Metal Retrofit Market Update

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re still seeing its effects play out in our lives on a regular basis. The overall effects of the pandemic still have yet to be seen and continue to change on an almost daily basis. But even with the current unknowns, the metal retrofit market is seeing an increase in interest from all customers, and increased growth in project opportunities.

Even during a pandemic, interest in metal retrofit projects increase

By Marcy Marro

This air-conditioned warehouse was upgraded with additional insulation and full-length, on-site rollformed eave to ridge standing seam panels. (Photo courtesy of Roof Hugger.)

Overall Market Size

Earlier this year, the Metal Construction Association, along with FMI Corp., Raleigh, N.C., released the results of its Market Outlook and Trends survey. According to the survey, the available roof area growth is expected to be relatively flat this year, before slowly rebounding with a gradual increase over the next three years. When looking at 2020-2024, the survey notes that contraction in the nonresidential segment has caused commercial’s percentage of available roof area to go down from 59% to 56%. The remaining segments are made up of industrial, 20%; institutional, 15%; and agricultural, 9%. Looking at the residential side during 2020-2024, roof replacement is expected to make up 88% of the total available roof area compared to just 12% new construction.

Specific to the metal construction market, metal roofing shipments are expected to decrease slightly through this year before beginning to rebound in 2022. The industrial segment is expected to see the greatest growth in metal roofing shipments, even though it is one of the smaller end markets, compared to commercial. But with 1.758 million square feet of available roof area between 2020-2024, the industrial segment is expected to have the greatest growth potential for metal roofing at 24%. However, on the residential side, replacement roofs is expected to make up 95% of the metal roof shipments from 2020- 2024. The increase in metal roofing shipments throughout all market segments is anticipated to reach more than $14.4 billion by 2024.

Homeowners with older homes find metal to be more protective and longer lasting. (Photo courtesy of MRA member Ideal Roofing in Canada)

Pandemic-Related Material and Supply Issues

One of the biggest factors for the current market, is of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to being a global pandemic that uprooted everyone’s lives, it resulted in material and labor shortages that affect almost all sectors of the industry, including construction.

Jeremy Childs, retrofit business manager at Varco Pruden, Memphis, Tenn., says it’s difficult to determine what is directly related to COVID and what is more related to the global economic situation impacted by COVID and the associated lockdowns. As he explains, the current lead times and supply chain issues in the pre-engineered building industry are leading more contractors to engage in the retrofit market to keep employees working and help maintain cash flow.

However, with the pandemic affecting the supply and pricing of building products and materials including steel and aluminum, Rob Heselbarth, director of communications at Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Petersen Aluminum Corp., says building owners are reconsidering if they want to begin projects now or wait until material costs are lower and supplies are higher. This is leading some owners cancelling or postponing construction work, including retrofit and remodel work.

With projects being put on hold until the pandemic was under control, Dale Nelson, president of Roof Hugger LLC, Lutz, Fla., says there is an urgency to restart everything that proved to not be as easy as expected. “New construction and restarts take time, so existing buildings and existing homes were suddenly in high demand. The scarcity fuels a buying frenzy which fuels higher prices that add to the urgency of purchasing and away things go until supply can catch up.”

The prices for metal and the lead time for panels have increased so quickly that Nelson says owners and operators are anxiously trying to get their projects done as quickly as possible before the next round of price increases. “There seems to have been some urgency to sign contracts lately due to the rapid pace of price increases for steel and other construction materials,” he says. “I would expect some slowing down by the end of this year going into next, but still see an overall growth picture for the U.S. and our market sector; assuming there’s no adverse geographical or political events.”

Tim Lane, president of TopHat Framing System LLC, Ravenna, Ohio, says business has been up both this year and last. “It is certainly contrary to what I thought would happen in response to the pandemic. However, it is unclear if there is a correlation between the pandemic and the uptick in business that we have seen thus far. It could be due to budgeting from prior years. It may take more time to interpret the effects of the pandemic.”

But on that note, Lane adds that he’s amazed at the amount of interest in metal roof overlay projects. “The high material prices and lack of skilled labor have probably made some prospective metal roof overlay customers take another look and wait for prices to reduce before proceeding. Oddly, for both that customer and those of us in the industry, that may be a good decision due to the volume of active projects, allowing the industry to meet the demand. Managing by crisis is the current mode for the construction industry. It will likely take more time for the dust to settle, allowing everyone to return to a more proactive process.”

This reroofing of a building that had a roof step-down from an older building addition. The retrofit removed the leaking step with two different heights of Huggers. (Photo courtesy of Roof Hugger.)

Increased Interest and Educational Resources

Charlie Smith, national recover manager at McElroy Metals, Bossier City, La., says that while the pandemic has not had a visible effect on its overall business, there has been an increase in metal retrofit projects, which he attributes to the amount of information available about retrofits versus removing and replacing roofs. This interest is coming from architects, contractors and home/business owners as more people are becoming tuned into the idea of retrofit and its many positive attributes. But, he adds, they are starting to see the amount of activity for future work dropping. “The continual increases in prices are starting to have an effect, and people are putting projects on hold.”

Meanwhile, Renee Ramey, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance (MRA), says she has seen a solid increase in interest as homeowners have been spending more time at home. “This added time at home has impacted the desire to upgrade their homes in various ways … roofing is one,” she explains. “In addition, with governmental assistance by way of stimulus money and other funding, more homeowners had the financial resources to make home upgrades.”

While a lot of the interest in metal roof retrofit projects come from architects and contractors, Ramey says that homeowner interest has led the charge. The constraints placed on people throughout the pandemic gave homeowners added downtime, she explains, which correlated to increased time spent online. “For those looking to replace a roof, this meant ample opportunity to research roofing to a greater extent. We believe this dynamic allowed MRA and other metal roofing entities to get in front of consumers with messaging related to metal roofing … its benefits, the options available and things the homeowner should consider as part of their reroofing journey.”

With homeowners doing more research into roofing options, Ramey says the message becomes clearer and better understood. “Quality metal roofing is better for the environment, can outlast shingles by decades, is easier to maintain and can mimic any roofing product on the market,” she says. “Performance advantages including greater energy efficiency and wildfire protection, along with the ability to withstand climate extremes such as hurricane force winds and hail are really resonating with U.S. and Canadian homeowners in many different regions. Homeowners also love the fact that caring for metal roofs is very easy and reduces ongoing maintenance. Getting these messages out to consumers is key to driving the increased interest in metal roofing.”

While Lane says they have seen an increase in retrofit projects, he says it could be due to a cut back in new construction and interest in investing in current properties, an opportunity for owners to make good buildings better. And as more and more contractors become more comfortable and familiar with the solutions that are available, Lane says design professionals are also becoming more comfortable with the various retrofit products available, even writing engineered systems into their job specifications.

“As more education and information regarding retrofit product innovations become available in the general marketplace, owners can actually request retrofit solutions from their design professionals,” Lane explains. “The design professionals are more comfortable with the solutions of retrofit. The systems have a proven track record of turning out a great result. Building owners may be more aware of the opportunity to leave the existing structure intact and operational during construction, the savings through uninterrupted business is obvious. The owner’s impression may be that the current building is still functional, but in need of insulation and a high-performance metal roof system. By doing a retrofit they are able to make a good building better.”

Metal is popular for homeowners planning to install residential solar systems as part of their retrofit. (Photo courtesy of MRA member S-5!)

Areas of Growth

While metal retrofit projects are not confined to a specific area, there are some regions that are currently more familiar with retrofit options, making them more common there. “I believe that as other regions become more familiar with metal roof overlays, their popularity will increase,” Lane says. “There is always a learning curve as the industry develops awareness and familiarity with metal retrofit product innovations. When working with design professionals, we see interest and motivation to incorporate these solutions into their projects, which is indicative of a growing market.”

For the residential market, Ramey says they are seeing growth in all regions of the U.S. and Canada. “Some regions are certainly growing more quickly, but overall, the growth in market share for metal roofing is on the rise everywhere. That’s especially true for regions that cope with severe climate extremes such as hurricanes and tornadoes, hail, winter snow and ice, and the threat of wildfires are particularly attune to the resiliency benefits of metal roofs.”

In general, Nelson says a lot of interest comes from areas that have significantly more metal buildings, including the East Coast, Florida, Texas and the Midwest, leading to a greater number of projects in those areas. The company also sees a variety of projects in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, and the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands.

Additionally, Nelson says he is seeing metal buildings with thru-fastened roofs that are 30 years or older doing retrofit roofs. These include larger buildings such as schools, aircraft hangers, industrial manufacturing facilities, military facilities, storage buildings and the like. “These are being upgraded to our current stricter codes, to harden the buildings against storm events,” he says. “The roofs are also being replaced with newer standing seam roof systems with few exposed fasteners, making them extremely reliable.”

The current national and local energy codes are also helping to drive interest in metal roofing, Ramey says, due to its environmental benefits, durability and overall performance. And, as Smith notes, when an owner removes and replaces an existing roof, they need to bring the building up to the current energy code, which can be a difficult process. However, when a recover or retrofit is done, it is not necessary to bring the building up to the current codes.

“When a building owner needs to upgrade their building envelope some jurisdictions require meeting an energy code, which in many cases makes a metal panel retrofit more cost effective,” Childs explains. “As more jurisdictions adopt and enforce energy codes we expect more building owners, architects and contractors to look to metal panels for a great solution.”

“The energy codes are increasing the required amount of insulation,” Lane adds. “Voids created by the support frames in the metal overlay system are an obvious and inexpensive way to add additional insulation. This insulation can be anything from batt fiberglass insulation to high-density spray foam. The amount of insulation can be dictated by the needs of the owner and the additional code requirements.”

Additional benefits of metal roofing are being seen in the area of solar power. “I believe a metal roof gives the owner more options going forward, especially in the area of power generation,” Nelson explains. “Since metal roofing is the only roofing material that will outlast the useful life of photovoltaic panels, it will provide the owners of that new roof the option to add solar panels to their building at any time in the next 15 to 20 years, and the roof will still outlast the solar panels. Unlike other times a metal roof does not have penetrations to support the solar panels, they can be easily clamped onto the roof.”

Community center replacement project. (Photo courtesy of Roof Hugger.)

Long-Term Solution

Overall, Lane says he thinks there’s always been a sense of confidence in the durability of metal panels. “Throughout the years, the advancement in premium coatings, high-performance paint finishes and accessories now make metal roofing more appealing because of its superior life cycle compared to other available products. While the initial cost may be more than the other products, a new metal roof system has far greater value.”

Over the past few years, standing seam metal roofs have increased in popularity, notes Heselbarth. “As the pandemic progressed and homeowners began making home improvements, roof replacement was one of the projects that saw increased levels of activity,” he says. “Homeowners with the budget to accommodate metal roofs and who understand their long-term benefits have opted for metal for their durability, longevity and aesthetics. And because metal roof material is recyclable, some homeowners enjoy knowing that their roofs will not end up in landfills at the end of their useful lives.”

And, as Nelson explains, there are a couple of factors driving the interest in metal roofing retrofits. Metal roofs have the longest life span in the marketplace, with a useful life in many cases of more than 60 years, making metal roofing with the lowest annual maintenance cost of any roof system. “In the long term, it just makes good sense,” he says, “and this yields the lowest lifetime cost of a roof.”

While metal retrofits and metal roof overlays may not be the cheapest way to reroof an existing building, Lane says a metal retrofit is certainly the most beneficial, long-term solution. “Most owners who take this approach are those that have a good understanding of such benefits,” he says. “Disregarding budgets, it is likely that all building owners or decision makers would choose a metal roof retrofit. We understand that roofs aren’t always a consideration until water comes through and allocating a lot of money is a hard thing to do. However, when possible, those are the impactful decision that design professionals and owners choose to make.”