A Look Back and Ahead in Roofing

Experts Say the Uncertainty of 2020 Will Ease into a 2021 Rally

Amy R. Connolly, Writer
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As we begin 2021, roofing industry experts are cautiously bullish, bolstered by severe weather replacements, continuing housing starts and an uptick in home remodeling. At the same time, however, experts remain circumspect about pandemic uncertainty and shaky financial markets that may impact the industry this year.

The unprecedented coronavirus curveballs in 2020 created challenges for roofing companies, including the struggle to keep essential workers on the job while adapting to ever-changing local and state restrictions. These same businesses learned important lessons — such as they can adapt quickly to keep pace with a surprising demand for materials. Online platforms became essential to keeping the doors open and employees working.

Roofing industry professionals are optimistic about 2021, but they also expect hurdles. Economic forecasters anticipate residential construction and remodeling will be strong early in the year as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out and financial recovery efforts progress.

Stan Bastek, vice president of sales and marketing for Atlas Roofing, says the changing market in 2020 proved the roofing industry is hardy and resilient.

“The pandemic created a sense of urgency to adapt and change that will have lasting impacts on the ways we do business,” he says. “That being said, I strongly believe there is an excitement and desire to get back to business in more traditional ways — ways that enable engagement and interaction on a more personable level.”

Indeed, the pandemic has left an indelible mark on the nation and the industry. As essential to infrastructure operations, roofing has plowed through adversity with an eye on the future.

2020: A Year of Hits and Misses

In 2020, the roofing industry went through an evolution of sorts. During shutdowns that began in March, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and industry partners petitioned the federal government to name roofing contractors as essential laborers. With the designation, roofing companies continued working under strict safety guidelines.

Michael McCaig, vice president of operations for Atlas Roofing’s Shingles and Underlayments Division, says ongoing business activities helped roofers, manufacturers and associated enterprises continue earning through the pandemic.

“We made the decision in the spring to keep our plants operating while taking the proper precautions. Our first priority is always employee safety and we felt that there is a good chance that employees are actually safer at work than out in the community,” McCaig says. “Overall, the decision to keep operating was a big win for our employees, our customers and the overall financial health of our company.”

Workers on the ground level, including contractors and sales teams, quickly adapted to continue interacting with clients. Web-conferencing, digital platforms and online tools became vital for identifying, attracting and closing customers.

Through the challenges, the industry continued to thrive. Beginning in May, a surprising uptick in home remodeling projects and a surge from a record hurricane season brought a boost the industry needed to keep moving forward. By November, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) trade association found the national economy added 804,000 construction jobs, recovering about 74% of those lost since the pandemic began in the United States.

Even with the early positive signs, the roofing industry, like other industries, is entering 2021 slowly and cautiously. In early December, ABC’s Chief Economist Anirban Basu said the COVID resurgence, coupled with seasonal slowdowns, might negatively impact construction recovery overall. And, 2021 could see an increase in materials pricing.

“While input price inflation is unlikely to represent a major challenge for contractors in the near-term, there is a possibility that input prices could surge at some point next year,” Basu said. “Once vaccinations become broadly available, the global economy is likely to gallop forward, creating significant growth in demand and driving prices higher.”

However, the speculation hasn’t dampened the spirit of perseverance and determination to push forward.

2021: A Year of Hope

McCaig says early 2021 is likely to be punctuated by increased demand for shingles and raw materials. Atlas is also keeping a close watch on asphalt pricing.

“As oil increases in price, we also expect to see higher freight costs and a high demand for trucking, making transportation costs a significant factor in our supply chain,” he explains.

Other industry developments ringing in the new year include:

  • Changes to Florida’s building codes
    Beginning Jan. 1, Florida will start implementing substantial modifications to its roofing building code for residential and commercial projects. Included are changes to underlayment usage, wind-load requirements and energy-conservation standards. Florida building codes are among the strongest in the United States and are often considered a harbinger for changes nationwide.
  • Continuing IBHS programs
    In 2020, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) saw great results from its FORTIFIED roofing standards and extensive hail testing. Both programs are expected to gain momentum in 2021.
  • Increased attention to roof ventilation
    A growing body of evidence suggests proper roof ventilation can lead to reduced hail damage. In 2020, Atlas Roofing launched its TruRidge and HighPoint ventilation lines, rounding out the company’s product offerings for a complete roofing system. In 2021, the company expects a focus on roof ventilation to continue, with an eye on improving hail resistance.
  • Changing roles
    In 2020, Atlas restructured its sales and marketing teams, adding new team members and promoting others. The changes are expected to further position Atlas for future growth, new products and additional capacity.

Experts say the industry should be prepared for even more growth in 2021. But even with a promising outlook, contractors should always be on their toes.

Moving Forward

Roofing contractors must strive to do better, looking for ways to improve their business and their community. In particular, Bastek and McCaig say next steps should include:

  • Maintaining an above-average inventory level in line with the expected economic recovery
  • Continuing to invest in business modernization to stay ahead of the competition
  • Watching the industry for signs of fluctuation
  • Reflecting on past successes while considering future endeavors
  • Staying hungry, humble and ready to work

“I think contractors have proven they are strong enough to weather the storm, even amidst a global pandemic, but that does not mean we should get comfortable,” Bastek says. “Managing finances tightly, hiring really good people and investing in training and culture will be the keys to success.”