basis of climate and durability, premium asphalt shingles generally provide excellent choices to meet these needs. Therefore, the next most important decision for the homeowner involves aesthetics. And this situation presents an excellent opportunity for the professional roofing contractor to step into a new role as an exterior design consultant.
“A typical homeowner will want to explore many styles, textures and colors before making a final choice,” said Paul Batt, Marketing Director at CertainTeed, an ARMA member. “The shadow patterns of the architectural shingles, the shingle shape, and the matching of the shingles to exterior walls and trim are important considerations. In addition, the way that the light reflects off the roof from dawn to dusk, through the four seasons and under different cloud conditions can be important.”
These aesthetic considerations of the homeowner should not be taken lightly. After all, choosing a roof is not the same as matching a shirt and tie. In the latter case, a fashion misstep can be readily corrected; in the case of a new roof, however, the homeowner may have to live with his or her decision for decades.
“On average, the roof represents 40 percent of the exterior appearance of the house,” said Batt. “Most home shoppers today make a judgment about whether or not they will even consider purchasing a home based upon how that home looks from the curb. In what is presently a very challenging housing market, the curb appeal that high-end asphalt roofing products add to a home’s exterior significantly affects whether or not a home shopper will even consider a closer look. In that context, the selection of the roof style is a critical decision, which could be overlooked unless the roofing contractor enlightens the homeowner about the available options.”
The homeowner may not have an expert eye for design, but you can provide him or her with enough information to make a decision. Many ARMA members provide online design tools that allow you to match shingle styles and colors with the home design, including the type of exterior wall and color. If the homeowner is very uncertain or undecided, an exterior design consultant could be brought in to make a recommendation.
Beyond the computer simulation or showing shingle samples, the roofer or design consultant can show the prospective customer recently reroofed homes in the neighborhood, emphasizing attractive color combinations. That is a great way to demonstrate the visual impact of architectural shingles.
“Although architectural shingles were once reserved for mansions and high-end residences, the great majority of shingles sold today are architectural shingles,” explained Batt. “While prospective customers may initially be driven by the immediate functional need for a new roof, all but the most price-sensitive will express a desire for a makeover, once they are familiar with the affordable options that are available to them.”
Hitchcock noted that the up-sell today is not from three-tab shingles to architectural shingles but rather from architectural shingles to designer shingles. Designer shingles and architectural shingles are products that mimic other types or roofing products like slate and cedar shakes thus giving the roof a more distinctive look. “Designer shingles represent the newer category that continues to grow,” he said. “Additionally, designer shingles may provide varying levels of performance that are sometimes greater than the typical three-tab or standard architectural shingle; however one should always check the manufacturer’s specifications for more information. Since labor is the most significant component of reroofing, many homeowners are willing to spend a little more for affordable asphalt designer shingles having the profile and appearance of wood shake or slate."
In summary, Stephen McNally, vice president of sales and marketing at TAMKO Building Products Inc., an ARMA member, said, “Homeowners reroof not only in response to weather events but also to add to the aesthetics of their homes. Many are unaware of the vast selection of roofing materials available today. They rely heavily on advice from professional roofing contractors, distributors and dealers when considering the many choices available for roofing.”
Another role that a professional roofer will be called upon to play is that of a “benevolent protector.” Although this may sound like something from the medieval age, it is a vital role for roofers today. Trust is the basis for building a good reputation and homeowners want to be able to trust their roofers for the most critical component of their homes. Especially today, many homeowners are “green at heart” and would like to make decisions, no matter how small, that are good for the environment. They want to trust their roofers to make environmentally wise decisions, too. A professional roofer can build and reinforce this trust on both accounts by fully protecting the homeowner’s home while, at the same time, looking after the environment.
“From an environmental point of view, the best roof would be the longest lasting roof,” said Hitchcock. “Of course, this means the roof system should be installed to maximize the life of the shingles. The longer a roof lasts, the less energy is wasted for the new roof and the less landfill waste is generated in tearing off the old roof.”
The contractor can also help maximize roof life by choosing a suitable underlayment. “There is a growing recognition that the use of new types of self-adhering or synthetic underlayment as a secondary water barrier adds value anywhere in the country,” said Steve Ratcliff, president of Tarco, who is also an ARMA member.
In some areas of the country, the application of self-adhering underlayment along the eaves is required by both the International Residential Code and the International Building Code in order to prevent damage from ice dams. In addition, complete coverage of a residential building with a secondary water barrier adds value. No matter what type of asphalt shingle is installed, a self-adhering underlayment ensures trouble-free installation and offers an extra layer of protection once the roof is installed, generally at a nominal increase in the overall cost of installation. Always ensure proper roof assembly ventilation when applying such a product over the entire roof.
ARMA has formed a sustainability committee to further research environmental issues such as recycled content and shingle recycling. Many asphalt shingle roofs contain recycled content and use less energy in their manufacture than other types of roofing systems. They may be shipped in recyclable packaging and many use locally available raw materials. “We are investing in sustainable product design to help ensure a healthier world,” reported Carol Perkins, Director of Marketing at IKO. “Given a choice, many homeowners will opt for products made from recycled materials. Roofing contractors can find out the recycled content of various products from manufacturers and pass this information onto the homeowners.” Participating in a shingle recycling program also could enhance the reputation of contractors with homeowners. Check out www.shingle recycling.org for more information.
Energy efficiency is an issue that strikes homeowners closer to home, considering energy costs in many areas. Contractors can help their customers by being informed about rebates for energy efficiency in their state. Are there rebates for installing energy efficient insulation, attic ventilation, or shingles with high solar reflectance?
“Energy efficiency presents roofing contractors with an opportunity to extend their business,” said Carpenter. “When you are looking at the roof, you are already going into the attic. Take a few extra minutes to assess if the attic is properly insulated and then discuss with homeowners the benefits of increasing or installing insulation. Discuss how an insulated attic works with a roof system, how they can work with one contractor to take care of the entire top of their house, and the potential savings every month in their heating and cooling energy related bills. The Department of Energy estimates that 80 million homes in the U.S. have under-insulated attics. This is an opportunity for roofers in practically every city to provide added value to customers, increasing the take-home revenue per job by providing more service.”
Looking into the near future, installing photovoltaic systems on the roofs of residential homes is blossoming into an important roof-related technology, and is expected to be readily available in the next five years. Be ready to answer customer questions about when these new technologies will become practical. You may be selling a roof today, but, in the next five to 10 years, depending on technological developments and tax incentives, you may find yourself selling the same customers a rooftop solar power plant. Homeowners will appreciate roofing contractors who are knowledgeable of the latest developments in energy efficiency and solar technology.
Ventilation is another area where your knowledge will be appreciated and you can also avoid callbacks. Achieving the right balance between climate, roof design, insulation and attic ventilation can positively affect the longevity of asphalt shingles. A contractor who can reassure the homeowner that he or she is employing the best practices for particular home designs and climate conditions will build a good reputation and receive more referrals.
“Proper ventilation can greatly influence the lifetime of a roof and reduce moisture that is common with poorly ventilated roofs,” said Carpenter. “Homeowners typically don’t know much about ventilation, so take the time to walk them through the system. They can be overwhelmed by all of the factors that are involved in picking the right system while also contributing to the curb appeal of their home. Earning their trust eases the selection process for them, making for happy homeowners who will show their gratitude with referrals after the job is complete.”
Home Sweet Home
Nothing said “Home Sweet Home” like the exterior of the home. Today’s premium residential roofing systems with modern designer shingles are quite affordable and they shout “Beautiful Home.” Some homeowners or even whole communities may be amenable to a makeover, to help avoid decay and preserve the value of their properties.
A properly designed residential roofing system constructed with premium underlayment, adequate insulation, proper ventilation, and architectural- or designer-grade asphalt shingles provides a level of beauty, permanence, protection, and energy efficiency unmatched by previous generations of residential roofing systems.
By aggressively promoting reroofing and embracing your expanded roles as described above, you as a roofing contractor could weather these austere times and emerge stronger and more knowledgeable of your profession.