When he took the reins of GAF Energy – the roofing giant’s energy-focused spinoff company – in 2019, Martin DeBono set out to create a company that would drive innovation and become an industry leader in the solar roofing market. Three years into the effort, he now believes the company has achieved a major milestone with its latest product innovation. And yet, he said the team’s true work lies in the months ahead, beginning with contractors at the 2022 International Roofing Expo (IRE).
In January, GAF Energy unveiled its Timberline Solar™, the only roof system to directly integrate solar technology into traditional roofing process. The world’s first nailable solar shingle was a hit at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where it won multiple awards — including the highest honor, the Best of Innovation award for “Smart Cities.” The product was also named an Innovation Award honoree in two categories.
It was the first time anyone from the roofing industry, much less a powerhouse name like GAF, launched a new product at a show that showcases emerging technology, and the gamble worked. DeBono said the ability to show a solar roof to a general audience and have it resonate spoke volumes.
“It’s remarkable to be able to get such recognition from an audience that doesn’t know anything about roofing,” he said. “To be able to show them a shingle that’s nailable and generates electricity is wonderful. They were very excited.”
DeBono said he plans to carry that momentum at IRE, and deep into 2022. He’s also looking forward to further innovation as the company tries to change the landscape of residential roofing. He recently spoke with RC about the development of Timberline Solar™, the adoption of new technology in roofing, and what it means for the industry’s future.
RC: This is a very exciting time for GAF Energy with a new product launch. Tell us what you’ve done?
MD: We’ve launched Timberline Solar, the only roof system to directly integrate solar technology into the traditional roofing process using roofing materials. This new system incorporates the world’s first nailable solar shingle, the Timberline Solar Energy Shingle™.
The goal was to create a product that roofers felt comfortable with, and we’ve done that. It goes on like a shingle, goes on like a regular roof, and it looks awesome. Those were really the criteria: that a roofer needs to be able to adopt it, to look at it and say, “Yep, I can install it. I can sell it, it’s a product I can stand behind.”
RC: Will roofers recognize this a fusion of GAF’s Timberline technology and its DecoTech product?
MD: This is a fusion of Timberline shingle technology with brand new thinking when it comes to solar. It was an audacious goal, to create a solar roof that you could put on at the same speed as a regular roof. In order to do that, we had to start fresh from the solar side, but certainly embrace much of what GAF had already invented on the waterproofing side. DecoTech is like other solar products in that it goes on and eventually becomes part of the roof. Timberline Solar is a solar roof, designed with roofing DNA for the roofing channel.
RC: What are some other key differentiators?
MD: It is a complete roof system that generates electricity, goes on as fast as a regular roof; gets the GAF waterproofing warranty – one for the entire roof – and it looks amazing! For the roofer, it goes on like a regular roof because it’s a roofing product. It’s also walkable and will still perform.
RC: GAF Energy also received UL’s 7103 certification for this late last year. What’s the significance of that?
MD: It authorizes GAF Energy to install the system on residential roofs as a roofing product and a solar energy product — the first of its kind to be recognized as both. The testing requirements on the roofing side (like water resistance, hail ratings) are a lot harder than what anyone has seen on the solar side.
RC: What other support services does GAF Energy offer?
MD: It’s not just a product. We will offer a host of services as well from on-the-roof training for installs; design services, so the roofer doesn’t have to become an expert in solar design; we’ll present a permit pack and even have the permit; and we train installers on the rooftop connection, but that’s relatively easy. There’s no need for an electrician, GAF Energy has them that do final installs and setup. We don’t expect the roofers to do anything like that.
RC: What is the warranty available and how significant will that be for sales?
MD: The warranty is a game changer. It’s similar to GAF’s golden pledge, a 25-year product warranty on the roofing shingles. But they also have the ability to buy a solar-max warranty that covers everything for 25 years. That’s leaks, power output, etc. Nothing like that exists in the industry.
RC: Did the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate the product development process or slow it down?
MD: I think COVID-19 helped us really focus. We found ourselves in a situation where with the pandemic preventing us from being in the home to educate and explain the advantages to the consumer, we really needed a product that could sell itself, and that’s certainly what we’ve got now. It helped us make a more-simple product because with COVID-19 we couldn’t be there with the roofer to explain the solar value proposition.
RC: Why is this the right time for this product?
MD: Whether you believe in global warming or not, the burning and extraction of fossil fuels does take a toll on the environment. The sun imparts an incredible amount of power and it can liberate us to live a more comfortable life just by having this free energy. Having more energy is having more convenience at your fingertips.
From a consumer perspective, there is a demand from millennial homeowners to be “green.” They really care about their houses and their carbon footprint. Unlike baby boomers, who are primarily economically driven, millennial homeowners are not. Green has a big impact on them, so from a business perspective it’s the right time because it’s what consumers want. From a societal perspective, it helps reduce the stress of our traditional methods of finding energy sources.
RC: There are just a few companies in the marketplace working on something like this. What will the reaction be?
MD: A number of other roofing companies have dallied in solar. When they see what we’ve done, I think they’ll be impressed, and it might force them to look at solar again. When they think about the time and resources we’ve invested, they also might see that we’re just so far ahead that they may turn their focus back to roofing. While there have been other offerings from companies with respect to solar products, they are non-differentiating.
RC: What’s the next challenge for GAF Energy?
MD: We’re going to continue to innovate. There are going to be ways to improve this product, integrate feedback from roofers and so on. Most of the effort so far was with our research and development teams, and now going forward it’s going to be up to the manufacturing and sales marketing teams to push it out to our customers.
Across GAF we’re investing. (GAF Energy) has 150 people focused on this particular challenge, but now that we have this product, it’s time to add fuel to the engine. And grow it as quickly as our customers demand. It’s one of these things where we worked really hard. It’s a marathon and we just finished. And now it’s time to start another one.