What we can learn from Canadians about metal roofing

Canada is roughly 370,000 square miles larger than the United States — or about the size of Texas and Colorado combined. For those of you educated in the metric system, that’s about 591,000 square kilometers. Both countries are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Pacific Ocean on the west. In between, there are some geographical and meteorological similarities, and a lot of differences.
Because metal roofing systems hold up under all kinds of weather, they serve different purposes in different regions of Canada. And because Canada is a diverse nation, there are many opinions, expectations, and tastes when it comes to metal roofing.
One notable benefit that gives metal an advantage over other roofing systems in Canada is its ability to handle snow loads.
“There is a lot of metal in commercial and agricultural use, and residential is growing fairly fast,” says Rene Laplante, president of Ideal Roofing and Manufacturing. “The big thing with metal is more and more people know about it. It lasts longer, it sheds snow (in steep slope applications) and there are lots of colors and styles.”
On its Web site, Ideal boasts that its steel roofing panels were “designed and developed in Canada to resist one of the world’s harshest climates and most extreme variations of temperature.” Ideal, located in Ottawa, Ont., manufactures metal roofing for Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, as well as Northeastern U.S.
“In rural areas where they’ve used asphalt shingles, they’re taking a hard look at metal roofing,” Laplante says. “Businesses and franchises are more likely to install metal roofing and siding. A lot of hotels, restaurant chains, auto parts dealers, strip malls — commercially it’s being used.”
Laplante says some business chains are identifiable by their distinct metal roofs.
“People putting metal on their roofs are using better coating systems and better paint products,” he says. “They’re trying to make a statement with their roofs.”
Those in the metal roofing industry break Canada down into several regions — the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; Quebec, with its bold European influence; Ontario’s Cottage Country; the Prairie Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta; and the coastal mountain province of British Columbia.

Canada’s Ocean Playground
The Maritime Provinces deal with harsh sea air, hurricanes, and average yearly snowfalls of 7 to 26 feet.
The second biggest weather story in 2003, according to Environment Canada, was Hurricane Juan and the “Juannabees” including hurricanes Isabel, Kate, and Fabian. Total damage from Juan was $100 million in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
“Severe weather takes its toll on asphalt,” says MetalWorks founder Marcus Plowright, who spent 12 years as a building products distributor and contractor in Canada. “In the maritime areas of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there’s real severe weather. Asphalt simply doesn’t survive in that environment.”
Hopgood Metals of Wolfville, N.S., manufactures and installs its own standing seam system with Englert products and installs metal shingle products from MetalWorks.
“There’s the barn roofing that people have been doing for 75 years, but people are looking for a high-end metal, the Cadillac of metal and that’s our standing seam,” says Brad Hopgood. “It’s 24-gauge steel, so it’s durable and can handle the hurricanes or any type of weather.”
Hopgood has more than tripled the number of metal roof installations in the last five years. He said the cost of an asphalt roof on a typical bungalow in Nova Scotia would cost anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000. A metal roof will cost about $10,000.
“Some of the new homes going up, a metal roof will cost $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000, but people are more willing to bite the bullet when it’s in the cost of a new home,” Hopgood says. “You’ve got a big investment with your foundation, but you put it in once; you’ve got a big investment with your windows and they’re a one-time thing. A metal roof is the same thing.”
“At one time, it was primarily a high-end roof that was popular among 2 or 3 percent of the population. Now, people are sick and tired of buying a temporary roof — that’s what I call asphalt. People are much more thrifty now and would rather invest in something that can last 50 to 100 years, depending on the environment. We also install copper and that can last 100 to 200 years.
“People want durability, they want it maintenance-free, and it’s a different architectural look, those three things. That’s why I promote the standing seam. People like the look and the durability — you can dance on them, if your feet are clean. I believe a standing seam is so much superior to all of them.”

Colorful Quebec
Metal roofing in Quebec is strongly influenced by ethnic tastes, especially where homeowners are closely linked to Europe, most specifically France. Metal has between 20 and 30 percent of the residential market in Quebec, according to Allan Reid of Dura-Loc Roofing Systems in Courtland, Ont.
He says first- or second-generation Canadians with European backgrounds are more likely to buy quality metal roofing. Reid says there’s a tendency of certain ethnic descents to choose a certain color for their roofs: Hungarians prefer black or charcoal; Germans like red, brown, or rust; and Belgians like red in a tile profile.
“In Quebec, they like prepainted, they like the vivid colors, blue, red, copper. They have a great love affair with steel, and the painting systems today are so good,” says Ken de Souza, of Dofasco Steel, a leading Canadian steel producer. “Also, Quebec has more European styling, so they try to replicate that with copper and zinc.”
“Quebec is a unique market,” says Plowright. “There are a lot of bright colors and they’re very prone to using metal. There’s a French influence, it’s a cultural issue.”
Quebec is the largest Canadian province and second to Ontario in population. About 80 percent of the residents are descendants of the French who founded the province. In a largely English-speaking nation, they have kept their French language. With a people clinging to their heritage, Quebec is an opportunity for the metal roofing market.
“In Quebec they like tile, but we’ve got guys pushing hard this year in Quebec,” says Mike Kilty, Decra’s Eastern Canada regional manager. “In Quebec we see more tile look than others. Metal shingle will overcome tile, definitely in Ontario and slowly in Quebec.
“Europeans like to dress their homes up, they’ve got sculptures, statues, pillars, ornaments, so they’ll put a special roof on their homes. They’re willing to upgrade their roof.”
Erik Jakobson of Permatile says it’s all about the color. “In Quebec, it’s the painted roof. They seem to care more about the color than the actual function.”

Cottage Country
One area where metal roofing is very popular is in the “Cottage Country” of Ontario. Families escape the hustle and bustle of the southern cities to peaceful lakes a couple hours away. Cottage Country is found just north of Toronto and covers the area extending from the Georgian Bay to Peterborough and north to Parry Sound. Cottage Country features hundreds of lakes and vast forests to explore.
“Fifty percent of the building starts are in Ontario, but Ontario is very conservative. There are a lot of asphalt shingles and brick walls,” says de Souza. “In Cottage Country, what we call Northern Ontario, I would guess that 20 percent of the additions or new buildings are steel because of its snow shedding ability.”
Some manufacturers and installers are making headway in more densely populated areas, but it’s a lot of work. At one time, the market was limited to a customer who had plenty of money.
Precision Roofing of Ottawa does about 90 percent commercial and 10 percent residential, with all of its products coming from Ideal Roofing and Manufacturing. “I can’t say just old couples who may have a little more money,” says Precision’s Chantal Ouellette. “There are more young families who are staying in their homes a long time, so they’ll put money into steel roofing.”
Ontario is a diverse province, making it tough to figure trends. In the Toronto area, color preferences change with the colors of the leaves, according to Ernie Anderson, general manager at Steel Tile in Innisfil.
“It changes every year,” he says. “Four or five years ago, we came out with a Forest Green and it was our No. 1 seller. Then it went to the red-brown and charcoal colors. At one time, we sold a lot of red roofs.”
Anderson says metal is still a tough sell in cities or suburban markets. “A lot of people in the Toronto area, it seems, are not going to be the first one in their neighborhood,” he says. “They won’t be the first one on their street with it.”
Ontario is bordered by Lake Superior and Lake Huron on the west — accounting for between 8 and 13 feet of annual snowfall in some areas. Some of the worst snowstorms have been known to drop as much as 40 inches of snow.
“We see a lot of ice problems, especially in Ottawa, and metal roofs allow for more ventilation,” says Dan Bisson, president of Grimes Roofing in Ottawa. “With metal roofs, the ice flows off. You can ventilate the whole roofing system by using strapping.”
Bisson uses Snostop snow retention systems on his steep slope roofing projects and he prefers to use an ice and water shield membrane near the eaves. “It’s a peel-and-stick application, it’s a backup system,” he says. “It seals every nail hole near the eave. If it were up to me, I’d do every roof that way.”
Hy-Grade’s system — a clay tile profile — was developed for Northern Ontario, designed to deal with heavy snow loads so homeowners wouldn’t have to shovel snow off their roofs.
“Farmers and people in rural areas had been the big buyers, but more and more, people in the cities, like in Toronto, have been putting metal roofs on their homes, especially in the past year,” says Janice Ellison, sales and marketing at Hy-Grade. “They’re interested in the value, the longevity and the aesthetics of the roof. They want their home to stick out in their neighborhood.
“Steel roofing is more expensive than asphalt, so it used to mean people 50 and older who lived in their homes 20-25 years with a higher income were willing to pay that higher price. Recently, it’s gone the other way, to a younger customer — people in their mid-30s who have lived in their home less than 10 years, with an average income. They’re choosing to make an investment. Upgrading is the key, they want to increase the value of their home. When people replace their roof, they’re looking to make a statement. Quite often a new steel roof will make a house pop in a neighborhood, in a positive way.”

Prairie Provinces
Metal roofing is popular among the farming communities scattered across the rural provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Metal has stood the test of time, handling heavy snow and high winds, mostly in agricultural applications.
“It’s popular in ag buildings, and commercial and industrial buildings,” says Scott Taylor, vice president of T.S. Metals of Swift Current, Sask. “In the mountain areas in British Columbia and western Alberta, there are lots of metal roofs. Here in the prairies, we’re not seeing it.”
Rob Strunk, general manager of the metal division at Acron Roofing Systems in Edmonton, Alb., believes consumers see the value of metal roofing — some just can’t afford it. Acron put metal on four or five buildings that would fall under residential applications, but most were cabins.
“We put a metal roof on a cabin for an insurance salesman west of Edmonton,” Strunk said. “He believes in the next few years, insurance companies are going to offer a discount to homeowners with metal roofs. But are you going to worry about that $50 discount on an $8,000 or $9,000 roof if you can get an asphalt shingle roof for $2,500? If you don’t got the money, you don’t got the money, right?”
Acron offers an architectural standing seam for commercial and residential applications and installs Decra  shingles. More than 80 percent of its metal roofing business is commercial. Strunk says the standing seam is popular in the Edmonton area because of its look for strip malls, car dealerships, and other commercial buildings looking for a signature look.
“Metal is definitely increasing in residential,” Strunk says. He thinks it will continue to increase, mainly because the difference in price between asphalt and metal will decrease because of the expense of getting rid of shingles — “Guaranteed,” he says.

British Columbia
A couple months before the Southern California fires were the main headlines in the U.S., 2,500 forest fires in British Columbia ravaged more than 620,000 acres. More than 50,000 people in the Okanagan (south central British Columbia) were forced to flee their homes due to wildfires last summer. Southwestern B.C. was hit by massive flooding in the fall,-and freezing weather arrived in November.
Southern California endorsements for metal roofing are well documented (Metal Roofing, February/March 2004). Plenty of homeowners believed their metal roofs saved their homes. Wood shake roofs burned when embers blew onto them, but metal roofs didn’t.
Homeowners in the Vancouver area are switching from cedar shakes to metal shakes and tiles for a couple of reasons, including the fear of fires, says Tom Anderson, owner of Shake n’ Tile in Surrey.
“Because of that, we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from the interior part of B.C., but there’s about 4 feet of snow in the mountains and hills,” he says. “This spring, that should be a hot spot for us.”
Tom Anderson installs a metal shake that appeals to those who have cedar or like the look.
“We’re popular on the West Coast, just like California,” he says. “People like the cedar look, they’re used to the cedar look and ours is a good looker. People like it because they associate it with a roof for upscale homes, it’s for middle-upper class homes and it looks nice. It’s already ingrained.”
Homeowners considering cedar shakes are now faced with another negative — using second-growth cedar. Anderson says the density of second-growth cedar is about one-third of first-growth cedar and therefore will last about one-third as long. Anderson said he has the luxury of working with an informed consumer.
“When we go to shows, we have a slab of old cedar and some second-growth cedar,” he says. “The old stuff is hard and smooth and the new stuff is thick and spongy, feels like corduroy pants. That is becoming common knowledge in the market.”
Along the coast, homeowners have to deal with rain — and lots of it.
“Seattle has a reputation of being rainy, Seattle gets half the rain of Vancouver,” Plowright says. “It’s predominantly a wood shakes market. The old growth shakes were good, but those old growth forests are gone and they’re on their third-growth forests and those don’t last as long. That area is so wet, mildew and moss growth is a real issue. In British Columbia, you will see roofs that are literally green, some with six inches of growth. You can almost grow anything on those roofs.”
Metal is steadily making its way into the residential market, according to Andrew Markus, co-owner of Crown Roofing and Drainage in Richmond.
“Homeowners who are worried about sea air are spending the extra money to do metal,” Markus says. “When they see the nice colors that are available, they realize they can have a roof that looks good.”
Greater Vancouver has the highest concentration of Chinese-North Americans of any metropolitan area. In 1996, the total of 288,780 Chinese-Canadians accounted for 16 percent of greater Vancouver’s population. In the city of Vancouver, where half of the Chinese population lives, they constitute 28 percent of the city total population. In Richmond the comparable figure is 34 percent of the city’s population, according to Families with Children from China: British Columbia.
Red is their color of choice, according to Markus. He says the Chinese will put snap-lock panels or standing seam systems on a roof that’s sloped at 2:12 or 3:12. “The Chinese are willing to invest in a life-long solution,” he says. “They appreciate the value of metal.”

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