A Brief History of the Roofing Industry
The Greeks and Romans were the first to experiment with different roofing styles. When they began to conquer parts of Britain, they utilized slating and tiling to endure the rainy climate. It is indisputable that a roof is an essential component of any dwelling. Through innovation, there are many different roofing styles. Most of the changes in roofing materials have developed in the last 200 years. Although people generally still use the most available materials for the region. Wood and metal are used in the southern part of North America, slate in the northeast, wood in the Midwest and tile in the southwestern part of North America.
Now we are seeing technological advances in glass, polymer and smog absorbing tiles.
Timeline of Modern Roofing Materials and Systems
Most of the materials and systems available to us today began to take shape in the 1900’s.
- 1896 – Barrett Manufacturing Co. developed the alternating application of layers to produce an impenetrable foundation that we know today. This changed the shape of buildings, allowing for roofs to take on both a flat and pitched appearance.
- 1910– It is difficult to put a finger on who really created the asphalt shingle. The H.M. Reynolds Company of Grand Rapids, MI, claimed to have invented the product, but it’s hard to prove. However, asphalt shingles enter the story in the early 1900’s–making it possible to roll and stretch the compound into a material that could be cut into shingles. Since their conception, asphalt shingles quickly replaced wood shingles because of their endurance.
- 1925 – Clay tiling is one of the oldest forms of roofing materials and predates asphalt shingles. Over the years it has been improved in both style and shape. By 1925, the product was rebranded as an “ancient” material and catalogs from that time give evidence of their popularity in residential architecture.
- 1930 – Slate roofing was used in northeastern U.S. and parts of Canada where it’s readily available. Contractors encourage the use not just because it was available but it was impervious to the harsh weather conditions. It’s a weighted material that does well with steep pitches. The trend of slate took off in the 30’s and could be seen on many residential and commercial properties across the U.S.
- 1936 – A manufacturing company from Nevada changed roofing materials for the better. Homeowners wanted the look of clay tiles but not the weight or the cost. W.F. Norman Manufacturing Co. utilized the flexibility of metal’s design to construct stamped sheet metal roof tiles. It was the bridge between functionality and design.
- 1939 – Republic Steel Co. decided that small individual metal panels added unnecessary weight. So, they formed large corrugations that spanned a longer distance. It reduced the volume of metal needed to provide the superior protection they are known for delivering.
- 1957 — Red Cedar Shingle Bureau. Cedar shingles commonly topped residential structures through the 19th century but were supplanted in popularity in the 20th century by asphalt. The shingle typology has been revived in the 21st century for roofing and siding applications, typically in higher-end projects.
Roofing Today: Issues Faced by Modern Roofers
Training and Workers in Roofing
There is some really good training that happens in the roofing industry today — and there is some really poor training, too. The NRCA offers several training options that can be completed online or in person and hands-on. There is training for roofing technology, roofing safety and professional development. The resources appear to be available; however, contractors need to buy in to the importance of introductory and ongoing professional training. It would also be highly beneficial if the industry had a training standard. This shift in attitude is what the roofing industry needs to recruit the kind of people needed in the industry.
One of the biggest challenge roofers face is finding workers at all levels. The United states is getting older as a county and roofing is not post-retirement work. The field workforce today is almost 60 percent Latino, and the current immigration climate is affecting roofers’ ability to employ workers. Without a recognized and standard training program, roofing fails to create a foundation and tell the story of how rewarding it can be.
Major Changes in Industry
There are two. One is referred to as the “green building” movement. Thirty years ago, roofing technology was primarily concerned with keeping water out of buildings. Today, roofers must understand long-term thermal properties, reflectivity, vegetative roof systems and the integration of photovoltaics into roof systems. That’s a big change. Along with understanding, roofers need to be aware of tax credits and different programs available in their areas that encourage more efficient and sustainable roofing systems.
The second major change is the natural vertical integration of the industry. Years ago, it was not uncommon for contractors, distributors and manufacturers to fight with one another. Happily, the industry is moving much closer to alignment in all sectors.
Roofers need to find the balance in pricing to offer a fair price to customers while maintaining value in the business. A top quality roof along with a great experience for customers should not also be the lowest price. The saying, “you get what you pay for,” is a truth in contracting and construction. Many roofing companies do not have big enough margins to even keep their company running for more than a few years, so it is important to establish a dependable and admirable reputation in order to have staying power.
OSHA continues to pass more strict safety laws. It’s important to be looking ahead and plan for the future. Roofers do not always agree with everything that OSHA passes, but unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that they are the ones who have the authority to enforce the laws.
Roofers must be educated about the latest safety requirements and implement them as necessary to keep your employees safe and your company safe from violations and fines.
Winter Roofing and Dancing with Temperature Demands
According to Mitch Dickinson, a roofing contractor, “A roof will look the best in the conditions it was installed.” There are few professional roofers, if any, that would dispute that claim. A winter installation will always look the best in the winter. A summer install is the same. Temperature has such a great impact on the materials, unless you live in a climate with little to no temperature fluctuation, your roof will experience changes. Cold temperatures change the roofing game completely. There are multiple things to consider and plan for when the mercury drops and people need a roof over their heads.
- Frost on Rooftops can set back start time, progress, and hamper safety of crew. Most of the time crews tarp a roof, or roof section, one-two days prior to beginning a job to prevent frost.
- When the shingle company delivers materials, they typically leave the shingles on the roof–ready for install. If there is even a little frost, they will not deliver to the roof. This adds more time for the crew to move shingle boxes from the ground to the roof for install.
- There are multiple pieces of roofing equipment that freeze up or quit completely under cold conditions: compressors, nail guns, etc. Often a crew will take 10+ nail guns on a job because they freeze up and quit so frequently, and they don’t want the job to be stalled. A new nail gun in the winter will sometimes only make it one job. Whereas, that same gun would have lasted all spring and summer and probably into the fall.
- Being employed during the winter months is frustrating because crews will sometimes spend two hours shoveling snow off of a roof to only have four hours of good daylight to actually work. And after shoveling the snow, they are exhausted and cold. January and February are not profitable months for roofers.
- The expansion and contraction of materials is a big concern. Vinyl siding, shingles, rain gutter, and metal roofing all expand or contract based on temperature. Materials installed in the winter can/do buckle, curl, warp, and ripple in the heat of the summer. It is difficult to install materials in cold temperatures and account for the way they will grow in the heat. Many winter jobs will inevitably require summer repairs/maintenance.
- Some companies use an enclosed trailer with a heater to heat vinyl siding in the hopes that they can avoid excessive pitfalls of installing vinyl in cold conditions. It’s an okay fix, but by the time the material is unloaded, cut, and properly installed it has lost a lot of the heat they worked to give it.
- When the roof is cold and the ambient temperature is cold, adhesives are not only thick and hard to apply, they also won’t adhere to the roofing surface at all. It’s almost like they lose their stickiness.
- If a dump trailer that is full of materials is exposed to moisture, rain, snow, it often freezes and then it cannot be dumped until the whole trailer thaws.
- Most roofing materials are warranted as long as installed above 40°F. When it’s cold, roofers cannot guarantee the viability of the product or install.
Winter Roofing Solutions
Many roofing companies have come up with their own creative methods for working in winter weather conditions.
- To keep materials such as shingles and adhesives warm, some roofers will build a makeshift box that can house a heater in order to keep materials at a workable and warranted temperature. This box may be a place to keep equipment warm as well.
- Another solution for warming materials is to have a large enclosed trailer that has a heater. In this case, it is imperative to have proper ventilation if using a gas powered heater.
- Tarping a roof a few days prior to starting a job will ensure easier snow removal and safety for employees when the job is started.
- A frozen dump trailer, if warmed overnight in a heated shop, will enable dumping the next day. You will have a giant puddle in your garage, but you will also have use of the trailer.
- Powerblanket manufactures hot boxes, propane warmers and caulk warmers that can all prevent delays on the job.