Roofing professionals from around the globe turned Orlando into the epicenter of the industry during the 2016 International Roofing Expo (IRE) from Feb. 17-19. Show organizers said roughly 9,500 people representing 460 companies visited the IRE show floor, which covered 120,600 square feet of display space at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC).

The overall attendance and number of exhibit booths (1,206) increased slightly from last year’s show in New Orleans, but were substantially higher than the last time Orlando hosted the IRE in 2012, officials said.

“This was an all-around phenomenal show. The show floor booths were up 2 percent over last year, making it the largest since the inception of the show,” Show Director Tracy Garcia said. “In addition, verified attendees were up 9 percent over 2015.”

Attendees came from all 50 states, with heavy representation from vibrant roofing markets such as Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and host state Florida. The largest contingent of foreign attendees came from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, China and Mexico.

Nearly half of all registered visitors (43 percent) were first-time show attendees, and all were treated to the latest in cutting-edge products, diversified educational sessions and unparalleled networking opportunities.

They also had the opportunity to meet and learn from ‘super’ special guests: Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning made an appearance on day one, drawing hundreds of contractors for a special photo shoot sponsored by GAF just weeks before officially ending his stellar career; and Dr. Beck Weathers delivered an inspiring message of personal strength and determination stemming from his survival of the catastrophic expedition on Mt. Everest in 1996.

Miracle on the Mountain

Beck Weathers was dying. Slowly. Blinded and perched at roughly 27,000 feet near the summit of Mt. Everest — with no sanctuary from the punishing snow and subzero temperature — he was coming to terms with what seemed inevitable. Stunted by a lack of oxygen, sapped of physical strength and certain that the slim chance of a rescue was getting smaller with each passing minute, his thoughts turned to home.

Had he seen his wife, Peach, for the last time? Would he never again hug his children and watch them grow into adulthood? Was his beloved career in medicine over? Was it really supposed to end like this?

It wasn’t. And it didn’t.

During the second day of a vicious storm — after spending nearly 15 hours face down on the frozen mountain top, Weathers said he could only describe what happened as a miracle.

“I opened my eyes. That’s it, I opened my eyes,” he said as tears welled. “I was given a chance to try.”

Spurred by mental images of his family, he was determined to stand. “I knew that if I didn’t stand I’d spend an eternity on this spot,” he said. “It was just not acceptable.”

Weathers recounted his remarkable story of survival from what at the time was the worst mountain-climbing tragedy in modern history during the IRE keynote address, sponsored by Malarkey Building Products. Left for dead by other climbers trying to survive their own journey to the roof of the world, Weathers beat the odds and found his way down 4,000 feet to a base camp. Virtually in a hypothermic coma and severely frostbitten, he wasn’t expected to survive another night on the mountain. But he did, and then was the beneficiary of the highest-altitude helicopter rescue in history before reaching safety.

He lost parts of both feet, his right arm up to the elbow, much of his left hand, and his nose, but he considers himself lucky compared to the eight colleagues that perished atop the mountain in the spring of 1996. The story was well documented in multiple books, including his own, and in the recent blockbuster film “Everest.”

No matter how many times he retells his story as a motivational speaker to groups across the country, Weathers is still moved to tears when recounting his thoughts about his own mortality and about shouldering the grief – and some guilt – about the others that didn’t survive.

After spending roughly an hour describing the adventure and tragedy of that expedition, he concluded by reflecting on what he learned that spring, and every spring since, with a renewed perspective on what’s truly important.

“As we age, we lose that sense of wonder, awe and astonishment in life,” he explained. “It’s always there. I get to see that every single day, and it is an exquisite treasure.”

Making a Difference

Dozens of roofing professionals attending the IRE in Orlando continued the annual tradition of lending their time and skills to help others in the host city during Community Service Day.

Sponsored by Sika Sarnafil, volunteers worked on three different projects in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood where their carpentry, painting and building skills were needed to rejuvenate the exteriors of three aging homes just west of downtown.

Crews worked together with Rebuilding Together Orlando – a local non-profit that rehabilitates and repairs worn-down homes.

“We’ve been waiting for this day. It’s finally arrived, and it’s exceeding expectations,” said Rebuilding Together Executive Director Ed Green as he watched a crew of IRE volunteers transform the exterior of Erma Smith’s home. 

“This is just amazing, they’re all working so hard,” said Smith as volunteers remodeled her home of 32 years that she shares with her son and special-needs grandchild.

Smith’s modest 760 square-foot Florida block house was originally built in 1958 and needed significant renovations, including the modernization of the windows and doors, weatherization, a new roof, and safety modifications. More than a dozen volunteers helped with replacing a side door, exterior paint, landscaping and building a handrail for the front door stairway.

Beacon helps Ride2Recovery

Beacon Roofing Supply Inc. celebrated a strong year at the IRE by giving back to the men and women that keep America safe. The company hosted roughly 600 roofing contractors and industry professionals for a special gathering that included a random drawing to win a 2016 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe motorcycle. The winner was Brian Kramer of Buck Roofing & Construction in Kansas City, Kan.

In addition to the giveaway, Beacon donated $20,000 to Ride2Recovery, a non-profit that supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs for injured military veterans — with cycling as the featured core activity.

“Beacon takes pride in giving back to our community and supporting the U.S. Military,” said Eric Zadrozny, Beacon’s national director of marketing.

Malarkey Supports Trio of Charities

In conjunction with its 60th anniversary, Malarkey Roofing Products launched a special Giving Back campaign to benefit three charities that serve communities across the country. The company will make donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, No Kid Hungry, and Feeding America during trade shows and special events throughout 2016.

Here’s how you can help: anyone attending a trade show just needs to mention the Giving Back campaign at Malarkey’s booth and the company will donate $5 to the charity of your choice. Officials said an additional $300 in donations was raised by those who mentioned the charity campaign while visiting the Malarkey booth the IRE.

SRS Continues to ‘Raise the Roof’

SRS Distribution Inc. continued its successful tradition of fundraising for the Raise the Roof Foundation by hosting its third annual customer and supplier hospitality event at the IRE. A large, vibrant crowd filled the auditorium at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney to see Creedence Clearwater Revisited and special guest musician Pat Green in concert on Feb. 18. The event was open to all SRS customers and supplier partners, and proceeds went directly to the foundation, which was established in 2012 as a way to give back.

The foundation supports a handful of non-profit organizations that share the company’s mission of supporting disaster relief efforts, military veterans, and community programs across the country.

In conjunction with the SRS Extreme Tailgate that took place outside the OCCC throughout the show, the concert and unique phone text contribution program helped SRS reach its fund-raising goal of $50,000, said Rich Ross, director of marketing. The total was a significant increase over the previous year and demonstrated that supporters appreciate the care with which the foundation applies when choosing worthwhile causes to help.

“It was a tremendous response,” he said. “Part of it is raised awareness, and part of it is that people have learned that we make sure our foundation dollars go to organizations that are very cautious and careful about how they spend the money so that it goes where it needs to go.”

Donations may still be made online at

Product Pinnacle

As usual, the show floor proved to be a collection of the latest innovations in the roofing and building trades.

Among them were those named “Best New Product” in the Product Showcase. Twenty one unique products were evaluated by an esteemed panel of judges and three were selected as the winners based on innovation, productive and cost effectiveness.

First Place: D.I. Roof Seamers of Corinth, Miss., for its Curver, a panel radius bender for snap-lock metal roof panels.

Second Place: Standing Seam Roof Anchor, based in New Port Richey, Fla., for its Eponymous product, a universal-fit fall protection anchor for standing seam roofs.

Third Place: Tie Down Engineering of Atlanta, Ga., for its Penetrator Mobile Fall Protection Cart, a lightweight, fully portable mobile fall protection device. 

Getting Schooled

Professional roofing contractors weren’t the only ones getting hands-on education during the IRE’s 44 seminar sessions and featured events. Three groups of students representing major universities in the South participated in the Roofing Industry Alliance for Progress (RIAP)’s Second Annual Construct Management Student Competition on day two of the show.

Students from Auburn University, the University of Florida and Louisiana State University were asked to bid on installing a roof system at the OCCC, the IRE host site. Each team had to research the project, review the plans and specifications, and assemble a full estimate and proposal to submit a qualified bid package.

The University of Florida’s Nick Loewenthal, Eddie San Juan, Caleb Strauss and Drew Winant were selected the winners.

They received a $5,000 L.B. Conway scholarship, a team trophy and individual awards, and special recognition during the National Roofing Contractors Association’s (NRCA) Industry Awards Ceremony on Feb. 18.

“All the teams did a good job of understanding a rather complex project,” said John Geary, vice president of marketing for Firestone Building Products, who served as a judge. “But with the Florida team, they just nailed it.”

Agreeing with the others on the seven-member panel of roofing professionals, Geary said he was impressed that the winning, “no-nonsense” presentation came closest to the actual bid price of the real job and demonstrated the best safety plan and commitment to quality.

“Their poise, their understanding of the project set them apart. It was very apparent they knew what they were doing, and it showed,” he said.

The teams also got to meet and discuss the project with representatives from Springer-Peterson Roofing and Sheet Metal, Inc. — which completed the actual convention center roof. 

Want to see more IRE content? Check out the links below.

National Women in Roofing Kicks Off at IRE 2016

NFL's Peyton Manning Steals the Show at IRE 2016

Beacon Roofing Supply Inc. Supports Ride2Recover with Harley Giveaway at IRE 2016

International Roofing Expo Draws the Largest Attendance in Show History

Community Service Day at IRE 2016