The State of Roofing

Jan. 2, 2003
NRCA Exec Offers Insight
The roofing industry has weathered some storms in today’s tight economy. Despite such challenges, it also has made some great strides in the past five years. Rosemont, IL-based National Roofing Contractors Association Executive Vice President Bill Good shares his organization’s view of the state of the roofing industry.How has the roofing industry changed in the past five years?It’s really a tale of two different markets. One thing to keep in mind, 75 to 80 percent of the total roofing market (both residential and commercial) is repair replacement.In the residential sector, which represents one-third of roofing expenditures in the country, you have a market that is at record levels. The commercial sector is a much different story … [with] a reduction in capital spending in the commercial and industrial segments. The institutional marketplace has remained pretty steady. A lot of that is public-sector work and involves public-sector bidding.The rest of the commercial and industrial market is soft. We saw a pretty significant contraction this year. We’re expecting this year to be down 10 percent plus or minus a couple of percent from last year. Last year was flat from the prior year. It’s tied to the economy overall and a general reluctance of private owners to put money into capital expansion because of economic uncertainties.How are commercial facilities owners/managers approaching roofing jobs in this economy?We’re seeing prices getting more competitive and there are more bids than normal on typical jobs. [Also], more urgency with respect to big roofing projects. A lot of temporary repair work is being done rather than tear-offs … to get these buildings through a couple more years.  There’s a high level of bid activity, but it hasn’t translated into a lot of work. There’s pent-up demand and a big inventory of roofs that need to be replaced. We’re waiting for the capital to get freed up. There are plenty of jobs being bid where the owners say, “Once I get the budget to do this, we’ll proceed,” but the work isn’t being done right now.How have roofing products changed over the years in the commercial sector?From a five- to 10-year perspective, there has been a definite shift in the kind of materials specified. We’re moving away from traditional built-up roofs to a lighter-colored roof – the ones that are probably more environmentally friendly. Owners have a great deal more interest in exploring cool roofing by adding insulation and using reflective materials. There’s good science behind it and it works.Studies have delivered clear and dramatic evidence that roofs contribute immensely to energy conservation with a strategic combination of insulation and reflective coatings. The industry is constantly determining what the optimum use of insulation and reflectivity should be for different environments and different kinds of buildings.We’re trying to develop models to help owners make the determination of which system is the best for their needs. Variables are the climate and the way that the building is used. Geography does have the biggest impact on the decision.In some climates and building uses, it makes sense to have a reflective roof with minimum insulation and maximum reflectivity. In other applications, you might be best served using lots of insulation and minimum reflectivity. Some installations need both.Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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