Home builder Gary Mevis doesn’t have much trouble selling metal roofs to buyers of the high-end custom homes he nestles under the towering Ponderosa pine trees in Prescott, Ariz.
His sales pitch involves this likely scenario: “Say you’re away from your home and in comes a strong wind, which we get here, and one of those heavy limbs breaks off and falls on your roof and you have an asphalt shingle roof. That limb can go completely through that shingle and the roof decking, and now you’ve got a hole in your roof, and you may not know it for a couple of weeks because you’re away.”
The same limb could crash onto a 28-gauge steel roof, he says, and “it may make a dent. But it’s a dent you won’t even notice.”
Metal roofing, a traditional favorite for rural outbuildings and commercial structures, has a new and growing following among custom builders and urban remodelers—and their customers.
Since 2000, sales of residential metal roofs have doubled along with market share for the product, thanks in part to a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz by the five-year-old Metal Roofing Alliance, a coalition of companies that make the roofing or supply materials to its manufacturers.
The Belfair, Wash.-based alliance aims to debunk the widespread consumer perception that metal roofing is best suited for barns, where the plink-plink of raindrops on the roof won’t disturb occupants and the one-style-fits-all silver sheets won’t present an eyesore in a neighborhood of homes topped with earth-tone asphalt.
The message seems to be sinking in, as roofers, remodelers, custom builders, and small production builders are crowning houses from California to the East Coast with roofs made of aluminum, steel, tin, and copper.
The new appeal is largely aesthetic: Today’s metal roofs can be painted almost any color and can be patterned to mimic the look of cement tiles, wood shakes, and even asphalt shingles. Even subdivisions that once outlawed metal roofs are softening to the look-alike styles. Notes Tom Black, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance: “A lot of times, if you have a wood shake-look metal and you’re standing at the curb, you’d be hard-pressed to tell its metal at all.”
More Than Good Looks
But looks alone haven’t earned metal 8 percent of the residential roofing market. Roof-ravaging wind, hail, and snow have won metal some converts among homeowners paying for replacement roofs after hurricanes and storms.
Indeed, a 50-year warranty is a huge selling point for the manufacturers of most metal roofs, including some that have earned a Class 4 hail-resistance rating and are guaranteed to withstand 120-mph winds.
Metal’s staying power during Florida’s foursome of hurricanes last summer “created a monster for us,” brags Brad Davis, owner of West Coast Metal Roofing & Construction in Milton, Fla., whose sales have increased by 380 percent since August.
Homeowners there, partial to the look of concrete tile, are opting for tile-look and stone-coated metal as they replace their weather-torn roofs, Davis says. Indeed, notes Black, about 80 percent of the residential metal roofing market involves repairs or replacements rather than new construction.
At up to four times the cost of a standard asphalt roof, however, metal isn’t a favorite among builders, who usually opt to upgrade consumer priorities like kitchens and entryways before sinking extra money into the roof, Black says.
Still, Black notes, custom builders are meandering toward metal, and he predicts that as more consumers become aware of metal’s durability and new styles, production builders will follow.
For now, “it is a way for custom builders to differentiate their homes and provide value,” he says.
Remodeler Gerry Donaghue says that’s why he started pushing metal to the customers who hire him to build additions onto or reroof their homes.
“There are hundreds of guys who put on asphalt products,” says the owner of Donaghue Construction Group in Nashua, N.H. “We wanted to be different from other contractors.”
The profits followed. “For roofing contractors, it’s a great opportunity,” claims Black. “It’s a product where they can make money. In asphalt shingles, a lot of the installation gets down to competing for the last 25 cents. But because metal and other premium roofing products require specialized installation, roofers can charge more for it, he says.
That’s if they can find the help. While he hasn’t had any trouble getting his hands on metal products during Florida’s reroofing binge, Davis says he has a three-month backlog of jobs because he can’t find enough qualified installers.
After contacting roofing manufacturers for referrals, he has imported installers from as far away as Minnesota, where roofers typically are dormant during snowy winters that put construction on hold.
Installation of metal roofs “has a learning curve to it,” agrees Donaghue. But as the market for metal matures, roofers of all kinds are trying to learn, says Natalie Tanner, marketing manager for Decra Roofing Systems, whose shingle-like, metal-coated steel product, she says, is easier to install than the traditional metal sheets.…