Metal Up Close: Comp shingle facsimiles

Metal roof products are available today that offer the look of tile, shake, or shingle. And though the latter is the most recent addition to the metal roofing market, general manager John Rossi of Cal-Pac Roofing in San Mateo, Calif., believes that “stone-coated metal shingles have the potential to be the top seller of the three.”
Rossi says his company worked with California-based Decra Roofing Systems as the manufacturer developed its Decra Shingle product some five years ago. “We were the first contractor to install their metal shingles,” he reports, “but the product has only gone into national distribution in the past 18 months. It isn’t mainstream yet, but I believe it soon will be.”
What makes Rossi confident that metal shingles are ready for a breakthrough in the consumer market? He cites several factors, starting with the narrowing price gap between conventional asphalt shingles and their metal facsimiles.
“Improvements have been made in the metal shingles,” Rossi points out. “Now you don’t need a batten system or any special underlayment, which makes the product easier and faster to install. Today you can install a metal shingle roof in about the same time it takes to do a conventional asphalt roof.”
While the labor cost to install metal shingles has come down, the price of petroleum-based asphalt shingles has risen along with oil prices. “At the higher end of the residential roofing market,” Rossi explains, “metal shingles are now more competitive with asphalt shingles.” Upscale homeowners who have the money and want a durable roof, he says, can now think about metal shingles based on merit and not just on price.
“If a homeowner is in a neighborhood where residents mostly have asphalt roofs,” Rossi continues, “they don’t usually want a roof that looks totally different.” So when Cal-Pac shows how metal is an option that will match the look of their neighbors, and yet provide a lifetime roof — at a price they can at least consider — customers take notice. “And in the last year,” he notes, “consumers tell us they’ve started learning about shingle facsimiles from the Internet.”
In its marketing, Cal-Pac studies neighborhood maps as a way to target its sales efforts. Rossi has noticed that metal roof installations tend to happen in clusters. When one or two jobs occur in a community, neighbors become aware of the metal option and may install it for themselves. “And since 80 percent of American homes have asphalt shingle roofs,” he suggests, “when it comes time to replace those roofs, metal shingles may have the greatest potential for being the metal roofing product that home-owners choose.”
The industry sees this potential, Rossi contends, since by his count at least a dozen roofing manufacturers now offer metal shingles. “Of course,” he notes, “asphalt manufacturers say they’re making improvements to the durability of the shingles and the strength of the bonding material. But while metal shingles may always cost more, they can’t be beat for providing both durability and aesthetics.”

Cost Comparison
At Lastime Roofing in Omaha, Neb., partner Tom Pflug agrees that stone-coated metal roofing shingles “haven’t been on the market as long as tile and shake facsimiles, but the shingles are getting more popular because the cost is going down.” For one thing, he affirms that installation of the metal shingles is easier now that a batten system is no longer required.
“But metal shingles are also more competitive, relative to asphalt shingles, than tile or shake facsimiles are to real tile and shake,” Pflug continues. “That’s because the tile and shake facsimiles are thicker than the shingle facsimiles. The higher amount of metal means their cost is higher.”
Rossi reports that few architects in his California sales territory have specified metal shingles and Pflug has had the same experience in Nebraska. “Architects and developers aren’t very aware of the product,” he acknowledges, “and they usually stick with what they know anyway.”
Yet Pflug believes metal shingles are now making inroads into the roofing market as the product’s benefits are becoming known. “Metal roofs are durable, cut down on noise, increase your roof’s R-value, have transferable warranties, resist fire and storm damage, and may earn you a break on your homeowners insurance,” he points out. At the same time, he reports that — with three price increases announced in 2006 — the cost of asphalt shingles is rising.
“The price gap between asphalt and steel will never close entirely,” Pflug concedes, “but as long as metal shingles are becoming more competitive, their benefits are starting to win over some customers.” He too has noticed that a growing number of homeowners, especially at the higher end of the market, are doing their own research into roofing options by looking through magazines, home shows, and the Internet.
Sales prospects for metal shingles, Pflug believes, are enhanced by three additional factors. First, manufacturers have introduced metal shingles in colors — black, gray, green, brown, red, tan, white — that reflect the colors most commonly found in asphalt shingles. Second, he says, “It’s more likely that a homeowners association will change its covenants to allow metal shingles in place of asphalt, since that’s not as big a switch as going from wood to another material.”
Finally, though Pflug sells a variety of stone-coated metal roofing products, he concedes, “Metal tile and shake facsimiles don’t look like real tile and shake. But metal shingles really do look like asphalt shingles.” Lastime Roofing installs asphalt, wood and concrete tile roofs, as well as metal roofing products from Gerard, Metro, and TAMKO. “And we’re getting calls from all types of customers, from homeowners to churches, asking about metal shingles.”
These positive omens prompt Pflug to predict that stone-coated metal shingles could grab 20 percent of more of the market away from asphalt shingles. By contrast, since tile and shake facsimiles cost more due to the higher amount of metal required, he believes 15 percent of the market is perhaps the most they can capture from their conventional counterparts.

Replacement of Choice
Both Rossi and Pflug report that, in their respective markets of California and Nebraska, shake roofs had long been the dominant roofing product. Danger from wildfires has tarnished the luster of wood roofs in the Golden State, while high winds have taken a toll on residential roofs in the Great Plains. Yet even though both men serve regions where shake roofs remain much in evidence, they express more long-term enthusiasm for metal shingles than for shake facsimiles.
This is also true for Mark Sandridge, owner of Over The Top Roofing in Kansas City, Mo. “You’ve got fires on the West Coast and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, but in our area the biggest dangers to roofs are tornadoes and hail,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago, wood shake was the high end of the market here. But now shake is obsolete due to fire hazards, hail damage, wind and tornados, and the insect problem we have in Kansas City with silverfish.”
Given their experience with shake roofs, Sandridge states that Kansas City homeowners “want roofs that are durable and maintenance-free.” At present, he observes, those who opt for metal roofs “usually choose whatever is closest to the type of roof they had before; if it was shake, tile or shingle, they want the same thing in metal.”
Nevertheless, Sandridge has noticed that customers willing to change the look of their roofs are most likely to consider metal shingles. As a result, he reports growing demand for the product “as people learn about it from our sales presentations and also see it on the Internet, in magazine ads, at home shows, and from seeing installations in their communities.” His company offers metal shingles from Gerard.
Sandridge pegs the cost of a metal shingle roof at two to two-and-a-half times more than an asphalt shingle roof. “Installation takes a lot more work for metal shingle than for asphalt,” he adds. “Your crews need to be really precise. There’s not much room for error since the metal is expensive and you don’t want to waste any. Still, the fact that you don’t need a batten with metal shingles is a help.”
For that reason, though Over The Top Roofing charges at least twice as much for metal versus asphalt, “there’s not that much profit, like you might think,” relates Sandridge. “My labor and material costs are higher, and so is my advertising cost. But even though I keep my overhead low, since the metal roofing market is competitive here, the profit margins are really minimal on metal shingle jobs.”
Yet Sandridge believes that, even if margins are tight, his company is gaining experience that will pay off in the future. “Someday metal shingles will really take off,” he says. “Right now I sell more shake and tile facsimiles than I do metal shingles. But I think that metal shingles will eventually outsell the metal shake and tile products. When that happens, I’ll be ready with the sales and installation experience to capitalize on the opportunity.”

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