Metal Roofing: Bright future, but …

Never has there been a better opportunity for metal roofing products.

Metal roofing with coating that meets Energy Star solar reflectivity requirements qualifies for a 30 percent tax credit when it’s used on a residential re-roofing project. This credit, up to $1,500, is in place for 2009 and 2010. Certain areas of the country are specifying minimum solar reflective and putting it into the construction codes for both residential steep slope construction and low slope commercial work. The obvious product of choice to meet these building codes is metal roofing.

Through the hail alley states, insurance companies offer significant discounts on homeowners insurance if qualified metal roofs are installed. In the hurricane states, metal roofing has a proven track record for superior wind uplift performance. And in areas prone to wild fires, having a metal roof can save a home because, in most cases, other roofing products are the first point of ignition.


In the 1960s, the metal roofing supply side changed as independent (non steel mill) roll formers entered the market. With the change came a new term, job packs. Before this, the only products offered were bare (no paint) galvanized steel or aluminum panels. The only direct source of steel panels was five or six steel mills. Lead times for a truckload or carload (minimum order 40,000 lbs) was two to three months from order to delivery.

About the same time, pre-painted metal roofing was introduced. The early paint system was usually a single coat “polyester” paint. White was the dominate color and most products carried a five-year warranty.

The system had two weak components. The first issue was it a single coat system with no primer, making it susceptible to trapped moisture. The paint might delaminate even before the panels were installed. In most cases if the paint was not subjected to trap moisture it held tight in its normal application.

The second problem was fading of darker colors. If panels were white, fading was not readily noticeable. But darker colors were a different issue. They faded quickly and created quite a concern in the market place.

Fading and trapped moisture delaminating pushed paint manufacturers and coaters to  go  after the problem. Soon two coat paint lines were developed, allowing a primer coat and a final painted coat to be applied.

Solving the second problem — fading — was approached with siliconized polyesters that took care of many field complaints.

Soon the industry was on the right road with a system of paint and coating application that is now the framework of today’s products and methods. 

Warranty Wars

Over the next 10 to 15 years, paints, pre-treatments and primers continued to improve. With them came longer warranties. Unfortunately it became a game of “who can put out the longest warranty.”

Today, siliconized polyester coating has a basic 30-year warranty on chalk and fade; it offers anywhere from 30 years to lifetime warranty on cracking, chipping or peeling. The chances of the latter happening anytime during the extended warranty periods are considered slim to none.

Galvanized vs. Galvalume

As new paint systems were being developed, a new metallic coating, Galvalume, came onto the market. A mix of aluminum and galvanized, it has a warranty when applied in the non-painted form. The product made headway in the pre-engineered building market that was looking for a 20-year metallic coating without the expense of pre-painting.

While this area fills page after page of test data and there are volumes of testimony about product performance, this issue need not divide the industry. Galvalume and galvanized both are good products that serve nearly all segments of the market well.
Post-frame and residential market reality finds the end product pre-painted over one of the two metallic coatings over steel substrate. The other reality is the paint warranty voids any metallic coating warranty and becomes “The Warranty” in force.

Paint manufacturers that back this warranty are really in control of the minimum metallic coatings before they will issue such a warranty. The bottom line is there is little chance paint manufacturers are going to gamble on sub-standard metallic coatings.

When we review most of the siliconized polyester warranties, we find few instances where a specific metallic coating is noted as a preference; in some warranties there is no reference to the metallic coating. It is clear the majority of roofing manufacturers want some flexibility in furnishing Galvalume or galvanized substrate, depending on economic and supply side factors.

Here’s the ‘but’ in the issue
In the late ‘90s, some segments of the market said, “We don’t need 40-year paint on the shed over the hill.” If the panel lasts 15 years, they reasoned, that is longer than the structure will last.

A portion of the industry heard the request and, unfortunately, brought back the “straight polyester” paint — the one that faded badly. Warranties on this product are reduced, although some offer 30 years on cracking, chipping and peeling. However, that may not be the paint manufacturer’s warranty, but the rollformer’s warranty. Still, the paint could be gone in 30 years by the chalk/fade process. But if it didn’t crack, chip or peel, there is no warranty applicable.

The real problem is that lower quality paint made for the “shed over the hill’ may end up on the “house on main street.” There, where faded metal roof panels are highly visible, the industry’s reputation is hurt and future growth is compromised.

What is the real problem? Consumers do not always know what they are getting with the warranties.

“Second-tier” rollformers and smaller companies serving local geographic areas sell direct to consumers and contractors. From one perspective, having more product immediately available in the market has made this product more “contractor friendly.” It speeds up delivery of job packs and completion of projects.

This new level of service has expanded metal roofing’s share of the market, especially the residential roofing market. Having product so available has been good for the industry.

The problem is that, in comes cases, the level of knowledge about the product and its warranty is diluted. If a customer calls a small rollformer and asks for a price, he may be told, “Our Number 1 warranted product is X/Ft.” The “Number 1” is the misleading part of the statement if the small operator only stocks polyester. True, it’s his Number 1 product.

Yes, it has a warranty; in many cases that’s the watered-down “crack, chip and peel” warranty, or perhaps a 5-year warranty on chalking/fading. Some contractors understand very well what is going on, but they may sell the product as it was sold to them, and it becomes “a roof on Main Street.”

This is basically a simple market when it comes to paint. The market is probably 95 percent or better covered by two paint systems: straight polyester or siliconized polyester. If the product does not have a 30-year chalk and fade warranty it is probably straight polyester, no matter how many years the warranty states.


As long as there is an inferior grade available to the market, it will be misrepresented by a few. Misrepresentation has serious long-term ramifications for the industry.
With hundreds of tier 1 and tier 2 rollformers in the market and no clear industry standards, the prospects of solving this issue through the roll formers has no chance of success. There are no governing bodies to establish standards.

So what should we do? You cannot misrepresent what is not available. As an industry, paint suppliers and coaters have the ability to stop this blight on the industry.

Straight polyester should not be manufactured for the metal roofing and siding market; and coaters should not paint polyester for this industry.

Now is the time to get a handle on this problem. Painted import pressure is at an all time low, therefore timing couldn’t be better to start down the road of saving this industry by making metal roofing and siding the long-term value product it should be.

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