Selecting a Roof System in Uncertain Times

Shortages of just one roof system component can cause roof system designers to run into serious difficulties specifying systems for reroofing projects. Some of the current material shortages are primarily the result of the latest supply chain challenges but limitations of certain commercial roofing components suitable for reroofing projects, in addition to other seemingly unrelated shortages, can lead directly to other shortages of roofing component materials in what can be best described as a chain reaction. 

In the current environment, steel shortages combined with the steel industry's choice to supply auto, aerospace, and other manufacturers with products ahead of roofing component manufacturers has made mechanical fasteners for roof insulation and single-ply membrane systems virtually non-existent. As a result, designers and roofing contractors working with owners on reroofing projects are being forced to consider alternate attachment options such as hot asphalt and “cold” adhesives.

When considering hot asphalt as an adhesive, one needs to keep in mind that asphalt is a by-product of oil refinement. And if you have been putting gas in your car over the last 6 months, you know what has happened to oil prices. Add further that over 85% of the asphalt used in the United States is for paving and only 11% is used for manufacturing roofing materials. And quite a few different roofing products come out of that 11% including shingles and roll roofing, ply felt, components of built-up roofing (BUR) systems, and saturated felt used as underlayments for shingles and modified systems. The type of roofing asphalt that is currently being used to adhere roof insulation (in place of mechanical fasteners) is the type that is included in the category noted as “components of built-up roofing (BUR) systems”—a relatively small portion of the 11% of total asphalt production used for overall roofing material manufacturing. You are correct if the conclusion you drew is that “the cost of asphalt-based products is up significantly”.

In the case of “cold” adhesives, there are two primary options. The first is an asphalt-based (cold) roofing adhesive, but of course, it contains asphalt (see above to understand what has happened to asphalt). Another “cold” adhesive that has gained popularity over the last few years is low-rise foam adhesive. This product is typically an elastomeric urethane adhesive that is extremely low in odor that does not contain any asphalt. If you have continued to read this far, your next conclusion might be “well, of course, the solution is that everyone should just use this elastomeric low rise foam adhesive”. Well, many in the roofing industry came to that conclusion at the same time and created, you guessed it, skyrocketing demand for this type of adhesive. And we know from economics 101 that, when there is a spike in demand against static supply, prices tend to increase (sometimes dramatically as is the current situation with low rise foam adhesive).

So where does all of this leave us? The above is a tiny example of how inflation works. Scarcity combined with higher demand causes higher prices (and sometimes difficulty sourcing materials at any price). In this case, the result of this mechanical fastener supply chain issue has led to a scarcity of adhesives. And this material scarcity combined with labor shortages has created a substantial increase in the cost of installing a new roof. It will take some time before supply chain problems are resolved so the expectation is that prices will remain high into the near future. 

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