Just metal

The love affair with metal roofing has progressed as products develop and improve. The durability of metal roofing is so superior to its competition that the look of most other roofing materials has been imitated by metal roofing manufacturers. You can find metal roofing that looks like asphalt shingles, concrete tile, even wood shake roofing.

Metal roofing has a history that stretches back centuries, meaning there remains a traditional influence in today’s choices for metal roofing. When anyone talks about traditional metal roofing, more often than not, it’s going to be “unpainted” metal roofing.

Through the years, Metal Roofing Magazine has referred to unpainted metal roofing as everything from Bare Naked Metals (April-May 2003) to Exotic Metals (April-May 2005).

They’re all accurately descriptive, but the one word that keeps popping up when talking to the roofers who sell, handle and install them is “traditional” metal roofing.
Long before there were stone-coated metal roofing shingles and PVDF painted roofing panels, roofing manufactured from copper, zinc and lead was all the rage — as much as roofing can be a rage. Today, there are some applications that will always call for “traditional” metal roofing.

“Native materials have an aesthetic longevity that coated metals don’t,” theorizes Eliot Boyle of U.S. Metals in Denver. “Painted roofs are trendy, the popular color is always changing. When you see a roof manufactured from native metals, the look never gets old and tired.”

Common copper
In New England, copper roofing is common. The Melanson Company of Keene, N.H., installs it all — metal, slate, flat, asphalt — for every kind of project. Copper installations make up about 5 percent of Melanson’s annual roofing work. “But we’ve had years where it’s been 10 or 15 percent because we landed a couple bigger jobs,” says Rob Therrien of The Melanson Company. “Here, it semi-sells itself because people are used to seeing it here.”

Therrien says most customers come looking for copper because they appreciate the aesthetics, the changes it goes through as it’s aging, it’s weatherability … there’s no limit to the reasons for loving copper.

“For us, the nice thing about working with copper is that it’s relatively soft,” Therrien says. “It forms, it stretches, allowing to do radius roofs.

“And we know we’re always installing a watertight roof because we solder it; we’re not caulking it, so we don’t have to worry about re-caulking it. Copper will outlast caulking.”
Because of the commonality of copper roofing in New England, The Melanson Company installs it on a variety of jobs, from historical restorations to new modest homes. The Melanson Company (www.melanson.com/) is a customer of Revere Copper. Therrien says residential slate jobs call for copper detail work because copper is the only thing that will last as long as the slate.

Therrien says it takes some special care to work with copper, so to avoid cuts and abrasions, any handling of copper may require gloves with a Kevlar lining.

Therrien says copper can be a profitable material to work with — if you’re careful about quotes and good at keeping an eye on the price of copper. “If someone holds on to a quote for six or eight months, we reserve the right to a change order,” he says. “The volatility of copper pricing can certainly affect a quote. The cost of labor won’t change, but the cost of the material can. Even with smaller projects, we explain that to customers.”

When all is said and done, everyone involved is pleased with a copper roof. “I guess the most satisfying thing is the aesthetics, it looks great,” Therrien says. “It helps to know you’ve provided a customer with a roofing solution that you know will last 50 to 100 years. In my eyes, it’s a work of art.”

High-end homes make up 90 percent of the zinc roofing market for ZS Enterprises of Vancouver. Zdenek Sychrava, trained in his homeland Czech Republic, also installs roofing manufactured from copper, stainless steel, bronze and steel. All of those metals provide a look that stands out — zinc conforms.

“The look of zinc, its colors, they blend in,” Sychrava says. “People these days are well educated about zinc, they know what it is and what it does.

It’s just as important for installers to know zinc and what it does if they choose to work with it. ZS Enterprises purchases zinc products from RHEINZINK America. Sychrava says it’s important to properly ventilate zinc materials when they are in storage and when they are installed — moisture on the substrate below the zinc will cause backside corrosion. Proper installation is a must: Inadequate attic and/or rafter ventilation can result in excess heat buildup in the summer, as well as water vapor condensation and mold — which damage roofing and roof structures.

“It’s also important to allow for proper expansion and contraction,” Sychrava says. When installing, it’s important to note zinc is a brittle material, even more so when it’s cold. It can require preheating the metal before forming it in any manner, which Sychrava says, can double installation time.

Like copper, the price of zinc also fluctuates, making it a necessity to monitor pricing changes before purchasing. Compared to steel or aluminum, zinc is expensive, so any waste will cut into profit margins.

Upon coming to North America some 25 years ago, Sychrava set up shop near Toronto, where 80 percent of his work was copper, because, “People did not know much about zinc then,” he says. He’s been working the last 10 years in the Vancouver area, where zinc has grown in popularity. 

“Definitely the most satisfying part about working with zinc is doing good work and it’s look,” Sychrava says. “We want a happy customer. We’re proud of the work we do and it’s important for us to do a good job.”

Bring it on
Many roofing companies that deal with one unpainted metal will generally work with others. U.S. Metals in Denver will work with any them, sometimes more than one on the same project (See cover photo and photo above). U.S. Metals has the capability to run seven different profiles off its three New Tech Machinery roll formers, so bring it on.

Eliot Boyle of U.S. Metals says all metals run through the machines differently. “The cold rolled steel set-up is less sensitive than titanium or stainless steel,” he says. “It’s a material that’s going to rust, so it hides a lot of the imperfections.”

In addition to copper, zinc, stainless steel and titanium, U.S. Metals manufactures a lot of cold rolled steel — usually 22-gauge, thicker because it’s meant to rust and at 22-gauge, it will take decades to rust through. “People like it for its velvety soft look,” Boyle says. “It fits in here in Colorado. When you visit Aspen and Steamboat and you see the mining relics left behind, it’s a natural look that blends in. Installers find it’s a great metal to work with.”

When it comes to working with softer or more malleable metals, there’s a little more challenge. “They require extra attention,” Boyle says. “I just know we love working with zinc.”

Boyle says zinc is environmentally friendly, recyclable and mostly manufactured from recycled content. “It has a real green aspect to it,” he says.

There’s not a lot of call for titanium roofing — probably because it’s seven times more expensive than copper — but U.S. Metals gets a call for a titanium roof every three of four years. “If the neighbor on one side has an expensive copper roof and the neighbor on the other side as an expensive slate roof, what are you going to do, if you can afford it?” Boyle says. “How about titanium?”

That’s trumping the neighbors.

An important note when working with unpainted metals — they are expensive, which means mistakes are costly and quickly cut into your bottom line. “When I hear talk about how someone has had a bad experience working with a more sensitive metal, I know it’s because they just thought it was business as usual and they can slop it up there,” Boyle says. “You have to pay attention to detail, a little more so than working with aluminum or steel. You have to do it right the first time because if you can’t afford to kink a panel or drag it across the ground. You have to take it up a notch.”

That goes for any moving or handling of panels as well as the installation. “Take the time to use the European details,” Boyle says. “These aren’t corrugated panels, they’re not PBR panels. There is a right way.”

Training available
Associations, manufacturers and suppliers are willing to train anyone interested in working with traditional metals. The Copper Development Association offers regular training, as do zinc suppliers RHEINZINK America and Umicore VM Zinc.

Like any roofing material, the key is in the detail work — that’s where any roofing material is going to fail first, and by failing we mean leaking. Take advantage of the training offered and take advantage of the opportunity to work with traditional metals. MR

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