Metal roofing: At home in rural America

Contractors accustomed to post-frame and metal building erection might have a hard time seeing metal roofing as a hot new trend. For these systems, metal is simply the most practical roof because it’s structurally efficient, quickly installed, and likely to last the life of the building.
But anyone with eyes knows that metal has been cropping up more and more on commercial and residential structures alike. And it’s not just shopping center mansards or backwoods homes anymore. In the past ten years, metal has become the choice of architects for upscale projects, property owners tired of the maintenance associated with other materials, and schools and public buildings, both for the long-term cost savings and to meet some municipalities’ goals to use recycled and recyclable materials.
The rise of metal roofing to architectural prominence has been spurred by better materials, improved forming processes, and superior finishes. High-speed lines, jobsite roll formers, seaming machines, engineered panels and clips, and a host of other developments have raised the quality of metal roofing while holding its price down.
This transformation hasn’t exactly passed by the rural contractor. Most appreciate the improvements in paint systems and substrates. But they’re also happy with a limited assortment of metal panels, whether for wall or roof application.
And why not? Through-fastened ribbed panels, dismissed as “crap-lap” by standing seam installers, have served to inexpensively roof a generation of horse barns, utility sheds, garages, cabins, and quite a few nice homes as well.
But times are changing. As builders continue to diversify into larger and more complex projects, and as city dwellers continue moving their homes and bank accounts into the countryside, it’s clear that many contractors will be encountering demand for a broader range of roofing styles and more expensive materials. It may be sooner than later that a customer asks about a standing seam copper roof.
More likely, builders will find they can offer customers a tile or a shake roof on a building because metal versions are available in the weight and engineering values required. These variations can add value and interest to otherwise cookie-cutter projects. The fact that these facsimile products could outlast the materials they imitate is just another selling point.
Metal roofs aren’t all about durability and quality. A lot of metal is specified or requested these days for entirely aesthetic reasons. The architectural use of bare Galvalume and galvanized is often more a “reference” to a rural aesthetic than an attempt to provide the best roof for the money.
The desire for the “authenticity” of old metal has even led some Southwestern builders to use rusting corrugated steel as roofing. The material rusts evenly and looks quite sharp. Guaranteed to fail, of course, but in that climate it could last decades.
In other words, for all the progress in metals, profiles, and finishes, metal’s heritage is as important as its chemistry. And that heritage is largely rural.

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