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Why Metal Roofing?

A 44-Year Perspective

North Carolina School Retrofit Roof
North Carolina school retrofit roof

A few years ago, I read the book "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek. The premise of the book was that an organization should take time to determine Why they are in business and Why their customers should buy their product. Sinek indicated that this Why should be communicated to all employees in order for everything from administrative, production, manufacturing, sales and installation to be performed in a manner that their company's Why is evident to their customers. Without their Why identified, employees go about their tasks in an undisciplined and random manner, leading to inconsistent results.

Old-fashioned thinking and excessively worded advertising and selling concerning What the company produces, How the company operates, the Benefits of the company's product and the Features of their product do not motivate today's customers to buy products. As I related my understanding of Sinek's book to the metal roofing industry, I concluded that the roofing industry, and me as a participant in this industry, need to concentrate on Why we manufacture, engineer and install metal roof systems, including all of the many components related to this market, and-more importantly-Why our customers should buy them. \So, I asked myself:

  • Why did I get into the roof market in 1973 as it related to metal buildings?
  • Why did I get into retrofit metal roofing in the late 70s?
  • Why am I so passionate about the metal roof market and its limitless possibilities for the future?

The answer to these Whys, I believe, defines Why the metal roof market has been, and still is, a vibrant part of the overall construction industry, with tremendous growth possibilities. Let me explain.

In retrospect, I entered the metal building market right out of college with an engineering degree and just glad I had a job. I knew very little about the metal building industry, including the metal roof component associated with it. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that the metal building packages I was selling, designing and constructing made a great impact on my customers, as well as provided a good living for my wife and me. I was able to help businesses, schools, fire stations, churches and other owners construct buildings to house their particular operations, using a long-term building envelope approach. I got credit for helping to create these buildings, even though my contribution was minimal compared to the product I had to sell. Things were good. I was making a genuine impact with my customers and my company employees.

A 9-year-old metal roof in Missouri

In the late 70s, however, inflation and interest rates brought the building construction market to an almost complete stop. In 1979, I was fortunate to have a customer that insisted that I could convert one of his flat roofs that leaked badly and allowed his finished products to be damaged, into a sloped metal roof that would protect his building interior. I had designed and built a metal building for him the previous year and the metal roof was leak-free. After overcoming my first response of, “I can’t, because nobody has ever done that before,” I designed and built one of the first retrofit metal roof conversions in the country. It is still functioning as a leak-free roof. Its current building owner is a school system which, when recently asked, indicated that the roof has no leaks and they didn’t even know what type of roof they have. A pretty good endorsement for a 38-year-old roof! This new concept of metal retrofit roofing made a definite impact on this customer as well as on the metal roofing industry. The last Why, my passion, is founded on my understanding of the characteristics of a metal roof system, including the structural strength and the coating’s longevity. The panel systems and the panel strength can be calculated to meet all code requirements. The results yield a roofing system that can meet everything a building owner can request, and can perform for the lifetime of the building. Throughout my career in this business, these qualities of a metal roof have made it very easy to cultivate a growing passion to be able to offer engineered metal roofing systems to building owners, knowing that this should be the last roof they will ever need for their building. I found that I could take this passion into my contracting business and make an impact on my businesses, my customers and my family in positive ways. I started to write articles, perform seminars and provide metal roof solution services, which made a positive impact on most that received these services.

After a lot of self-reflection, I discovered that my personal Why is IMPACT. The ability to make that impact on a building customer is tied directly to the metal roof industry and my metal roofing experience to show customers Why they should select a properly engineered and installed metal roof system for their permanent and long-lasting building roof. All of the Whats, Hows and Features, while necessary to know, are only important after the customer asks, if they ask.

So, let’s concentrate on only the Whys that are important to a building owner when making his buying decision. The first thought of a building owner is that he needs to keep the interior of the building dry. A metal roof system, when properly engineered and installed will not allow water, or any other exterior weather condition, enter the interior of the building. I must clarify, again, that I am speaking about a Galvalume-coated metal standing seam roof with concealed clips attaching the roof panels to the roof’s structure, since that is predominately the system used for most commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. 

35-year old Ohio metal roof retrofit

The industry has more than 75 years of standing seam roof applications, along with a recent ASTM-accepted report (visit www., Technical Resources, "Service Life Assessment of Low-Slope Unpainted 55% Al-Zn Alloy Coated Steel Standing Seam Metal Roof Systems"). Sponsored by the Metal Construction Association (MCA) and the Zinc Aluminum Coaters (ZAC) Association, the report clearly shows that this type of metal roof system will last well beyond 60 years. Again, that is if it is properly designed and installed. So, the major Why an owner has is for his roof to provide protection for the building interior. That should always be satisfied by the basics of a metal roof system. They may want to know about the structural characteristics and wind zones, but they are first interested in assuring the Why of interior building protection is met.

The next thought of a building owner is that he should use components that are environmentally friendly. This Why is more prominent to different building owners, but has definite importance to all owners. A metal roof, and most of its components, are predominately made from up to 80 percent recycled materials and is almost 100 percent recyclable. That saves energy and natural resources and is, therefore, more attractive to discerning building customers when making roofing decisions. The recyclability of this product can make a large impact on many customers. Again, the numerical facts are not as important as the customer's need to satisfy the Why of using environmentally friendly products.

"We would like to have a metal roof, but it costs too much." Ever heard that? Building owners need to be educated that one of their Whys for purchasing a metal roof is that within the first 20 years of a metal roof's existence, the actual cost of a metal roof is less than other roofing alternatives. When looked at over a 60-year period, the metal roof is approximately one-third the cost of other roof systems, including shingle, single ply and built-up roofs. Now you can show them a lot of math and calculations proving that point, but the mere fact that a metal roof does not have to be replaced every 20 years or less makes the understanding of this point very easy. Why should a customer make a buying decision of using a metal roof? Because it is his least expensive choice! Pretty compelling Why, don't you think?

North Carolina school metal retrofit

The last major Why a building owner wants a metal roof is for its looks. This fact is especially prominent in the commercial and institutional markets. Many times, the ability to offer metal roofs in various colors satisfies the basic Why the building owner chooses metal. In this case, don't confuse him with facts about how many colors are available, what the cost of different kinds of coatings are, warranties, etc., but merely let them know that they can either have a new building with a nice looking painted metal roof, or they can convert a dull building profile into a new and updated vibrant profile by adding a sloped and painted metal roof. The customer desires to satisfy his Why concerning having a modern and fresh-looking roof before he reviews color charts and warranties.

After over 44 years of experience, both good and bad, in this industry, I have found that looking for my personal and company Why, along with my customer's Why, makes for a very successful business relationship. Manufacture the product that way, engineer the product that way, install the product that way, and, most importantly, market and sell the product that way. Leave the details for discussion after your customer is satisfied Why he is choosing a metal roof for his building. When done properly it makes a positive impact on you, your company and the customer.

Chuck Howard, PE, Metal Roof Consultants, Cary, N.C., is a member of the Metal Construction Hall of Fame, a frequent contributor and speaker on metal roofing issues, and has been a leader in the metal roofing industry for more than 40 years.