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Better Gutters: Demand for gutters increases need for specialty rollformers

Every year, U.S. snow storms and freezing weather rack up over a billion dollars in homeowner insurance claims. And the biggest culprit is water that seeps in through a home's vulnerable spots. Homeowners who have not properly winterized their homes have been saddled with costly damages. This year in particular, and especially in the Northeast, record rainfalls, snow and ice flooded faulty gutters and uprooted trees damaging hundreds of thousands of homes from Maine to the Carolinas.

For homeowners, it's been bad news. But for gutter contractors around the country it has meant additional work replacing damaged rainware, which in turn has required new rollforming machines to keep up with the workloads. Insurance companies are settling claims a month or two later and machine manufacturers are reporting a boost in gutter rollforming machine sales throughout the country. Those increased sales also include an increase in demand for specialty rollforming machines for making hooded leaf protection systems.

More and more rollforming machines are being manufactured and assembled outside the country as suppliers look for ways to reduce manufacturing costs and maintain prices. Meanwhile, the cost of portable gutter, roofing and panel machines remains the same or lower than they were more than 20 years ago despitea vast improvement in current machine features, including digital batch controllers that automate panel numbers and their length, and forming rollers in multi-panel machines that can be conveniently changed out and replaced with different rollers by a single operator in one hour.


The market has seen the emergence of some specialty rollforming machines, including portable rollformers and integrated equipment capable of producing a 3-inch (76-mm) high standing-seam panel with a seam cap that allows damaged panels with the caps to be removed and replaced without uprooting an entire roof.

Also on the market now is rollforming equipment with an integrated computer-driven attachment that can automatically parallel-notch an eaves fold and angle-notch and cut panels for hips and valleys. These systems are particularly useful for saving time on large residential projects with multiple hips and valleys. But they can be expensive. Contractors considering these time-saving units should calculate whether they can generate enough business to justify the expenditure or continue to use manual labor to hand-cut notches and flanges.

The pre-owned machine business has been slacking off. Machine manufacturers report that most quality used inventory was snapped up during the early recession months.And with the advent of selling tools like eBay and Craigslist, contractors have their pick of pre-owned equipment that they are using to get into the business or need to handle large jobs or multiple jobs on a timely basis. In addition,new machine prices are at all time lows, making it practical and affordable to buy new equipment with state-of-the-art features and components versus an older machine without them. When is it time to think about a new machine? When machine repairs start to cost one third of the cost of a new one, it is probably time to consider replacing it.

If you are trying to extend the life of your current machine, don't abuse it, keep it out of the weather when it's not in use, keep it clean and have a certified technician do tuneups and maintenance every six months to a year. Remember, rust and accidentally running screws through the machine are the common killers of these types of equipment.


Meanwhile, the federal stimulus package has also extended for another year the increased Section 179 expensing limit of $250,000, which allows contractors to expense up to $250,000 in purchases for the calendar year 2010 as long as they don't spend more than $800,000. Both new and used assets are eligible. California, however, does not conform to the Federal rule, and instead limits the deduction to only $25,000.

When you consider the incentives and the low cost of machinery, it is really an optimum time to buy. For example, the average gutter installed on a home is approximately 120 feet (37 m) long. And that number is increasing as the size of homes in the United States grows bigger every year. But let's say we use 120 feet as a fair average. If you've been using a subcontractor to cut and drop 032 gutter at a job site, then based on industry yield factors, he is able to run about 2.238 feet (0.7 m) per pound of gutter coil. Calculate what he's charging you per foot and what he's paying his supplier. It will probably range around 40 percent.

The average cost today for a 5-inch (127- mm) seamless rollforming machine is about $6,800. If you divide $6,800 by the savings of 40 percent, that equals about 11,000 feet(3,353 m). Divide 11,000 feet by 120 feet, the average footage needed to install gutter on a home, and it equals 93 installation jobs. Industry studies have shown that remodelers average 2.5 jobs per day.

Based on that pace of business, you would pay for the machine in 37 working days. From then on, it's all profit and, more important, the job is complete and you can get paid.

Clearly, even in a deep recession there are silver linings. You've just got to break out the old calculator and figure for yourself whether you can do it or not.

Mike Gorski is the director of rollforming machinery at Englert Inc., Perth Amboy, N.J. More information can be found at