GAF Materials Corporation celebrates its 125th anniversary this month. Asked about the company’s success, GAF President and CEO Bob Tafaro singled out a key factor: “There are many reasons why GAF has survived all of these years. But none of them is as remarkable as one - and that’s innovation.

GAF Materials Corporation is celebrating its 125th year in business and moving forward with new product launches including Tiger Paw underlayment (above left), initiatives in shingle recycling (center) and its partnership with Habitat for Humanity (lower right).


GAF Materials Corporation celebrates its 125th anniversary this month. Asked about the company’s success, GAF President and CEO Bob Tafaro singled out a key factor: “There are many reasons why GAF has survived all of these years. But none of them is as remarkable as one - and that’s innovation. We design reliable and innovative residential and commercial roofing products that deliver superior performance. That’s not just hyperbole - we were the first manufacturer to guarantee our laminated shingles with a lifetime warranty. We operate the largest TPO facility in North America. When you put customers first by ensuring that they get quality products and service, you’ve got the formula for surviving long term and throughout even the toughest economic times.”

Tafaro shared that it’s cliché to say your employees are your greatest asset, but at GAF, they live that philosophy every day. “Innovation flourishes when your people are never satisfied with the status quo, when they’re always looking for the next great idea. Our success is based on our talented and highly motivated employees, who challenge themselves to find ways to continuously improve. Those are the kinds of people we have at GAF, and the type that thrive here. We run the company as a true meritocracy.” For its part, the company focuses on training and education for all employees, and always looks to fill new positions from its own, internal talent pool. “The people of GAF are never satisfied that ‘good’ is good enough and we are always striving to take our products, our services, and our ideas to the next level.”

As the timeline in this article shows, the people at GAF have made a lot of breakthroughs over the last 125 years, but it’s clear that the company doesn’t plan to rest on its laurels. Its focus is on the future. Roofing Contractor spoke with representatives from GAF who shared information about their newest programs, including cutting-edge initiatives in sustainability and social media, as well as an increased emphasis on community outreach through its partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

According to Tafaro, all of these new programs reflect GAF’s overall philosophy, which will continue to guide the company as it moves forward. “As a company, we have committed to three guiding principles, which include Advanced Quality, Industry Expertise, and Solutions Made Simple,” he said. “In addition, by remaining focused on adding value, being innovative, becoming more efficient, and avoiding waste, we are best positioned to continue to support our customers. I tell our team members every day that the best way to deal with market uncertainty is to stay committed to those goals and stay focused on becoming a world-class building products company.”

Reducing Waste

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the last few years, but its key components - minimizing waste, maximizing efficiency, lowering life-cycle costs and lessening impact on the environment - not only help the planet but make good business sense.

Martin Grohman, GAF’s Director of Sustainability, shared his insights on the ways the company is achieving sustainability in manufacturing, product development and recycling efforts.

“‘Sustainability’ and ‘green’ have fairly broad definitions,” Grohman said. “But for us, if you said ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and included energy in that discussion - reduce, reuse, recycle energy, as well as materials - that would sum up what we are doing, within our operations, in our offices, and for our customers.”

The Certified Green Roofer program is open to GAF Master Elite contractors who participate in U.S. Green Building Council-approved training on the many important contributions the roofing system makes to a green home and asphalt shingle recycling.

The company always strives for efficiency in its manufacturing processes, noted Grohman, and when breakthroughs are made in one location they are shared throughout the company via the Sustainability Action Center, an internal website devoted to exchanging information and best practices. “One of the advantages of having a large number of sites and national reach is it gives us more opportunities for learning across locations and functions,” said Grohman. “Probably the coolest thing we’ve done is just that - share best practices among plants. With our reach, and our many locations, we’ve got a good possibility to get the ideas flowing among sites. We’ve been able to do that, and it’s been one of our most effective techniques.”

The ultimate goal is to eliminate waste entirely. “We’re very interested in and think there’s a lot more potential for more Zero Waste to landfill in our operations,” Grohman said. “Efficiency of logistics and supply chain is also one of those opportunities that always bears fruit as you collaborate with your suppliers and customers. As they say, sustainability is a journey, not a destination.”

Making the products themselves more environmentally friendly is also a focus, according to Grohman. “Since we came out with the Advanced Protection™ shingle, which really optimizes the engineering of the shingle and puts materials where they are needed, all the way from the nonwoven core to the engineered asphalt, we’ve really made great strides in the usage of precious raw materials,” he said. “This technology has made transportation more efficient, even while improving a lot of properties like wind rating. Secondly, as you know all our laminated shingles now carry a lifetime limited warranty, which is a testament to how well this technology performs.”

The company was founded in 1886 in this remodeled sawmill in Bound Brook, N.J. It was then known as the Standard Paint Company.

“In the reflective or cool roofing arena, this is an area that’s really growing, and combined with renewable energy, that’s a market segment whose time has come,” he continued. “Making roofs ‘solar ready’, providing a home for renewable energy, is a big priority. With Extreme TPO, that’s a product that’s tougher even at higher temperatures, to take on the additional stresses that solar can dish out - lots of additional roof traffic, heat, roof penetrations, etc. We really believe your roof can be your biggest asset in going green.”

According to Grohman, the company also tries to help contractors become more environmentally friendly, and part of that plan is a recycling program for asphalt shingles.

“A lot of our recent focus has been on end of service life, for asphalt shingles in particular,” he said. “This is an area that’s growing quickly, recycling shingles into hot mix pavement, and we are working to try to encourage and recognize roofing contractors for recycling, at the same time as we’re trying to help the roofing recycling market develop, by networking, making connections, and so on, on behalf of the industry.”

GAF and Habitat for Humanity have established a partnership to serve the community. GAF donates materials and contractors supply the labor on projects selected by Habitat for Humanity.

At the heart of their efforts is GAF’s Certified Green Roofer program. “As part of the designation process, GAF Certified Green Roofers participate in U.S. Green Building Council-approved training on the many important contributions the roofing system makes to a green home, including the advanced technology behind cool roofing; techniques for improving indoor air quality via proper attic ventilation; preparing a roof for solar energy; and asphalt shingle recycling,” Grohman said.

“The Certified Green Roofer program recognizes roofing contractors who make the extra effort to recycle, helps them represent that in the home and helps the customer understand the benefits of recycling.”

In the 1890s, the Standard Paint Company invented ready-to-lay asphalt rolled roofing, known as Ruberoid.

Improving Communication

Innovating to help educate contractors and homeowners has always been a key focus for GAF. Now, the company has expanded opportunities for communication, education and networking through online social media sites, according to Paul Bromfield, GAF’s Senior Vice President of Marketing. “At GAF we have always been committed to making our contractors and distributors successful through effective marketing communication, whether that be print, video, or online. Social media is a natural extension for us to communicate product and other innovations. Over the last year we decided to really embrace Facebook, and we have more than 3,000 followers,” he said. “The vast majority seem to be roofing contractors, so we view it as a channel of communication with our contractors and a way to get feedback from them. We post all of our press releases and announcements, and this often generates questions and debate. We use blogs as well.”

Ruberoid roofing rolls changed the way roofs were installed.

Company announcements, press releases, industry news items and blog posts make up the majority of postings, but the Facebook site is also a place where contractors ask technical questions, share product information and goodwill messages. “It’s becoming a very, very useful channel,” said Bromfield.

GAF has also set up a private social media site for its Master Elite contractors at www.gaf.com. “We recently launched a Master Elite social networking portal,” he said. “It’s a closed community just for Master Elite contractors. Rather than setting up a separate site, we overlaid it on the site they use already.”

Master Elite contractors can rate services provided to them by third parties and tap into the expertise of other Master Elite contractors on a variety of subjects. “We built it ahead of its time, but we know we’re going to see more of this in the future,” Bromfield said. “Networking doesn’t have to be limited to once or twice a year in a seminar - you can do it all the time.”

Homeowners can connect with Master Elite contractors through the Contractor Locator on GAF’s website, where contractors can customize their listing.

The GAF website is also a great tool for homeowners looking for product information, and it also connects them to GAF factory-certified Master Elite contractors in their area through the Contractor Locator on its home page. When customers type in their zip code, they get more than a listing of company names and phone numbers. Contractors can customize their listing with a photo, a brief introduction and contact information. They can also upload up to nine photos showcasing their work, and list industry awards or special certifications they’ve earned - including the Certified Green Roofer designation. “They can really personalize their own listing,” noted Bromfield. “The results have shown that once contractors load their information, we see a substantial increase in traffic.”

The listing also includes the ratings and reviews of actual homeowners who rated the contractor on several factors, including the sales experience, installation experience, and overall satisfaction. “Homeowners are always looking for independent information, ratings and reviews,” said Bromfield.

A vintage ad for Ruberoid Roofing.

For customers looking for information about products, another new feature on the GAF website has been set up to help: Roof Wizard. Homeowners input their choices for shingles, color, warranty, etc., and the software compiles a complete profile of the roof system. “It’s designed to help homeowners make product choices,” he said. “Most want to learn more about the products and systems, and this is a way to help them do that.”

Contractors often recommend customers use Roof Wizard to help them do their homework. “This is particularly helpful in helping GAF demonstrate the effect that the roof has on a home’s aesthetic,” said Bromfield. “For instance, allowing homeowners to see the difference between using standard architectural shingles versus Value Collection Designer shingles, designed to offer the beauty of a luxury designer shingle but at an affordable price.”

“We’ve gotten a good reaction to it,” he continued. “It’s a great additional tool for the homeowner to figure out their selections. It educates them on a roofing system - why you have to have each component and what the options are.”

Ruberoid is touted as “the world’s best roofing” in this vintage ad.

Serving the Community

GAF has always made it a priority to help contractors and the communities they serve, noted Jim Slauson, the company’s Vice President Certified Program and Services. He points to the recent partnership with Habitat for Humanity as proof of the company’s commitment to community service.

“We’ve done a lot of Habitat projects in an informal way throughout the years, but with this partnership we were looking to further our commitment to the community and find a way to involve more of our contractors in the process,” Slauson said. “We wanted to find a way to really show appreciation for the communities.”

They also wanted to ensure that roof installation was done correctly. GAF enlisted the folks at CARE (Center for Advanced Roofing Excellence) to help educate members of Habitat affiliates on best roofing practices. “In Habitat installs, you have to make sure it’s done right, and there is no greater concern than the roof,” Slauson said. “We wanted to make sure we defined the role of the contractors and how they were involved.”

Under the program, GAF donates materials and offers a warranty as long as the roof system is installed by one of its Certified or Master Elite contractors. “GAF will donate that material plus our System Plus warranty,” he said. “It must be installed by one of our Certified or Master Elite contractors. If we are offering a System Plus warranty, we want to make sure it is done right.”

This 1951 ad from Better Homes and Gardens calls a new roof “a new chapeau for your old chateau.”

Master Elite contractors just reach out to GAF and fill out a registration form to participate in the program. Once contractors enroll, the local affiliate contacts them when they have a roof ready to be installed in that community. The delivery is handled by a local distributor, who is credited by GAF.

There are three ways to earn certification in the partnership:

1. Install a minimum of two roofs in a 12-month period.

2. Install one roof with a tear-off (if required).

3. If there aren’t any available local roofing projects, contractors can donate labor on two other projects per year.

Contractors are recognized for their participation, and the contractor locator function on GAF’s website indicates which contractors are participants in the Habitat for Humanity partnership. “People in the communities want to see contractors get involved,” said Slauson. “It helps contractors differentiate themselves from their competitors.”

The program was launched just this year with pilot projects in Dallas and Minneapolis, and it’s proving very popular. “It’s going very well, and it’s really growing,” said Slauson. “It’s a five-star winner all the way around. It’s good for the company. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the contractor. And most of all it really helps the people who need it the most.”

In 1904, the company perfected the method of embedding colored granules in asphalt coating. Individual asphalt shingles were developed in 1912.

Looking to the Future

Asked what’s in store for the next 125 years, CEO Bob Tafaro responded this way: “Economic uncertainty is forcing us to act smarter about earning new business and keeping existing customers. Again, we believe that innovation is key, but it’s more than simply putting new products in the marketplace. It’s also about focusing on long-term issues such as sustainability and ‘green’ products. As a company committed to the roofing business, we are highly involved with burgeoning concepts, such as next generation solar products that perform well but are lightweight, easy to install and cost competitive. Also this year, look for GAF to become a bigger player in the commercial roofing market through new operations and perhaps some acquisitions. Without a doubt, these are tough economic times. But at GAF, we see it as an ideal time to identify where we want to be in the marketplace and to develop the strategies that will take us there.”

GAF Timeline: 125 Years of Innovation

>> 1886
The company is founded in Bound Brook, N.J., as the Standard Paint Company.

>> 1892
The company invents the first ready-to-lay asphalt roofing, called Ruberoid.

>> 1904
The company is the first to embed colored granules in roofing material.

>> 1912
The company develops the first individual asphalt shingle.

>> 1915
The company produces the first interlocking shingles.

>> 1967
GAF develops the Timberline® laminated shingle.

>> 1980
The company introduces in-line laminated architectural shingles.

>> 1988
GAF is the first to produce oversized asphalt shingles.

>> 1991
GAF introduces shingles with High Definition® colors.

>> 2001
The company introduces the first lifetime warranted architectural shingle

>> 2005
GAF introduces the Cool Series, the first energy-efficient asphalt shingle available in rich colors.

>> 2007
The company introduces the First Advanced Protection Shingles - Timberline Prestique® High Definition®.

>> 2011
GAF is the first to offer a lifetime limited warranty on all laminated shingles.